I have had three jobs thus far in my life.
My first was as a waitress/bar maid in a local pub. I worked there during my A-levels and for a one year following. I was promoted to shift-supervisor for my final year of working there; due to my hard-work and reliable persona. I was responsible for opening and closing the pub, (on my own) and dealing with any problems which arose during shifts.
I was diagnosed with Autism during my final few weeks working at the pub. I never told them I was undergoing a diagnosis and on reflection it would have benefited me to have shared this information. I liked my job at the pub; it was repetitive. I created myself a routine which I followed each shift. I would open the pub and go down the cleaning checklist in a particular order. I would then take orders, take out food and take payment for the bill. After a shift I would then close down, running through the end of shift cleaning checklist in the same order each night. The routine made it stress-free for me but that stress could, and often did, be too easily re-implemented. Customers with complaints, last minute order changes or shift alterations would make me panic. I was able to react to these issues in a professional manner – I wouldn’t have been given the promotion if I was incapable of handling such things – but, they did cause a battle in my head. Half of me would want to run out of the building, cry and never come back. The other half of me knew that wasn’t an option and I needed to react the way which was expected of me in my role.
A bar maid is also a sociable job. I had no problem talking to customers regarding their orders or about the drinking options at the bar. When the ‘regulars’ made conversation with me about how their day had been or what I did other than work there I would be unable to respond. Instead, I would pretend there was an issue in the kitchen I needed to attend to and make a quick exit.
I quit my job at the pub a few weeks after receiving my diagnosis. I decided to take some time to process the new information I had been given about myself and figure out if there was a job better suited to me and my autistic traits than the unpredictable trade of hospitality. Upon reflection, I wish I had told the land-lords about my diagnosis, it would have given me a valid reason to get some fresh-air to calm down when an unplanned event occurred and I wouldn’t have been ‘expected’ to talk to the regulars either.
After the pub, I took the advice of one of my A-level English teachers – and the most supportive, wonderful woman I know. I took a job as a dance coach to ages 5-14; again, I never told my employee about my diagnosis. My teachers thinking was that if I did something I enjoyed and played to the strength of my traits maybe it would make it easier for me. I worked as a dance coach for 12 months. I enjoyed teaching the children and found them easier to communicate with than some adults. Unfortunately, this job did exhaust me. I mainly taught one hour sessions – how could an hour session make me that tired? Children tend to be noisy and due to my Autism this noise would be amplified for me. I would have to use all my energy to focus in on my own voice and what I was trying to teach, zoning out on the noise around me, (although I found this impossible). I would have to sleep for an hour or more when I returned home to re-gain my energy. I really did enjoy teaching and spending time with the team which I taught with, hence why I stuck with it. In the end I left due to the need for more working hours so that I would receive more money to save for my future.
After quitting the dance coaching job I decided to be honest in my CV and interviews and inform potential employers of my condition. It makes me sad to say this did not go well. I found that if I submitted a CV stating I had Autism I would receive no offer of an interview, if I submitted a CV omitting the fact I had Autism I would get invited for an interview. On one occasion I got as far as being offered a job as a teaching assistant in a school. I went for a tour around my new workplace after being offered the job. Whilst I was there I informed them of my Autism diagnosis as I wanted to be honest with them. A week later I received an email from them – not even a phone call – to inform me they no longer wished to hire me. When I contacted them asking for a reason as to why this was they did not give me an answer… I can’t help but think the sudden change in heart was due to my honesty about my Autism.
In the end I applied for the job I am in now and kept my diagnosis to myself. I was offered the job as a Business Administrator in a private hospital an hours commute from my house. I have worked in this job for two years now. About 7 months into my employment I chose to tell them about my diagnosis and I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I have made.
I began to become ill on a regular basis, working 9 till 5, 5 days a week with an hours commute there and back on top of living with Autism became too much. I would burnout far too often and far too easily. I was having sick days every month due to the exhaustion of pushing my body to its limit. I was also finding the stress of ad-hoc tasks which weren’t originally assigned to me at the start of each day too much to process.
I told my manager about my condition and gave them a copy of my diagnosis letter for reference. The response was so positive and I now wouldn’t hesitate in informing any future employees about my condition. My employees offered me a four day week with Wednesdays off. This has made a huge change to my lifestyle. I have not needed to take any sick days off due to exhaustion since my change in hours and I am more productive at work due to the rise in my energy. They are also more conscious of my need to plan and have a routine, letting me know as far in advance as they can if I will be attending a meeting or if there has been a change in my daily schedule. I am still asked to complete ad-hoc tasks as this is part of my job role. The tasks still cause me stress but knowing I can ask for a moment to process them and calm myself down without being judged makes them much easier to complete.
Thanks to my employers accommodation of my diagnosis I have flourished at work. I have progressed and contributed to improving the running of the Business. I have been given more responsibility and have even been offered the role of office manager.
I have chosen to write this post as I want to show that if employers give their Autistic employees the support they need the Autistic employees can be beneficial for the business. A business will not hire a more organised, dedicated, inquisitive and reliable employee than a candidate on the spectrum.
The experience I had with being denied a job due to my Autism is something which no employer should have the option to do. People here the word Autism and instantly think it is a disability and therefore will be a negative for the business. I truly believe hiring a person on the spectrum will do the opposite. We need to abolish the stereo-type of Autism and educate people that Autism is a wide-spectrum of traits and these traits take effect in different ways. If you take the time to see how these traits can play to strengths required for a job you will realise that people on the spectrum are the perfect employee.
Work does cause me to get tired and I do get panicked and stressed but I would never let this affect me whilst at work. I work very hard and have excelled at the jobs I have held – I wouldn’t have been given promotions in two out of the three if I hadn’t.
Autism in the workplace is not a negative but a strength which should make our CVs stand-out, not be seen as unemployable at the mention of the A-word.
For more information on Autism in the workplace, take a look at this brilliant article by the National Autistic Society: http://www.autism.org.uk/managing#