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Alternative techniques should replace traditional interviews for individuals with an Autism diagnosis. By Elise Bulless.

Alternative techniques should replace traditional interviews for individuals with an Autism diagnosis. By Elise Bulless.

 

Interviews are one of the most commonly used recruitment techniques by employers to determine the most suitable individual for an advertised role. A successful interview requires appropriate social and communication skills and confidence to progress to the next stage of the hiring process. For many, interviews can be anxiety-provoking to some extent, although still manageable. For individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, the anxiety that is produced by a generic interview is tenfold. Autistic individuals may experience difficulties with social and communication skills and interpreting nonverbal cues, therefore, approaching an interview is more difficult without alternatives or adequate skills to manage the situation, and thus, creating an initial barrier to finding employment.

“Sometimes (we) miss out on good opportunities because someone less capable presents better in an interview. I have to work harder and achieve more to reach the same level as people with better social skills” Disability Supports Coordinator, Australia (ERE, 2019)

Studies suggest that the transitional period from adolescence to adulthood is a time of increased depression and anxiety contributing to the high rates of unemployment in individuals with ASD (Payne, 2016). Having adequate skills to communication during an interview is likely to increase confidence, but what happens if you have a negative experience in an interview? The effect of a negative experience with an interview is likely to decrease self-confidence and further hinder finding employment opportunities. A large proportion of the ASD population in Australia are unemployed with the most common barriers involving a lack of support and the inability to attend interviews.

Changing the environment of the interview, whether it’s a different recruiting process or accommodating the individual with a familiar, comfortable environment and questions they can answer is crucial. Many studies include work experience and internships as an effective means of determining the right fit for a job and an alternative to the traditional interview model (Wehman et al., 2012). An interesting quote from Bill Wong, an autistic occupational therapist represents this idea well. “For autistic individuals to succeed in this world, they need to find their strengths and the people that will help them get to their hopes and dreams… A supportive environment where they can learn from their mistakes is what we as a society need to create for them.” (The Art of Autism, 2020).

Creating environments where individuals with ASD can thrive in an interview setting and workplaces that fit their areas of interest is necessary. Although these individuals experience difficulties with social and communication skills, they often have high levels of organisational skills, concentration and attention to detail. Stereotypically, individuals with ASD may not seem like an appropriate fit for a job, but the reality is they have many skills to offer in environments that cater to them.

“Our lack of interview skills does not necessarily mean we lack job skills.”
Software Tester, USA (ERE, 2019)

Giving autistic individuals the opportunity to display their skills and abilities in an environment that supports them should be the main focus of the recruiting process. Some ways to accommodate these individuals is swapping an interview for work experience or trials where they can display their skills in a practical way. Allowing the individual to demonstrate their skills while being observed may be a better predictor of their suitability for the job rather than an attempt to articulate their skills in an interview. Series of online psychometric testing may also be a more appropriate way of testing suitability for a job and an alternative to demonstrating their skills.

If an interview has to occur, how can it be made easier for the individual? Allowing the interviewee to bring a support person along may be beneficial to reduce anxiety and assist with better communication. Giving the individual prompts or leading with previous employment experiences may be more beneficial than asking abstract or general interview questions. The interviewer may also want to give the individual clear guidelines of what the interview will consist of, to better prepare them. One of the most important things a manager or recruiter can do is being flexible and understanding that an individual with ASD will likely need accommodations to some degree.

Finding alternatives to the traditional interview model is an essential step for improving the employment rates of individuals with an ASD diagnosis. Studies have shown work experience and internships are more effective ways of displaying skills rather than an interview which relies on verbal communication. As we know, individuals with an ASD diagnosis have increased difficulties with social and communication skills. Observation, work trials and psychometric tests have also been proven to be effective measures of suitable skills. If interviews are the only option in a recruiting process, accommodating for the individual by asking specific rather than abstract questions, allowing them to bring along a support person and accommodating any needs they may have should be the focus.

