For Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July 2020, we want bring attention to a minority group which doesn’t always come first to our minds, but who are equally as important to consider within any diversity and inclusion agenda: those who are neurologically diverse.
Many authorities now use the term neurodiversity to describe: Autism Spectrum Disorder; Asperger Syndrome; Dyslexia; Dyspraxia; Dyscalculia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
There are number of household names–in fact some of the brightest minds of modern day–which many of us are unlikely aware have been on the neurodiversity spectrum. Those who have enjoyed fame and fortune for, ‘thinking outside the box’, like:
- Scientist, Albert Einstein
- Inventor, Thomas Edison
- Crime Writer, Agatha Christie
- Inventor, James Dyson
- Apple Founder, Steve Jobs
- Microsoft Founder, Bill Gates
People who are neurodiverse have a range of unique characteristics and many are incredibly talented, and can lead very successful careers, if given the opportunity and supported properly.
Neurodiversity and mental health
It’s important for employers to recognize that people who are on the Autistic Spectrum, with learning disabilities and those with Asperger’s Syndrome are also statistically far likelier than the rest of the population to suffer from anxiety and depression.
But importantly, just as companies are looking into specific ways to support the mental health needs of culturally diverse workers (as we recently reported), they are legally obligated to consider how to support the mental health, and also the engagement needs, of their neurodiverse workers.
UK companies are obliged under the Equality Act 2010 to ‘make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs’. And the American’s with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ to qualified disabled individuals that do not constitute an undue hardship.
For this reason, more global employers are proactively including this minority group in their Diversity and Inclusion or DEI strategies. But at the same time, companies are starting to acknowledge the benefits of hiring neurologically diverse workers for a competitive edge.
Auticon: a global progressive company supporting careers for the neurodiverse
I had the opportunity to interview the CEO of Auticon (Canada), Garth Johnson, about the pioneering approach they’re taking to support neurodiverse workers around the world. And we also spoke about the company’s new impact report which has just come out, evidencing the benefits of including neurodiverse staff in your workforce.
Heather: What findings from your recent global impact report should employers be paying attention to toward building the case for hiring/supporting neurodiverse workers?
Garth: What I would say about this is that the impact report contains a number of case studies from our clients which are focused on highlighting what we call the Autism advantage for business.
A lot of clients/people engage us to do good. It is not focused on the fact that we ARE good.
What I mean by that is often with projects/programs surrounding diversity and inclusion are typically seen as social endeavors and not business profit-motivated endeavors, that is simply not the case. People on the Spectrum in the right job with the right fit are incredibly productive, sometimes much more so than typically-abled individuals.
In the report if you read it, you will see several customers who testify to this, we also have many more stories of this to share. In Calgary we have grown primarily by word of mouth. That word of mouth is that Auticon people (Consultants) are exceptionally good. That tells you something about why employers should engage Neurodiverse individuals, yes it’s a good thing for the work force yes it’s a good thing to do for the social good but it is a good thing to do for business not just for society.
Heather: What things can employers be doing differently to make workplaces more inclusive for neurodiverse staff, including the hiring process & also in the day to day?
Garth: One of the interesting things that our employers tell us about engaging our people
on the Spectrum, is that it has increased their overall management skills and abilities. Employers need to be aware that people on the spectrum see things differently. We have a saying in Auticon:
“Autism is not a processing error, it’s another operating system”.
Our people see things differently. Employer’s need to understand that our people are maybe culturally different and have a different value systems for what matters in life, as long as we measure people not based on whether or not they are the most social, fashionable etc.
Our people are unique, they are individuals – many can tell great jokes and are also very fashionable, but the reality is that a lot of superfluous things we value in the workplace as important don’t matter to our people. Employers can really engage our people on the spectrum if they take the time to understand what communication styles people need, give them clear direct instruction, provide a routine if needed; whatever it takes to help our people thrive, and we help them to figure it out.
Our job coaches often end up coaching our customers on how to manage their typically enabled workforce alongside of our people as our systems and constructs work. We need to engage our clients on how to approach our people as if this as if they are engaging a new Canadian, we would need to understand their culture, values etc. The same thing can be done here with Autism in some way understanding Autism is like understanding an individual from different culture who is being integrated into our society for the first time.
Heather: Are you able to share some examples of success stories where businesses have benefited from hiring your clients?
Garth: Earlier we spoke of a young man who had the typically difficult experience in the interview process, that normally someone would not have successfully navigated through.
In that interview the individual was asked “in a day we typically are only able to test 9 units, how long do you feel it would take you to get to that amount” our consultants response was direct and honest he said “actually I see deficiencies in the system and I believe I can do better than the 9 units”.
