If you look at recent legislation across the world, it feels like the world is slowly becoming more equal and progressive. More minority groups are being recognized, accepted, and helped to take their rightful place in society. However, there is still a heavy stigma around individuals with mental illnesses, and the progressive movement seems to leave these groups behind. The chronically low employment rates for autistic individuals in British Columbia reflect this lack of progress: out of the province’s estimated 50,000 adults with an autism spectrum diagnosis, only 20% are in employment that makes use of their unique skills and talents. There are multiple barriers to autism employment, and it falls to the hiring companies to learn how to support neurodiverse candidates to take their rightful place in the workforce.
Barrier 1 – Biassed Application Procedures
One of the biggest challenges facing autistic job seekers from the very start of their employment journey is an application that is set up with a heavy bias towards neurotypical skill sets. Job adverts are usually posted on massive online job boards in language that is designed to be vague and abstract to attract the largest number of applicants. Even if they are able to decode what will be expected of them, autistic applicants are then expected to write introductory letters that fit unwritten rules and conventions to make it past the first round of sifting which again puts them at a disadvantage.
To overcome this barrier, you and your hiring team need to approach the entire application process from the viewpoint of a neurodiverse individual who has an active interest in working for your company. It’s essential to remember that most autistic applicants perceive the world in very concrete terms, which means that your job advert needs to be almost like a “day in the life of” description of expected tasks, qualifications, and specific experiences. This allows you to ask clarifying questions and gives them the opportunity to put their best foot forward.
Barrier 2 – Face To Face Interviews
There is a growing amount of employment research that shows that the traditional face-to-face, the question-and-answer interview is a terrible indicator of good job performance. You’ll hear people talk about how their dream candidate interviewed poorly but stepped up when they started work. Many individuals on the autistic spectrum find this challenging, meaning that your traditional interview process won’t allow them to show off the talents that they’ll bring to the table.
This is more than just an inbox activity and puts your candidates in real-life work situations where you can watch how they would handle themselves in specific scenarios. For example, you could ask your existing staff to set up a brief meeting and sit in to see how your candidates interact or give them a checklist of tasks to complete and watch them see how they tackle the list. There’s nothing to stop you from following up with a debriefing conversation, but instead of asking left-field questions, you’ll be talking concretely about their actions during the activity.
Barrier 3 – Subconscious Stereotypes
Talking about mental illness remains one of the biggest taboos in today’s society. This lack of exposure means that many neurotypical individuals hold negative stereotypes about autism (mainly fueled by negative or overly simplistic representations in movies and TV shows).
This is a much harder barrier to overcome by yourselves, as most neurotypical people are unaware of the subconscious biases they hold until an outside observer points it out to them. This is when teaming up with an autism employment support agency will help to level the playing field for your autistic candidates. These autism experts will be able to talk to your staff about autism and what to expect from neurodiverse employees.