This article was created by Elise Bulless as part of her Internship at Employ for Ability.
Elise is in her final year of a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of Canberra.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.

 

Autism and coping with COVID-19 anxiety – Helpful Tips

Autism and coping with COVID-19 anxiety – Helpful Tips

Image: Sharon McCutcheon: UnSplash


During these uncertain times, most of us are feeling very anxious about what is coming next and how the changes will impact our families and ourselves. A lot has changed in the last few days and the world is a very different place compared to just last week.

People with an autism diagnosis may think, feel and respond to these changes differently to their neurotypical peers. The 24-hour news cycle of speculation, sensationalism and presenting the “facts” with their biases and commentary can help to fuel anxiety and drive other psychosocial disabilities. Respect, caution and calmness are required to support our family members on the autism spectrum. These concepts can help our other family members who may not have anxiety by diagnosis but are sure feeling the symptoms right now.

As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in the coming days and further interventions by our governments and employers increase, it is important we focus on our mental well-being and learn to manage our stress as well as the stress of our family members. Early intervention can help to alleviate severe anxiety and other comorbid conditions such as depression. The Australian Psychological Society has a good information sheet, which I have summarised below with an Autism focus.

Learn the facts

Our constant news cycle and media coverage with commentary fuels our anxiety levels and more so for someone with an autism diagnosis. Limit your media exposure and rely on the original sources of information. Look at the government’s websites https://www.health.gov.au/news or another trusted source of factual information for the information on the topic you want. If you are wanting information on schools, read the statements from your state or territories education system.

Keep things in perspective

Many people with an autism diagnosis live with a heightened level of anxiety that when their predicted routine and world function as expected they can cope with. Changes to routine, unexpected events like school changes, parents work being closed and not participate in their hobbies or sports can heighten their levels of stress and anxiety. It is easy to look at the glass is half full and see the worst case scenario when your world is rapidly changing and often impacting you financially. In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, ask yourself and help your loved one with an autism diagnosis by explaining to them.

  • Am I catastrophising, assuming the worst case scenario will happen, when none of us know the outcome? The number of COVID-19 cases is still very low compared to the whole population and the numbers tested. It is currently only 1% of tested cases.
  • Am I overestimating the consequences of the virus? Most people will have a mild illness due to COVID-19 and make a speedy recovery within 14 days.
  • Am I underestimating my ability or my loved one with an autism diagnosis’ ability to cope? People with an autism diagnosis are incredibly resilient and deal with change and stress every day. Focusing on things you can do to cope will help you to put things into perspective for your unique family circumstances.

Take reasonable precautions

Focus your loved ones on the proactive and practical basic hygiene principles can help to keep your anxiety at bay. Medical authorities recommend a range of protective practices:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell until you no longer feel unwell
  • Seek medical care if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties

Practice self-care

To foster a positive mindset in you and your loved one with an autism diagnosis it is important to look after yourself. Self-care is unique to each person but things you can focus on are:

  • Maintain your social connections using social media, skype, facetime, WhatApp.
  • Make time with each other to do hobbies at home instead of at your usual venue. Now that gyms are closed, create a fun workout you all can participate in at your home.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, regular exercise, getting quality sleep and avoid the use of alcohol and other drugs to cope with your stress.
  • Practice relaxation or meditation to allow your body a chance to settle into the new state we are in.

Ideas for talking to your loved one with an autism diagnosis about COVID-19

Your family members will read your stress and anxiety about the changing world. They pick up more than you imagine. It is really important they can talk to you about their concerns.

Answer their questions

Answering their questions is a keyway to help reduce their anxiety levels. Be honest, factual and use non emotional terms to answer their questions or refer them to the fact-based websites mentioned earlier.