The consultant was hired. He went into work and on day one we were called by the client and it was reported that the consultant had not just completed the 9 units, but 15 units. On his first day he ended up re-writing their business manual and coaching their people on the process making significant business improvements and yes, he was neurodiverse, but he increased their productivity by 60%.
Now this does not happen often, but this is a concrete example of the kind of things that Auticon has to offer in regard to the autism advantage.
Heather: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges for neurodiverse–particularly Autistic–professionals to gain regular employment?
Garth: One of the biggest challenges that people on the Spectrum face when seeking employment has nothing to do with their qualifications or capabilities. Often the challenges are rooted in the social constructs of how interviews are typically constructed and conducted as well as the measures that people use to evaluate capability.
I believe that the whole way that we interview people in general may be broken, but specifically for many of our colleagues the interview process is a bit of a challenge as well is the onboarding process.
Many of us when we start a new job fake it until we make it. Our people won’t want to do that. They want to be competent; they will ask a lot of questions if they don’t know things they will say so. They are often very, very focused on the work and not so focused on the social constructs of the workplace (but this is not always the case, just an example) we cannot speak in stereotypes in any population of people.
I can give you an example from our past. We went into an interview with a young person who had two degrees, was very gifted but had never really worked at all. He had some entry level retail jobs but never anything professional in his career path. We went into the interview with the potential client company where we were going to place him as a consultant where he would be completing some complicated testing work on remote monitoring equipment.
We conduct a prep process for our people so that when they go into interviews the interviewer knows a bit about the individual and how to speak to them. One of the things that we often say is please do not ask our people soft open-ended questions as they will get hard answers to them and it may not be exactly what they were looking for in a response.
In this example the second question asked by the interviewer was “Why should we consider you over the other consultants being considered for the position?” without hesitation our consultant answered with,
“That is an unfair question, I do not know who the consultants are, If you give me a copy of their resume and tell me about their work history I will give you an assessment as to whether I am the best candidate for this role or not.”
Typically, he would not have gotten this job, but he did in fact get the job. These are the some of the challenges our people face, and why having us there to help the customer onboard them effectively and or to help us employ them effectively works so well. Our model the (secret sauce) is all about deployment that is as easy and as simple as possible.
Heather: What findings from the report should neurodiverse individuals pay attention to when considering joining the workforce through Auticon?
Garth: The number one reason why those on the Spectrum should join Auticon is that we will help them to build a career not just find a job. If you look at the statistics in the impact report, it states repeatedly that our colleagues on the spectrum have found this to be not only empowering, but also fruitful, and an engaging way to help them to get a career path built.
You will see that more than half of our people have said that we have helped them to reach what they believe to be their full working potential:
- 83% have said that our support system and coaching structures have helped them significantly with their transition and integration into their workspace
- 80% cited that they felt that their skills and abilities have improved but the one thing for me that really is the most telling thing is the stories of increased personal autonomy and independence in life
- 64% of our people feel that’s happened since they’ve come to joined us
- 70% have felt that they have increased personal wellbeing [including mental wellbeing]
That for us is why we are doing this. Our people don’t need hand out’s or help, they need opportunities and context in which to deliver what they can do their very best work in.
That’s what Auticon works exceedingly hard to provide, so for a person on the spectrum who is talented and gifted and driven there is no better place to come for them. We understand our people and we love them and they love us and that is why our business works so well.
Page 4 of the report discusses our Theory of Change, explaining how most adults of the Autistic Spectrum are unemployed or underemployed, up to 90%, and how Auticon has and will continue to dedicate ourselves to change that statistic.
There are a lot of opportunities that we have just begun to explore. We want to create as many jobs as possible for those on the Spectrum and be the shining light for business so that every person who has Autism and wants to work, gets a job. That’s our mission.
Read Auticon’s full report here.
About the author
Heather Kelly is the founder of Aura Wellbeing, a consultancy providing workplace wellness strategy, coaching and training services to employers. She’s also Content Director for Make a Difference Summit US and Online Editor for Make a Difference News. Heather led the development and operation of the Workplace Wellbeing Index, during her time working for the UK’s largest mental health charity, Mind. In her earlier career she worked as a photographer, a journalist and a senior manager in the insurance industry. She’s passionate about inspiring more empathy and awareness in workplaces toward normalising mental health and in her spare time Heather teaches photography to teens as part of a charity projects in London and Spain, she’s an avid runner and experimental chef for recipes promoting healthy minds.