Autism has been in the spotlight recently thanks to Autism Awareness Week in April, and it seems more and more employers are realising the advantages of having a truly neurodiverse workforce.
An estimated one in every 100 people are autistic, yet only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment.
Part of the problem is the lack of understanding around autism and other neurodiverse conditions.
While each person with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is unique, it’s fair to say that many autistic people may excel at accounting, IT or science, but that they may struggle more with the so-called soft skills and in social situations.
How businesses are expanding with a neurodiverse workforce
Thankfully, many forward-thinking businesses, such as IT giant SAP, Auticon multinational IT firm and KPMG, are bringing people with ASD to the fore.
SAP has pledged to employ 650 employees with ASD by 2020 as part of its neurodiversity programme and Auticon.
The multinational IT consultancy which only employs autistic adults, has been working with the likes of Virgin Group, KPMG and Channel 4 over the last few years.
The DiverseMinds conference about neurodiversity, took place in London earlier this year. Matthew Trerise, an autism and neurodiversity specialist and consultant, outlined the benefits that autistic people can bring to the workforce.
Namely, being able to focus intently on something for long periods of time, logical/analytical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, honesty and being able to look at something from a different perspective. “All of which can make people with ASD brilliant employees,” he said.
Benefits of autism and accountancy
Rosie Weldon, an autistic client accountant at Exchequer Accountancy, says being autistic has helped her in many aspects of her job, but that is has caused significant challenges in other areas of her life.
“Accountancy is based on rules and logic. Numbers are objective and my mind’s analytical nature thrives when I am working with them.
Tasks, such as reconciliations are like letting my innate need for everything to make sense and have a place to run free, to let my mind do what it wants to do all the time – analyse inputs, variables and details,” she notes.
However, Weldon, who also has her own blog about life as an autistic person, has found ASD to be a double-edged sword, as it were.
Challenges and skills
“The autistic traits that cause me challenges in other areas of my life have enhanced my skills as an accountant; straight to the point communication, the need to follow rules, a structured approach to tasks and exceptional attention to detail,” Weldon explains.
“I don’t engage in small talk because I do not know how, but being autistic has helped me develop strong relationships with colleagues and management that are based on trust and understanding. Their support has created loyalty.”
Adjusting the workplace to support autistic employees
In order to get the most out of neurodiverse employees’ however, employer’s might have to make a number of minor adjustments.
- ensuring they have very clear and accessible communications systems
- providing a structured working environment
- sensory environmental adaptions, such as a quiet zone, noise cancelling headphones or low level lighting.
Trerise said that providing training on neurodiversity and different conditions could also help raise awareness of ASD and other conditions.
Focusing on the positives
Veronica Pullen, an autistic marketing specialist who used to run her own bookkeeping business, says she found her ability to focus intently on something a huge advantage.
“When I am in the zone, working on something, I can’t switch off from it until it is finished,” she notes.
“Something else I found was that my focus in bookkeeping was in the detail, rather than the big picture. So I would be hyper-focused on reconciling individual accounts, but find it a challenge to step away and look at the bigger picture of the accounts.”
Pullen was fine as long as she had certain ‘rules’ to follow.
“The most fun I had as a bookkeeper was at the account level, where there were rules to follow, and as long as everything was ‘right’, it would be correct,” she says.
It’s clear that there are still significant obstacles to overcome when it comes to embracing a fully neurodivergent workforce but some progress is being made.
As Roxanna Hobbs, founder of The Hobbs Consultancy, which specialises in diversity and inclusion, says:
“We have to welcome, accommodate and support a wider range of ‘normal’ and only then will we benefit from the extraordinary difference these diverse minds can bring.”
AAT has guidelines for the application of reasonable adjustments and special consideration in AAT assessments.
This allows awarding bodies and centres to make “appropriate reasonable adjustments to standard assessment arrangements, wherever this is required to enable access.”
If you need extra help with your AAT qualifications, AAT has an extensive range of study support for students, including practice assessments, careers advice and networking events.
Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.