Why only 15% of autistic people have paid employment

January 15, 2018

This guest blog post is from Richard Lamplough from A Potential Diamond, one of our newest Stay Connected members.



I sat in on an Apprenticeship interview at the beginning of the week supporting a young man with Asperger's Syndrome; let's call him Andy.


The employer and, in this case, the Apprenticeship provider, was a large FE College in the South East of England. Andrew had the suitable qualifications for the post (working in office administration) and many of the skills required, not least a great eye for detail and a very methodical approach to his work.  He had the 9.30 slot, the three people on the panel seemed very friendly and the sun was shining outside.


So far, so good.


Andy answered the questions well (I only had to intervene once where I felt a question was a little ambiguous) and for a few fleeting moments I had high hopes for him.  But when the interview came to an end and the panel told him that they were seeing another six candidates over the rest of day, my heart sank.  Two or three people maybe, but six?  I knew, at this point, that whilst my boy fought a brave fight, he wasn't going to be a contender.


Whilst he didn't recognise it, here's an example of why the interview was such an uncomfortable situation for Andy.


Panel: "Can you give us an example from a former job or voluntary placement where you've had to handle a difficult customer or client and how you dealt with this situation?"


Andy: (after a few moments contemplation) "I can safely say that in all former work situations, paid or voluntary, I have never had a situation like that to deal with."


And that was that.


End of.


There was an awkward silence whilst the panel struggled on how to prompt Andrew to "imagine" such a situation, but it was always going to be difficult for him to pull the required metaphorical rabbit out of the metaphorical hat.


I suspect few of the other candidates would have had such a problem answering this question, if, like Andy, they didn't have direct experience of dealing with an angry customer.  Perhaps they would have drawn on an experience from their home lives; an unpleasant neighbour, or even an annoying little brother or sister.


But Andy was never going to be able to do that. Besides, he had answered the question truthfully and accurately so felt he didn't need to elaborate any further.


If Andy had been a wheelchair user and the door of the interview room had been too small to let him through, the employer would have found another room. Correct? So, if they can do that, why can't they make reasonable adjustments to take on board his Asperger's?


I'm not going to heap too much criticism on this particular employer in this particular case.  In fairness to them, they made every effort they could to put Andy at ease throughout the interview.  But they knew about his Asperger's before they interviewed him (he had declared it on his application form) so perhaps, if nothing else, they could have thrown in a few questions or tasks to redress the balance a little.


Panel: "Take us through a detailed step-by-step process of how you would set up a database of our customers, sorted by size, based on a calculation between their number of employees and annual turnover."


I'm not sure how the six-pack would have got on with a question like that but my boy would have walked it and it would have been particularly handy for Andy to get one over on his competition.


It didn't happen, of course, and when I heard from Andy yesterday it came as no surprise to me that he hadn't been offered the job.  He was bitterly disappointed but was determined not to let this set-back deter him from applying for office administration positions in the future.  He'll get support from his mum, and from me, and I hope he'll get another interview before too long.  But then what? Here's a two-sentence call for action:


Employers need to accept that the job interview process discriminates against some people on the autistic spectrum.  Then they need to address this.


I'm not saying that finding ways to "level the playing field" is easy, but if we want to change that depressing statistic that says only 15% of autistic people have paid employment then something needs to be done about it.  If employers struggle on how to do this they only need to get in touch with somebody who can give them the advice they need.


Here's a thought.


If you're an employer and you have vacancies that come up regularly you could pay someone to help you make your recruitment processes accessible to people on the autistic spectrum, perhaps even turn it into a permanent job.  Place an advert via Twitter saying something like:

#Autistic person needed to make our recruitment process #accessible to other #autistic people. Competitive salary.


I can guarantee you would get a flood of high quality applicants.  Your only issue might be how you select and interview those that reply to you.


Richard Lamplough runs A Potential Diamond, a community-based project in Sussex, Surrey and Kent supporting people with autism and learning disabilities into paid employment.