How to support autistic students in the recruitment process
19 November 2018
Dr Jonathan Vincent is Senior Lecturer at York St John University, a Fellow of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and director of PRO Autism. His research investigates the transitions from higher education to employment for students on the autism spectrum. Here he shares four things that businesses can do to support autistic students in the recruitment process.
The first thing to understand about autism is that every autistic person is different; however, there are a number of traits that most with the diagnosis will share.
The National Autistic Society define autism as a lifelong developmental condition which affects how an individual communicates and relates to others, processes information, and makes ‘sense of the world’. Today, it is considered a relatively common condition, with British studies estimating prevalence at around 1 in 100 people (Brugha et al., 2012).
Increasingly, autistic young people are going to university, graduating with top class degrees, and looking for employment; however evidence shows that those who disclosed an autistic spectrum condition were the least likely to be in full-time employment and most likely to be unemployed six months after completion (AGCAS, 2018). This is a challenge that we must address.
Here are four key things that could enable you to support autistic students in the recruitment process:
1. Say what you mean
Autistic people tend to approach the world in a very logical way (seems sensible, right?). But often the language used in job adverts, interviews, networking events, and workplaces is anything but logical – phrases like “you’ll blow the clients’ minds” or “you’ll push the envelope” can make understanding what is required of a role really hard.
2. Make it clear you are an inclusive employer
The key thing that my research shows is that autistic students and graduates want to feel confident in disclosing their condition to employers. Adding a simple statement to your job advert that says, “we welcome applications from autistic candidates and are happy to make reasonable adjustments” would make a massive difference.
3. More than just lip service
To really make a difference, you need go beyond just saying it. Happily, interview and workplace adjustments are unlikely to be expensive and can be as simple as changing the seating arrangement, altering the starting/finishing time of work to avoid busy travel periods, putting instructions in writing or moving a desk to beside a window to avoid bright lights.
4. Understand the strengths of autistic students
Whilst many autistic people find certain things challenging, evidence also shows that they often have significant strengths that can be beneficial in the workplace. These can include attention to detail, the capacity to come up with creative solutions, the ability to absorb and retain facts, having great integrity, and approaching things methodically. Moreover, data show that once they are clear about their role and have the right support, autistic employees are often more dependable and more productive than non-autistic staff. Just ask GCHQ, JP Morgan or Microsoft, who have begun to specifically recruit autistic graduates for these reasons.
Autistic students and graduates are an untapped talent-pool, and ready, willing and able to work across a range of industries. With a little more understanding and a few simple changes, you could soon be recruiting your most valuable and effective member of staff.
For more information about autism and guidance visit the National Autistic Society website.
Dr Jonathan Vincent shares more insight on supporting autistic students in employment in the next issue of The Student Employer