Challenges & benefits of recruiting individuals with autism

Fri, March 31st, 2017

Increasing awareness with the ninth annual World Autism Day

This Sunday, April 2, marks the ninth annual World Autism Awareness Day, where individuals and organisations around the world do their bit to help raise awareness of some of the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their families.

It is a day dedicated to increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder and advancing research into causes and better interventions.

In November, the National Autistic Society (NAS) launched a film that brought challenges faced by autistic people in the workplace starkly into the fore.

Its launch coincided with the unveiling of a report from the NAS on the autism employment gap. Just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work, and only 32% of those are in paid work – something Liverpool & Sefton Chamber chief executive Jenny Stewart says is a sad waste of talent and skills.

She adds: “There’s a very real argument to suggest that recruiting ‘neurodivergently’ can help to create a diverse and multi-skilled workforce.

“Neurodivergent is a concept that some people’s brains are wired differently – they are not neurotypical, or what people consider to be normal.

“People with autism in many instances possess an extraordinary proficiency for numbers, incredible focus and a pragmatic approach to problem solving.

“But even beyond that, wouldn’t it be wonderful to create a team that benefits from a whole range of individuals that think and operate completely differently.

“We really must alter our attitude and better understand and support social challenges faced by people with autism in order to benefit from their exceptional abilities.”

And the chamber are one of a growing number of organisations in Liverpool to demonstrate a commitment to creating an autism-friendly workforce.

In 2014, Julie Simpson of Autism Adventures was enrolled onto the chamber’s Spark-Up programme – a business accelerator programme for entrepreneurs in the Liverpool city region.

Autism Adventures is a community business enterprise that offers families living with autism leisure and play opportunities in an autism-friendly environment and offers a specially-tailored roster of activities during school holidays.

But uniquely, they also provide training to help businesses adapt to better support employees and indeed customers living with autism and promote the concept of Liverpool becoming the world’s first autism-friendly city.

Julie says: “My son Joe has autism and I always wanted to be able to give him the same opportunities as other young people.

“More than this, I am committed to achieving better diagnoses and treatment processes for our children; and for improved support for parents of children with autism.

“We also want businesses to understand that simple changes can help create a more autism-friendly environment – giving clear instructions, sensitive feedback, constructive performance reviews and regular reassurance can really help overcome some of the anxieties faced for autistic people in the workplace.”

Julie and the team have worked with a number of key businesses in the city, including both football clubs, hotel operator giant Signature Living, Liverpool John Lennon Airport and most recently solicitors firm MSB.

Managing partner at MSB Paul Bibby said: “Working with Julie and the team was certainly an eye-opening experience and encouraged our team to consider our client experience from a different perspective.

“We now understand that life for people with autism is far more sensory than it is for others. Sounds, colours and social interactions that seem normal to most of us can be a big challenge and can trigger melt-downs.

“We have learnt ways to adapt our language and behaviours in order to deal more effectively with individuals with autism. Simple things like desk screens, noise-cancelling headphones or a more secluded location in an open office can make autistic employees more comfortable.

“We have found it has been a huge benefit for us working with Autism Adventures as what we have learned can help us not only alter how we might deal with employees with specialist needs, but also our customers, which is very important to us.”

Support World Autism Awareness Day this Sunday by wearing blue or for more ways to support visit https://www.autismspeaks.org/liub/how-to-liub

For more information on how you can be involved with Julie and the team at Autism Adventures visit http://www.liverpoolautismadventures.co.uk/

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