  • Answer their questions calmly
  • Ask them what they know or think about the virus and clarify any misunderstandings they may have
  • Acknowledge that this change of routine and family circumstances can cause anxiety and stress. It is a normal thing that many of us are feeling.
  • Give them a sense of some control and talk about the practical things they can do to help and stay safe (wash hands, stay away from elderly people)
  • Don’t overwhelm them with information that focuses on the worst-case scenario. Such as death rates increasing, their favourite restaurant or gym is closed for another 6 months – we do not know how long this will continue for
  • Reassure them that COVID-19 is less common and less sever in younger people
  • Encourage them to maintain contact via social media, (Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype) with the people they care about such as grandparents, friends, mentors, work colleagues)

Talk about how you and your loved one with an autism diagnosis is feeling

Explain it is normal to fee worried about getting sick. Listen to them and reassure them that you there to help them with whatever changes arise in the future. Model calmness and do not pass on your concerns or worries you have about the future. Limit media exposure as the constant negativity as the government makes additional statement and changes can increase their levels of anxiety and fear. Read the governments statements together and discuss them so you can answer your loved one’s concerns.

Seek additional support from a psychologist or counsellor if you feel you or your loved one with an autism diagnosis is feeling overwhelmed due to stress or anxiety. If you are referred to a psychologist from your GP you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate.

Looking out for each other and recognising that all people will react differently to the transitions we are experiencing is a good start.

David Smith is an autism employment specialist and advocate. David is a research student looking at mental wellbeing, autism and employment.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.

 

Show Pony Events gains the Neurodiversity advantage

 

I am really proud of the achievement of my client Thom, who was offered a role with Show Pony Events today.

A big thank you to Jillian Hart (MD of Show Pony Events) who understands the value staff of different abilities can provide to her organisation and clients.

Thom is studying Music production at CIT and has experience through his study of many of the aspects required for a role in the events management industry. Jillian understands that staff who are neurodiverse may not interview the same as other workers but have the ability to be productive members of her team. her business is leading the way demonstrating that inclusion adds value to your  team, clients and business.

Thom is the 47th person on the Autism Spectrum I have assisted to find meaningful employment.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.

 

Neurodiversity and inclusion create value

Neurodiversity and inclusion create value

 

Autism and neurodiversity are often used interchangeably. Autism is a diagnosis and neurodiversity is a social term used to demonstrate the value of people with this diagnosis. Organisations are starting to learn that hiring people with neurodiversity can create incredible value.

Diagnosis of ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the clinical term used to diagnose somebody who has impairments due to challenges with social communication and interaction, as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviours, interests or activities as outlined in the Diagnostic Standards Manual (DSM-5) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It replaces a range of diagnoses in the DSM-IV, that included Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder  – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).Medical V Social

Medical V Social view of disability

These medical terms, including the word disorder, have a very negative meaning for people who are on the spectrum and imply disability. The medical view of disability is we try to cure or fix people who have a medical problem. People are disabled due to their medical impairments. Another view is the social model of disability. The social view is that society causes a person to be disabled due to barriers we put in their way. Barriers are not just physical but include attitudes and stereotypes. if you ask most people who are on the spectrum, they will not consider themselves to be disabled.

Neurodiverse and Neurotypical

A great term that reflects the social view of autism is neurodiversity. The term neurodiversity is attributed to Judy Singer an Australian social scientist who used the term in her honours thesis. It is used to demonstrate that many people with autism are neurologically different and do not see themselves as disabled. It is controversial in that it does not reflect the lived experience of those people with high support needs, it generally applies to people with ASD Level 1 and 2.

Why I like the term neurodiversity over ASD in an employment context, is that it demonstrates to society and potential employers that these candidates have a different perspective or way at looking at their life compared to a neurotypical person. Neurotypical is a great word in this context, as normal implies the other person is not normal. What is normal anyway?  Normal is a word to describe a standard or an average of society that is typical. If people on the spectrum have a label, then the label for people who are not on the spectrum who are neurologically typical is neurotypical.

