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Seeing autism as a strength – not an illness

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A recent case of a London man attempting to ‘cure’ autism has prompted Business Disability Forum (BDF) to remind companies of the dangers of thinking of the condition simply as an ‘illness’.

Instead it is a difference in the human condition and many employers are realising that it can bring great benefits to the workplace in terms of diversity, inclusiveness and individual strengths if approached in the right way.

BDF has found that employers have an increasing interest in autism, with a growing list of companies launching schemes to specifically recruit people with autism. These include Microsoft, Bloomberg, Hewlett Packard, SAP and Willis Towers Watson. 

These companies’ schemes are not charitable or medical – instead they aim to harness the specific strengths of employees with autism. Microsoft’s corporate vice president of worldwide operations, Mary Ellen Smith, has said: “People with autism bring strengths that we need.”

Daniel Wiles, disability consultant at BDF, said: “Companies are realising that they could be missing out on a large pool of untapped talent if they fail to approach autism in a constructive way.  

“The backbone of a good approach is understanding the barriers or challenges that a typical workplace or recruitment process might present to someone with autism and making adjustments to remove these.”

Daniel has produced a report with BDF called ‘Square holes for square pegs’, outlining current practice in employment and autism and recommendations for best practice.

Important factors in the recruitment and retention of people with autism highlighted in the report included:

•    The value of using work trials during the recruitment process instead of focusing on interviews, qualifications or work history

•    The importance of autism awareness based on removing barriers and making adjustments in the workplace – including to the sensory environment, how people communicate and workplace structures such as rules (both written and unwritten), routines and processes

•    Good line managers will know how to make adjustments, be flexible, tolerant and understanding. There can be benefits for line managers who learn new skills from managing people with autism

BDF also directly trains employers to create more inclusive workplaces for employees with autism and regularly provides advice and guidance to its member and partner organisations. 

More information about BDF can be found on their website: 

Nils Kendall

By Nils Kendall

Nils is joint Interim CEO of Business Disability Forum (BDF), along with David Goodchild, and is responsible for the day-to-day management of BDF long and short-term plans and strategy. His also BDF’s Company Secretary.

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