People often ask whether autism (or another neurodivergent condition) is a disability. I’d argue that it is more helpful to ask whether autistic people are disabled (to which my answer would be: in most cases, yes). It may seem a semantic distinction, but it is important: it locates the disablement not in the autistic person’s brain, but in the society they live in and the way the individual and society interact. Autism is not our disability: it may be an impairment, a difference, or some combination. Our disability is the difficulty that arises in our interaction with the specific society in which we live.
Because we are bad at some things, people often expect us to be bad at other things; for example, they see someone failing to conform with social expectations, and assume that person has impaired intelligence.But because we are good at some things, people are often impatient when we’re not as skilled or need support in other areas.
Academic achievements don’t imply competence in self-care and maintenance, and high levels of skill in certain areas don’t always translate to success in education or in the workplace.
We are often taken to be “lazy” because we seem to master some things easily, but fail at things many find “simple.” Autistic kids suffer a lot in school because when they struggle with certain tasks or subjects, teachers often assume that it’s from a lack of effort.
Have you ever heard a seemingly successful and ‘high-functioning’ Aspie try to explain how exhausting a day at work can be, or say that Asperger’s ‘ruined’ their career? In this article, I will provide just one detailed [real-life] scenario along with a commentary and analysis from an objective standpoint. Aspie’s and neurotypicals (NTs) both can benefit from having a deeper look inside to gain an understanding of what’s happening on both ends.
How we are failing autistics through autism hiring initiatives:
Using and misrepresenting a marginalized minority. Creating a disabled people campaign to increase a company’s brand awareness and appeal to investors and clients. Repeatedly depicting stereotypical autistic Caucasian male who is tech savvy, and not depicting autistics of color, LBGTQ autistics, and autistics across the gender and age spectrum. No representation of autistic individuals who are nonverbal/mute or physically disabled.
Promoting the (stereotypical) strengths of autistic for public relations, without addressing autistics challenges, and how challenges affect job performance and job retention and quality of work life. Not publicly sharing the pitfalls and dangers of diversity hiring initiatives, such as employee turnover, employee depression, employee isolation, and employee suicide, nor offering ideas and solutions to these pitfalls.
• Limited support once an autistic sets foot through the workplace door. The at-risk autistics, with coexisting conditions of PTSD, mood disorders, and suicidal thoughts, being swept into the workplace without forethought to how they might respond, what supports will be needed.
• Discrimination in equal representation and opportunity: Disabled population as low wage earners, while high wage earners are not disabled. Management positions frequented by non-autistics employees, while employees on the autism spectrum are in lower-tiered positions. Not having any autistics on the advisory board or board of directors. Not making job opportunities for autistics available in the fields of leadership, human relations, and communication.
Neurodiversity Hiring Initiatives: Are They Failing Autistics?
Years later I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder. Suddenly, my life made sense. Growing up, it was like I was on a different page, reading sentences from angles nobody else understood. Dyspraxia is a specific learning difficulty which affects up to 10% of the population. We tend to fob off dyspraxia as dyslexia’s lesser-known “clumsy” cousin, with stereotypes of knocking over cups and getting bruises from missed balls. However, dyspraxia is about mental processing as much as physical coordination, and affects everything from the way I read to how I organise my thoughts.Studying with dyspraxia: ‘I never truly understood an academic text’
“It took me four years to learn how to write an essay,” says Kaiya Stone, who was diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia and ADHD in her second year at Oxford University. “I see words as pictures. I learned to read by memorising what each one looks like. I realised there are about five extra stages between me seeing what’s on the page and understanding it. I’d read two sentences of an academic text and have done six times as much work as someone else.”
“I definitely have an anxiety about job applications,” Stone says. “If it takes you three or four times longer than everyone else, you apply for less jobs. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Employers shouldn’t just be trying to look disability-friendly by trying to make themselves accessible. They need to realise that people with specific learning difficulties are often the most talented people for the jobs – they just present differently.”
Imagine someone who just wants to do their job in their workspace, produce results for their company, get a paycheck, and at the end of each day, go home to curl up with their fluffy pet.Building Bridges to Nowhere: On Workplace Best Practices for Keeping Autistic Persons Terminally Jobless
And now, thanks to the new open-office design and policies designed to foster collaboration– they are intolerably distracted by having to work in a 360 degree sensory defensive zone!
Again, a truly counter-inclusive idea being polished up, paraded as some sort of breakthrough moment by the architects of workplace culture. Without a pre-existing culture of acceptance, diversity, and inclusivity being firmly in place, these workspace harm anyone who is not a social insider.
Problem: Organisations are using autism as an excuse to legitimise their approach of confining autists to specific roles and areas within the organisation. Along the way they reinforce stereotypes about what autists can or can’t possibly do.Exploitation of autists at work
The autism at work initiatives are failing autistics on a variety of fronts, as highlighted in this article: Neurodiversity Hiring Initiatives: Are They Failing Autistics? Despite some good intentions, we remain a marginalized minority that is continually misunderstood and repeatedly compartmentalized. When we aren’t being mistreated, we are being told how to improve ourselves and become more non-autistic. We aren’t broken people. But we live in a broken culture.The Dark Side of Autism in the Workplace