Diversity and Inclusion

All modern workplaces accept and understand that diversity outlines that we are all unique individuals. Individuals who look different, have different backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives. This diversity provides advantages to organisations who fully implement diversity programs. The goal of diversity programs is ultimately inclusion in society for all people. Yet diversity programs are only just realising that diversity needs to include diversity of thought. This is not something new, we have been testing our staff for years using Myers Briggs, DISC, HEXACO, NEO and many other profile tools. People like to label themselves as being a certain “type” and many people still read their horoscopes. So why is it a big leap to accept that if we are different and have different personalities then we may think or be different neurologically. Neurodiverse.

Neurodiversity needs to create value

Implementing neurodiversity programs can be done for altruistic reasons. After-all, it is a good thing to do. But in business, doing something different needs to create value and be sustainable. A key understanding, I learnt from my previous CEO (Peter Acheson) is that for a business to fully embrace a new program it needs to be sustainable and create value for all parties. It needs to provide value to the existing staff members (neurotypical and neurodiverse), provide value to the new staff that are neurodiverse, provide value to the clients who buy your services and create value for the shareholders. In that order. Happy engaged staff create happy engaged clients, that create happy and engaged shareholders.

Neurodiversity makes good business sense

Neurodiversity programs do just that, they not only feel good to do, they create good sustainable outcomes. The evidence is there in Australia and overseas. Programs runs by Specialisterne, Xceptional, Federal Government, large and small companies are demonstrating the abilities that hiring neurodiverse staff provides. New staff with neurodiversity work hard, develop new ideas, solve difficult problems and work just as well as existing staff, usually better. Neurodiversity programs have other benefits to organisations. They support existing staff with neurodiversity, it shows neurotypical staff the company is fully inclusive, and it creates better leaders and managers. Leaders who understand that all staff are unique and when managed well can create improved value for themselves, their clients and the organisation.

The key to undertaking a neurodiversity program is learning about autism. Managers may think that hiring someone who is on the spectrum will make their lives harder. It is no different to managing any other staff member. Current programs are showing that turnover of staff in neurodiversity programs is significantly lower than hiring neurotypical staff. Working with a good neurodiversity partner can overcome this concern and allow your organisation the benefit of creating a fully diverse and inclusive team that will create value.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.

 

Why are people with neurodiversity not being employed?

Why are people with neurodiversity not being employed?

Neurodiversity employment

Neurodiversity rates in Australia are growing as the number of young people receive a diagnosis through improved intervention and school inclusion programs. All young people will eventually finish school and transition into adulthood. These school leavers have the same goals, dreams and hopes about the future as we did. However, today school leavers with neurodiversity will experience the highest rates of unemployment compared to any other group of people with disabilities.

Employment rates for people with Autism

In Australia, according to the latest ABS statistics, 40.8% of people of working age (15-64) with autism participate in work (more than 2 hours per week). 53.4% of people with any other disability participate in work and 83.2% of people without a disability participate in work. It is harder to get work if you have autism or neurodiversity than any other disability.

While these stats show a very big problem, one statistic is improving. 35% of young people with autism on finishing school are entering tertiary education. The challenge is how do we improve the employment rate for people with autism and neurodiversity? The education system is improving the educational outcomes for people with autism. It is time for the employment sector to step up and help improve the employment outcomes for this cohort of people that is being left behind. As Dr Paul Shattuck found, as children with autism receive improved levels of support through intervention programs and inclusive education practices, they can achieve higher levels of academic achievement. ANU, UC and CIT in Canberra, as well as many other tertiary education institutions have created specialised support programs for their neurodiverse students. These tailored programs are improving the education outcomes for their students.

