Autism doesn't hold me back. I'm moving up the career ladder

Amelia Hill

Jonathan Young has big plans for his career. The business analyst at Goldman Sachs is on the autistic spectrum. But this, he says, is not something he allows to hold him back.

"I'm the company's global go-to guy for all the information used in every single one of our internal and external presentations," he says. "I'm moving up the ladder every year in terms of responsibility or promotion. My ambition is to maintain this momentum. In 10 years, I want to be someone fairly big."

He is part of the most visible generation of young people with autism our society has ever known. Diagnosed early, this generation have been educated to expect not just a job when they leave school but a career on a par with their "neuro-typical" contemporaries.

The confidence and determination of these graduates – some of whom are educated to PhD level – are forcing the pace of change in organisations previously inaccessible to those with autism. Businesses, from City law firms and banks to global healthcare companies, have begun to open their doors to young people once thought able only to do lowly jobs.

Young first went to Goldman Sachs as an intern in the National Autistic Society's specialist employment programme, Prospects. His time at the investment bank was such a success that the two-month internship swiftly became a full-time, permanent post.

"When I arrived, this role was a part-time job but I built it up into a key, full-time post and made it my own," he said. "Autism doesn't hold me back because I have had the correct support from a young age. It's key to have that support, both in education and in the workplace, but I don't require anything complicated: people just have to understand that I'm different."

For all his confidence, Young admits that he considers himself fortunate. "I never lose sight of the fact that I'm lucky to have a job that allows me to use all my intelligence and stretch my potential," he said.

Prospects has placed young people with autism in companies including Thomson Reuters, the law firms Clifford Chance and Ashurst, the technology and business consultant Cartesian, and John Lewis.

Penny Andrews got her job as a library graduate trainee at Leeds Metropolitan University in August without any help from a charity or specialist employment agency.

Having beaten 200 applicants to the job, she believes she has proved herself to be the best candidate. "Sometimes I feel people think I should be grateful that I have a job but I'm performing a useful task and doing it well, so they should be grateful to me," she said. "After all, they wanted me badly enough to employ me a month before I had finished my degree in IT and communications with the Open University."

Far from feeling that her diagnosis of Asperger's is something to be "got over", Andrews maintains it gave her a lead over the other candidates. "I was completely open about my autism throughout the interview process and even asked for a few special conditions to take account of my Asperger's, such as working from 8.30am to 4.30pm,for example, so I don't have to take the rush-hour bus home, taking extra breaks in a special quiet area if I need quiet, and not having to answer telephones."

They are small adjustments for her employers to make, she said, compared with the advantages her Asperger's gives them. "I'm more focused, intense and honest than a neuro-typical person," she said. "I do things thoroughly and pay proper attention to detail. I'm always switched on: even when I'm not at work, I'll go to events that are relevant. Libraries are one of my autistic specialities and I harness that at work."

Employers' attitudes might be changing but there is a lot of ground to make up. Just 15% of those with autism have full-time jobs, according to research by the National Autistic Society (Nas), while 9% work part-time. These figures compare unfavourably with the 31% of disabled people in full-time work in the UK. More than a quarter of graduates with autism are unemployed, the highest rate of any disability group. Nevertheless, employers are increasingly coming round to the arguments from disability advocates that employing those on the spectrum is not about charity or social responsibility – but the empirical benefit of taking on people with unique skills.

Tom Madders is head of campaigns at the society and responsible for its Undiscovered Workforce campaign to get young people with autism into employment. He talks of a "vast pool of untapped talent" among those with autism.

"When someone has the intellectual ability and ends up doing a job like working in a supermarket, it's heartbreaking. It's such a waste because although everyone with autism is different, the things they bring that are additional to the rest of us include a very high concentration level, very good attention to detail and analytical skills that are key in data analysis and when looking for anomalies in complex spreadsheets," he said. "Why would employers want to miss out on those skills? In addition, those with autism have very specialist areas of exhaustive interest which, if these can coincide with the job in hand, can be extremely useful. They're much more reliable in terms of timeliness and absenteeism and very loyal. Often, they're very happy in jobs other people find boring."

Full story from The Guardian here

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