Look Ahead Blogs: Autism and the world of work

Published: 30th March 2017
Alain is an actor, writer and trainer on our Experts by Experience (EBE) programme. He also has Asperger's syndrome, which means he is on the autistic spectrum. To mark Autism Awareness week this week, he has written this blog raising awareness about how having autism can make finding the right job difficult.

As part of our EBE team, Alain uses his experiences to train staff how to better support people on the autistic spectrum

This week is Autism Awareness week, and as someone who is on the autistic spectrum, I wanted to help raise awareness about how autism affects everyday life by sharing an example of a time in my life where it has caused me particular stress.

Many people on the autistic spectrum, myself included, are often compelled to hunt for unsuitable jobs. The process of job-hunting can be stressful and humiliating. This means that sometimes even if you find something that clearly it isn’t right for you, it can be all too easy to stay in the job anyway rather than face the stigma of being unemployed. This stigma is heightened all the more now given the cuts to people on benefits and society’s attitude towards them.

The worst experience I have had in a job role was shortly after I graduated from acting college. I found a vacancy for a telephone job advertised in a newspaper. I rang up the printed number and was phoned backed later and offered an interview. The interview was short, and it was more a case of him selling the job to me rather than me selling myself to him.

It was exhausting. I would frequently go the toilet to decompress or have a meltdown between calls whenever it got too much. Late in February, I was fired, having only made two sales in six months. I was expecting it, but I still walked away from the place stunned and perhaps a little bit humiliated.

The job had entailed a certain amount of dishonesty, which I frankly was not comfortable with. Many autistic people find communication hard enough without resorting to deception. Although we can learn to mask some of our more obvious autistic behaviours, flat-out lying goes against the grain for most of us.

With EBE, it was different. I no longer felt the stigma that came associated with the condition, and actually felt that my particular skills and talents were being put to a more productive use. Working on the team with Daniel has been very enjoyable. We train support staff at Look Ahead, as well as external organisations, supporting them to understand how to better support people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Both of us are on the autistic spectrum and yet we have had different life experiences, and it was felt it was important to communicate this to the people we were training – that no two people with the condition were alike.

Over the couple of years, we have been doing it, we have expanded and developed our Asperger’s training from a half-day to a full day. We have also done research into both the causes and symptoms of the condition – particularly meltdowns, mental health as well as difficulties with employment.

The feedback we have had so far has been encouraging, but it is worth pointing out that we have learned as much from the trainees as they hopefully have learned from us.  Each training session is different and in our group discussions with the trainers, we hear about the on-the-job challenges of support working and the customers they come into contact with.

Most of us will spend a considerable amount of our lives at work, so finding a job that you enjoy has a massive effect on the quality of your life. For me, my experience with Experts by Experience has been a really positive one.