In the UK, only 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid work. auticon is on a mission to change that...
auticon is a multi-national IT consultancy which exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants. They view autism as something to be a celebrated, an advantage that helps their consultants in their everyday work.
“I find myself able to focus on a specific task far more intently than a lot of other people, coming at it from different perspectives whilst maintaining a highly analytical approach.” says James Neely, a consultant employed by auticon.
In fact, jobs that require a lot of data processing or working with numbers can be perfect for people on the spectrum due to the different way that their brains process information.
“I can often find potential solutions others haven't considered,” Neely adds. “Or I spot patterns in data that may have been overlooked that help other people come up with a fix.”
A study carried out by an Italian psychologist links systematic thinking with mathematical ability. This helps to explain why individuals with autism also often have a head for numbers and why they're particularly suited to certain types of work.
Systematic thinking refers to dealing with a problem by identifying impersonal relationships between categories and predicting an outcome – this is how the autistic brain works. Other people, who aren't on the spectrum, may also employ empathic tendencies, where they use a number of social functions to work out a conclusion.
University of Padova psychologist Paola Bressan recruited just over 200 students and surveyed them on their mathematical ability, ability to systemise, and their ability to solve problems using arithmetic. She found that students who were studying mathematical subjects such as physics or engineering were more likely to use systematic thinking than empathic.
While there’s an obvious leap to apply this to autistic people, it’s not a completely unfair one. Previous studies have shown a link between autism and mathematical ability, suggesting that roles that require these skills can be a good fit for autistic people.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that every autistic adult in the UK should walk into a job in IT tomorrow. In fact, there’s likely to still be work that employers will need to do to welcome autistic employees. The National Autistic Society has 10 tips for managing an autistic employee. This includes things like reducing sensory distractions by providing noise cancelling headphones, regularly reviewing performance and helping other employees to be aware of how to work with and support autistic employees.
But ultimately, there’s one thing that everyone should remember about autistic people, Neely says. “Forget the stereotypes and remember it’s called a spectrum for a reason. We all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, just like anybody else, and given the right circumstances autistic people can function perfectly well.”