Interviews for someone with autism are a modern form of torture

Hiring based on an interview for cultural fit has led to the above statistics on under-employment for people with neurodiversity. Interviews measure a person’s communication and social skills, areas that someone with autism may have difficulty understanding. For someone with autism, an interview can cause debilitating anxiety and more often they will associate interviews with a negative perception of the organisation. Yet autistic people are good workers who are demonstrating amazing  skills that an employer needs to be competitive in their markets. Recruitment programs that assess a candidates strengths and job fit, using testing, assessment centres  and work experience are having vastly improved outcomes compared to traditional interview methods. With some simple modifications to employment methodologies, awareness training and leadership support, we can improve the employment rate of people with neurodiversity and provide competitive advantages to organisations.

Neurodiversity employment programs are working

Autism employment programs such as those provided by Specialisterne in Government departments (Department of Human Services, Australian Taxation Office, Department of Home Affairs,  Australian Bureau of Statistics, Victorian Government) large corporates (Sun Pork, Westpac, IBM, SAP)  and technology firms (Seeing Machines) demonstrate that employers are starting to understand that people with autism can be professionals and forge a career rather than working in roles below their education level. Employers need  to understand that the pathway to employment for someone with neurodiversity is different to the traditional recruitment model.

Neurodiverse staff add great value

Neurodiversity employment programs need not be just about disability employment.  All employees need to demonstrate value, and  help the organisation achieves its goals. People with neurodiversity offer competitive advantages over neurotypical employees and they want to contribute to an organisations success by adding value. These include:

  • reduced staff turnover
  • improved productivity
  • hiring neurodiverse staff improves existing staff morale and improves leadership skills

Individuals with neurodiversity often dislike change and may stay in the same role or organisation for longer periods than neurotypical employees if the work and environment are good. People with  neurodiversity have a reputation for focus, attention to detail, accuracy and an ability to concentrate for longer periods of time than neurotypical workers. They often do not engage in office politics, banter or socialising, they just want to complete the task allocated. Examples now exist on the programs mentioned above where the neurodiverse  staff are outperforming their neurotypical co-workers.

Neurotypical workers are becoming more aware of the social value of supporting people with autism.

Other benefits will be found to existing staff through feeling a sense of pride that their organisation has invested in hiring people with lower employment outcomes. With the incidence of autism diagnosis increasing, many families have a connection to autism. Programs to support neurodiverse workers may also support staff experiencing anxiety, depression and other neurological conditions. Leaders learn how to manage people’s personalities and different ways of thinking. Managers often performance  manage someone who is different or difficult. With a small amount of training, managers can dramatically improve their leadership and management skills. Learning how to harness the problem-solving skills of neurodiverse workers and handle the direct way someone may speak or their poor social skills, makes good leadership and business sense. This is inclusion at its simplest level.

Embrace neurodiversity for competitive advantage

With some simple modifications to employment methodologies, awareness training and leadership support, we can improve the employment rate of people with neurodiversity and provide competitive advantages to organisations.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.

 

The start of Employ for Ability

The start of Employ for Ability

 

This week I commenced a defining step in my career to help build the Neurodiversity employment market; one placement at a time.

I did not realise it at the time, but my journey began when our third child, Ollie was born. Annie and I knew he was different to his older brother and sister, but when he was diagnosed with Autism at age 4, we went through the roller coaster of emotions all parents would experience. What does this mean for our son? Will he have a “normal” life? Will he get a job and reach his potential? What will this mean for our family?

As a family we have grown to understand Autism and to see the strengths Ollie has. His delightful happy attitude, his sense of equality and justice, his inability to tell a lie and his passion for following routines, yet still forgetting to empty the dishwasher highlight his diverse personality. He is a blessing and intrinsic part of my life and the reason I purposely started my Neurodiversity employment journey in 2016.

What is Neurodiversity ?

Neurodiversity is the concept, that neurological differences like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are part of the normal variation of the human population. It is a component of the social model of disability in comparison to a medical model where we need to find a cure. Autism is characterised by difficulty in social communication, social interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviours and interests. People with Autism are also hard working, loyal, direct, problem solvers, unique thinkers and honest to name a few qualities.

