Nothing about us without us
Who: Cope & Remington
Journal: Autism in Adulthood
Title: The Strengths and Abilities of Autistic People in the Workplace
Strengths & Abilities of Autistic People in the Workplace
Despite wanting to work, autistic people are often under- or unemployed.
In the UK, 22% of autistic adults are in paid work, compared to 80% of nondisabled adults and 54% of disabled adults.
This paper wanted to focus on the strengths & abilities autistic people can bring to the workplace
A questionnaire was filled in by 66 autistic adults.
51 were professionally diagnosed.
44 were female, 12 were nonbinary, and 10 were male.
37 were employed, 10 were self-employed, and 19 were not employed.
There were five themes:
1) Cognitive Advantages
3) Strengths Related to Personal Qualities
4) A Unique Autism-Specific Perspective
[Spider diagram of the following:
1) cognitive advantages
- attention to detail
- sustained and intense focus
- superior memory
- superior pattern recognition
- logical & systematic
- creative & innovative
- effective solutions
- enhanced productivity
- organisational skills
- ability to work independently
3) strengths related to personal qualities
- increased empathy
- reduced social pressure
- honest and trustworthiness
- strong sense of social justice
4) a unique autism-specific perspective
- benefit of intense interests
- able to draw on personal experiences
- enjoyment of tasks disliked by NT employees
Autistic adults reported a number of cognitive advantages, including attention to detail, sustained & intense focus, superior memory, pattern recognition, being logical & systematic, and being creative & innovative.
“Because of my very strong focus on small details I am able to provide a consistently high standard of work for my clients.”
“On this and previous jobs, I have repeatedly ‘fired’ (presumably) NT colleagues or students from these tasks (i.e., re-allocating their time and help elsewhere!) because they just cannot do them at a usable level of accuracy and detail despite extensive training. I find the exacting detail and procedure to be very easy to understand; my colleagues obviously don’t.”
” Hyperfocus often helps, once I’ve got interested in a topic or task. This works well for research, when I can happily read or think about a topic for hours, days. I definitely experience flow states when thinking like this more than my non-autistic colleagues.”
“[Autistic people] are famous for our ability to think outside the box. When it comes to solving conflicts this enables us to come up with often unconventional ideas.”
They reported being able to come up with effective solutions, having enhanced productivity, great organisational skills, and a good ability to work independently.
“I am very good at workflow efficiency and figuring out how to do new things rapidly.”
“[I] spotted several typos on a webpage that colleagues had missed.”
“In my lab, we need to do a lot of very complicated planning, organizing people, procedures equipment, schedules. I can do and keep track of most of this in my head, and my colleagues definitely cannot.”
“[I am good at] getting things done more quickly than a drawn-out approach whereby something is ‘answered’ without being answered, and crops up again later, but worse.”
Many people reported personal qualities which were advantageous in the workplace. They reported being honest and having a strong sense of social justice & fairness. They felt able to speak out when noticing something was wrong. However, they found that others in the workplace did not see their honesty as a strength, and that this had led to conflict.
They also felt they were extremely dedicated to their work, and felt less social pressure than others in the workplace. They also felt that they were more empathetic towards others, especially those deemed “different”.
“In situations where something seriously wrong was happening, I was the one to speak up about it.”
(former prison officer)
“I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and if I am asked to cover up something untoward I refuse.”
“It is more important to me than to my neurotypical colleagues to ensure that all data is 100% transferred and accurate and that all processes and actions are documented thoroughly.”
(university admin officer)
“I would say I am less susceptible to group think when being asked for an opinion about something.”
“Disinterest in small talk & general self-promotion leads to greater productivity.”
“I tend to do very well with creating a safe space for people [who] for some reason are misfits.”
(learning support assistant, transcultural counsellor)
They felt their unique perspective on life was an advantage. This included their ability to draw on personal experience to support others, utilising their intense interests to find out more about their area of work, and that they seemed to enjoy some tasks which NT employees did not enjoy.
“[I am good at] bridging the gap between Deaf and hearing communities—I understand both and can effectively mediate and adjust language use (Autistic and Deaf mindsets/cultures are both very literal).”
(special education teacher)
“Because teaching is a special interest, I am always trying to learn about ways to improve my teaching.”
“I write good, useful articles covering subjects no one else (maybe on the whole net) have written about.”
“Colleagues do not believe that I am very happy to still teach the first year intro course after 15 years doing it.”
This paper shows that autistic people have clear employment-related strengths. These are their cognitive skills, personal qualities, and their unique perspectives.
Many of these findings match previous literature, but there are some differences. For example, many people in this study reported they had great organisational skills, but previous research suggests that autistic people have executive function deficits. It’s possible that executive function impairments may be a factor in the difficulties autistic people have in finding & maintaining employment.
These findings also differ from the mischaracterisation that autistic people lack empathy. Many of the participants in this study worked in caring professions and reported their increased empathy as a strength, especially towards other autistic or disabled people, and others who society considers “different”. This might be linked to the double empathy problem, which suggests that autistic and nonautistic people struggle to empathise with one another, but that autistic people are more effective than nonautistic people in empathising with other autistic people. This shows that it is really valuable in having autistic people working with those with similar challenges.
This study highlights the individual, first-hand, experiences of autistic employees’ advantages in the work-place. Although some of the skills reported by our participants map onto those previously reported, those who took part in our study spoke about a wide range of additional strengths related to their personal qualities and social skills.
This research shows that autistic adults have a lot of workplace related strengths, and employers should consider how they can support autistic employees to utilise their strengths, as this would benefit both employee and employer.
This research could also have a positive impact on autistic people who may read this and be able to identify these strengths in themselves. This may help them to make decisions regarding what form of employment may be right for them, and to recognise the immense value they can bring to a workplace.
The findings may also help those working with autistic people as they prepare for employment, to help autistic people identify their own unique strengths that can be applied to the workplace.