So, for those who have been following me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, you'll be aware that I have a new job. I've been there a week, and while it's a bit overwhelming, it's also been extremely positive, especially the reception to the news that I have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
A lot of people on the spectrum that I speak to often lament that telling employers that you have a mental illness/personality disorder/are neurodiverse often means that they are excluded from jobs. This means that they don't reveal their condition, often trying their best to disguise it. This is a BAD idea for a lot of reasons, the biggest one being the damage it does to the individual. Trying to mask neurodiversity is HARD, and it takes a lot of energy that could be instead focused on getting the job done. Following on from that, I then hear stories of people starting to burn out, get sick and ultimately get fired for poor performance. No need to explain why this is bad - getting fired repeatedly from jobs makes it harder to gain subsequent employment.
So, my plan has always been from the start to be open and honest about my condition. A lot of people will scoff at me for this, but I look at it this way - if someone doesn't want to employ me because of my condition, then I really don't want to work for them. You don't want to work for an employer that doesn't want to work with you in getting the best out of you.
That being said, there are ways that you can make this a positive:
- No one knows you better than you. So before you start applying for jobs, work on a plan. Think about the things that you need to be a good worker and about the things that can potentially go wrong. Click here to see a copy of my "Quick Aspergers Syndrome Guide" that I have printed out on my desk.
- Make sure you tell potential employers at the interview. Frame it as a positive - mention that you have a plan and you're happy to answer questions. Not only will this make it easier for employers to help you, it also shows initiative and planning, which any employer will value!
- Keep the lines of communication open. Things change, including in your personal life, that affect how you work. Also, new strategies and treatments are becoming available all the time.
- You don't have to tell your employer everything, and there are some things that you will be telling your manager that you won't need to tell your coworkers.
For employers: Please, PLEASE don't dismiss applicants just because they're neurodiverse. You wouldn't dismiss someone for being in a wheelchair (unless of course, it was a physically demanding job). Consider them as a whole person, and if you can work with them and they will fit into your business then definitely hire them. You might have to make a change or two, but if you dismiss neurodiverse people out-of-hand, you could potentially be missing out on a great employee.
I always try to be open and honest about my Aspergers. It helps build trust and respect, and it means if something does go wrong, my coworkers, managers and myself are well-placed to minimise the damage and get me back to working my best.
Good luck to everyone, whether you're looking for a job or whether you're looking for the next member of your team.