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Autistic people can add value to business

They have strengths such as accuracy, an eye for detail, tenacity, and the ability to see things differently

People with autism can add important skills and value to a business, according to Sue Warman, HR director of Northern Europe and Russia/CIS for SAS.

Warman explained that often hiring decision makers are looking for attributes in candidates that can exclude those with autism. “In the selection process businesses tend to be overly focused on candidates having strong communication skills, who make good eye contact, present themselves confidently and so on,” she told HR magazine. “And yet autistic people can have strengths that really benefit employers, such as accuracy, a good eye for detail, tenacity, and the ability to see things in a different light, which can be great for problem solving in a field like analytics.

“So we wanted to do what any sensible business should - expand our potential talent pool and opportunities for candidates with different profiles, including those on the autism spectrum.”

Warman’s words coincide with the launch of the National Autistic Society’s Too Much Information campaign, which aims to transform public understanding of autism and open up the world for autistic people, including the world of work.

Its survey of 2,000 autistic adults found that under 16% are in full-time paid work, and only 32% are in some kind of paid work (full and part time combined), compared with 47% of disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people. More than 77% who are unemployed say they want to work

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, warned that people with autism are often overlooked by businesses. "Not all autistic people are able to work,” he said. “But many are, and are desperate to find a job that reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and adjustments to the recruitment process and workplace they can be a real asset. Autistic people have so much to offer. They just need a chance."

The Society suggests making sure staff understand autism and know how to communicate clearly, allowing autistic employees to wear headphones or ear defenders if they’re feeling overwhelmed by ‘too much information’, and asking them their preferred method of communication (email, phone or face-to-face).

SAS has started an internship scheme for those on the autism spectrum. “The internship programme served as an opportunity to educate our existing staff about working with autistic colleagues, and the sorts of adjustments and allowances they need to make,” said Warman.

“Often the changes or adaptations an employer must make are quite minor, yet they can have a profound effect on the individual. This was summed up by one of our interns who explained how important it was that colleagues understood precisely what disabilities and personality traits they had. An example given was being able to leave their desk to take a few minutes’ break. Another one might be avoiding last minute changes or disruptions to the usual routine wherever possible.”

Warman added that in some cases autistic employees possess specialist skills that others might not. “We know that people on the autistic spectrum can be of real value in our business,” she said. “They can bring a different perspective to things and have abilities, for example to retain and memorise information, that others may not have, and typically display many of the skills needed to analyse and interpret data – so statistical and mathematical capability.”