by Joy Hewitt, Meticulon Chief Employment Coach
Many of the attributes that employers are looking for are qualities that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have – honesty and integrity, loyalty and dedication, a strong work ethic, analytical skills, computer skills, time management and organizational skills, motivation or initiative, and the ability to think outside the box – yet rarely do prospective employers see the innate skills and potential of such candidates. Meticulon focuses on these positive attributes as we assess the strengths and skills of our candidates while we also consider their aspirations and what would be the best job match for them, within our niche of the IT field.
People on the spectrum often thrive in a structured and well organized environment and can be excellent employees if they’re given the opportunity to use their strengths or natural abilities. For example, the patterns of thinking typically associated with autism can enable those with ASD to learn more quickly and follow work based routines more effortlessly. Furthermore, many people on the Spectrum have a ‘need to complete’; this can be a strength in the work world, where they are motivated to reach the end of an assigned task.
People with ASD may also be described as having exceptional ‘attention focus’ and ‘attention to detail’, these too become strengths within the work place, where they are not easily distracted from a task and are capable of focusing for long periods of time – with the same level of performance as when they began. Some have such a keen eye for detail that discrepancies can be easily seen, making their work time quicker and more effective. We have also met candidates that have phenomenal memories and are highly intelligent, each with gifts and advantages in various capacities and some with savant skills.
These are examples of what we call the “Autism Advantage”. We, at Meticulon, are working to create awareness of such advantages as we encourage moving away from the traditional ‘deficit’ model of autism and support people with ASD by recognizing the strengths of each individual and by providing coaching for any challenges/sensitivities. We believe in neurodiversity, that neurological differences are natural variations that should be recognized and respected, and assess the abilities of each our consultants to better understand not only their potential for certain IT positions, but also what type of work they’re interested in. Choosing a suitable role, therefore, is a step towards a route of success. Our hope is that they achieve their potential and attain meaningful and fulfilled career paths.
Why then, with such skills and abilities, do many people with ASD find job-searching to be so anxiety provoking? It might be a struggle to get past the initial interview which is a huge hurdle for many people that we’ve met. People with ASD don’t always fit into the ideal interviewee category as characteristics commonly looked for – eye contact, body language, social cues – are not often their forte. Perhaps there’s some confusion regarding what they’re qualified to do or it may be that the job-hunter struggles to communicate their value to potential employers.
At a Meticulon interview, we focus more on literal answers and we listen for genuine employment aspirations to evaluate if they have the required interest and motivation to proceed to our process and our line of work. After the interview, we select a short list of applicants to advance to one day of testing in which we evaluate aptitude and logic, level of creative thinking and accuracy, and the ability to reason, focus and persevere. In addition, we run a psychological/personality assessment that provides interpretive reports which assess personality traits, psychosocial variables and potential personality disorders. From the testing evaluations combined with our observations, we choose a maximum of 7 candidates to proceed to our 3 week assessment.
Meticulon has an extensive process which includes a 3 week session consisting of various tasks that helps us evaluate and observe each candidate’s strengths and skills, as well as their sensitivities and challenges. Each task has a purpose and reveals aspects of qualities specific to our MindMap development – a personal profile showing our observations that determine areas where they excelled, the level of their talents and skills, their ideal work environment or if any subtle accommodations are required, and include suggestions for any required coaching. Once we have developed each candidate’s MindMap, we use it as a guide for employers to see a candidate’s potential fit for a contract. Businesses, thus far, have appreciated the visual guideline and have commented on the benefit of having such a chart to refer to, showing the skill set of an employee.
A Meticulon core team member along with a Job Coach, typically meet with the employer for the initial interview to explicate and represent our candidate and his/her skills pertinent to the available position. This preliminary meeting alleviates the stress from our candidates as we assist with the first step in securing a position. If the employer is interested and the candidate likes the potential opportunity, we typically then arrange a meeting for the two to meet. We have had situations where more than one candidate is competing for a position as well, and this type of meeting usually helps the employer with the final decision. This process eliminates the initial interview hurdle, any confusion regarding the candidate’s qualifications (the MindMap depicts their skillset which can also increase their confidence levels) and provides a clear visual, along with our (Meticulon) representation as confirmation, to communicate their value to the potential company.
Another supportive measure that we take at Meticulon, is providing job coaching. Each consultant has a Job Coach who checks-in consistently, with both the consultant and their single-point-of-contact (supervisor) at work, and helps alleviate stressors, accommodate sensitivities, and assists with social situations, organizational or schedule changes as well as with any work related issues. We ask our employers to provide a single-point-of-contact to help decrease confusion and build rapport with our consultant. Our Job Coaches schedule regular meetings but they are always on call, for both the consultant and the employer.
Meticulon also arranges a Lunch and Learn presentation prior to our candidate’s start date, for the relevant department – or the entire company, in which we discuss Meticulon’s process and involvement and create awareness about ASD. The Lunch and Learn can assist with the transition for the consultant and for the existing staff. We also answer questions and give suggestions. For example, we discuss how individuals with ASD often find social situations one of the biggest obstacles faced in a work environment – not the actual work nor dedication to it. Some people on the spectrum simply have difficulty with the technicalities of social interaction – the social cues and nuances, literal interpretations of sarcasm or metaphors, communication difficulties (too much or little or honest), confusion with unwritten rules or interpersonal boundaries, etc. To make the process easier, existing staff – directed from the single-point-of-contact – may want to provide some customized supports about workplace culture in order to help the worker with ASD understand what is acceptable, unacceptable and expected. Clear, straightforward, positive explanations could be provided to the consultant and reaffirmed through an ongoing basis. This may promote a more welcoming transition…especially in a stronger workplace culture.
We try to give examples, when necessary, of any concerns or differences that co-workers may notice. Sensory sensitivities, for example, may require our consultants to have certain accommodations. If they have heightened hearing, they might use ear plugs, buds or headphones. Light sensitivity may be accommodated by wearing tinted glasses/sunglasses at work, or more frequent breaks might be required if the consultant is over/under stimulated or has stims (self-stimulatory behavior such as rocking or fidgeting). Organizational demands may need to be more structured and predictable, for a Meticulon consultant, as they commonly have a need to understand what is going to happen and when or why. Not knowing this kind of information can cause overwhelming anxiety and, for some, the possibility of a meltdown. Visual schedules are often beneficial as well as being notified well in advance, even for a change in the routine. Meticulon asks our employers to include us if there are going to be organizational, structural or schedule changes so we can help our consultants prepare. We’ve found the best fit are often at jobs in which there is a high degree of structure, predictability, and where responsibilities and schedules are spelled out in great detail.
In conclusion, Meticulon’s assessment process and tools, in-depth personal profiles and MindMaps, representing our candidates with potential employers, in addition to our job coaching support and techniques, are working together towards the goal of a brighter employment future for those with high-functioning ASD interested in a future within our niche of the IT field. Furthermore, creating awareness, not only with our business partners but also in the community at large, will hopefully develop a growing public awareness of the “Autism Advantage” and the benefit of neurodiversity.