Opening the door to bigger thinking on neurodiversity

Richard Branson looking pensive
John Armstrong
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 4 April 2021

Many businesses have caught on to the benefits of inclusion, but there are still lots of opportunities for thinking bigger and embracing different ways of thinking. I’ve always believed a great business is one that values new perspectives, different ideas and broader ways of thinking.

The world needs a neurodiverse workforce to help try and solve some of the big problems of our time. Many people on the autism spectrum excel in areas such as logic, technology skills, problem-solving, pattern recognition, precision, sustained concentration, analysis and other unique cognitive functions. Yet people on the autism spectrum are often overlooked for jobs that they might be brilliant at. It’s a staggering statistic that 85% of autistic adults are unemployed or under-employed.

It’s the reason we proudly support auticon, an IT and technology services firm that employs autistic people as technology consultants for businesses all around the world. We invested in auticon back in 2016 and I’m proud that Virgin Money and Virgin Management are among its clients. auticon has also launched training services to help companies train their employees, managers, and recruiters on developing neurodiverse and inclusive workplaces.

It’s great to hear that the business has remained strong during the pandemic (as we’ve all needed technology more than ever – that makes a lot of sense) and that autistic technologists are in demand.

This is also backed up by new research. Cambridge University Professor and auticon advisor Simon Baron-Cohen suggests in his new book, The Pattern Seekers, that many autistic people have advanced innovative and creative intelligence. With this in mind, I wanted to find out what some of auticon’s brilliant autistic employees thought on the topic of innovation and autism – and how they harness their different way of thinking to their benefit in the workplace. 

Aidan Millar-Powell, senior Consultant from auticon Australia, said: “My biggest creation thus far is myself. I had a very rough time up until I started with auticon, part of the journey was building myself into a person that could withstand the world. This took a different type of thinking, of getting up at 4am every day just to practice coding.”

auticon
auticon

Aidan’s view resonates with me as I really struggled at school due to my dyslexia and I didn’t really understand what I was capable of until I left school and started my first business Student Magazine. I believe everyone has potential to fulfil their dreams and it’s moving to hear of Aidan’s commitment to building himself. 

Image from the Branson family
Image from the Branson family

Aidan thinks that his autism is a strength when it comes to innovating. “Autistic people don’t subscribe to the cultural background noise and silly assumptions we make about each other, we simply walk up to a problem and address it in a way that is less sensational and more matter-of-fact,” he said. 

Marc Ristau, senior consultant from auticon Germany, said that from his early childhood he systemised the world around him – from his toys to his daily routine and how he communicated. To give an insight into how his brain works, he shared a photo from his childhood where he is sleeping next to his arranged toys, sorted by how much he likes them.

auticon
auticon

Marc said: “I am frequently seeing beauty in order and seeing order where no one else sees it, even in simple things like traffic lights or language patterns.”

Beat Steiner, a senior consultant for auticon Switzerland, said that autism helps him think differently to everyone else and to question existing systems and traditions. He said it gives him “perseverance, precision, concentration… Sometimes seeing the needle in the haystack. Curiosity, crawling through product catalogs and puzzling pieces together in a different way than others do.”

auticon
auticon

It’s been wonderful hearing from the people themselves who work at auticon about how their different ways of thinking can help spur innovation and look at problems from a different angle. 

I think their experiences really show how hiring a neurodiverse team can benefit your business – and the lives of people who may think a little differently to you. It’s also a reminder to all of us to search for the things that unite us in our common humanity, rather than the things that divide us.   

Head over to auticon to find out more about the team and their brilliant work.