In October 2016, I was fortunate to attend the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership program at Said Business School, Oxford University. I am very grateful for the opportunity my employer at the time, Peoplebank gave me to have 3 weeks in the UK to think and explore how purpose and leadership can intertwine to create a competitive advantage. Since then Peoplebank has been very supportive of the development of my purpose in the recruitment industry.

Under the guidance of Prof Lalit Johri who is the Director of the Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Programme I explored competitive advantage in emerging markets and what my social purpose was. Together with my fellow course attendees, we examined case studies on leadership, and what made organisations great. My moment of clarity came when I was talking to a fellow course member, Dr Peter Lawrence who at the time was the CIO of the Australian Defence department. I mentioned I had a son who was on the Spectrum and I was interested in improving the employment rate of people who had Neurodiversity. He mentioned he was sponsoring a pilot program managed by HPE/DXC. I further learned of the assessment programs organisations like Specialisterne have developed internationally that remove the interview, resume and focus on the persons strengths.

There is a saying in the Autism community, if you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism. I knew about my son Ollie, but I needed a broader understanding of what evidence-based studies existed to improve the placement rate of people who are Neurodiverse. Over the coming months, I spoke to many different organisations who had either started programs or where interested in improving the employment rate of people on the Autism Spectrum. In 2018, I completed a Graduate Certificate in Autism Studies at Griffith University, to learn more about ASD. What I discovered was there is not a lot of research on this topic, and what does exist highlights that supported work programs are the best model to help people. To further grow my knowledge, I commenced a Research Masters in 2019 and my thesis is on Autism, Anxiety and the job search process. I aim to complete this in 2021.

We also know that people with Autism find job search and interviews to be problematic. In Australia 83% of people of working age participate in the workforce, 53% of people with a disability are employed, yet only 41% of people with Autism are employed (ABS, 2015). Employment is counted if you work 8 hours or more per week. It is harder to gain a job if you have autism than if you have an intellectual disability. The unemployment rate for people with a disability is over 31%, 6 times greater than people without a disability.

The typical job search process in Australia involves responding to job ads and if you match the brief, attending an interview. Interviews are a way to measure someone’s suitability for a role by measuring their responses to behavioural questions. It measures a person’s social and communication skills. Skills that people on the Autism spectrum have distinct disadvantages with.

In the words of Kurt Fearnley on The Drum on 10 May 2019, “people with a disability are not disabled because of their deficits, they are disabled because of the way their environment and other people treat them”.  If you are in a wheel chair, we know you are disabled, and don’t put “steps” in your way. But with Autism, it is not as visible and we put steps in your way, by insisting on interviews and measuring you against your social and communication skills.

In Australia we have a wave of young people who have been given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder who are about to finish school and enter the job market. We need to dramatically improve the placement rate of people with Autism and educate employers on the value they can obtain by hiring people who think differently and can solve problems that other people may not be able too. If we fail to do this not only are people with Autism destined to be long term unemployed, but for those with an NDIS plan, we are building their confidence and capability to enter the workforce only to tell them, you are not welcome.

Following my studies, placement of 46 Neurodiverse people and understanding of the emerging market, I decided to start my own business working with Canberra region employers and people with Neurodiversity to showcase the value Neurodiverse staff provide to organisations. This emerging market is one that will grow rapidly over the coming decades.

The sense of purpose I have experienced in placing people so far has been amazing. Seeing the joy in the faces of the Neurodiverse workers, the transformations in their families and the realisation from employers that what they considered disability employment is actually giving them a competitive advantage has been profound.

The journey has begun, I hope it is a rewarding and fulfilling one that helps a lot of people to reach their potential.


David Smith for Employ for Ability –  Linkedin + Facebook
An autism and neurodiversity employment specialist and advocate.
Working for the last 20 years in the recruitment sector coaching and mentoring clients, candidates and staff to reach their potential.