It’s important to remember that there are real people behind every statistic. I was one of the people behind the depressing statistic that 88% of people with autism in the UK are not in any kind of employment, and sadly this number is getting worse every year.
The high number makes it seem like there’s a lot of people who are going through the same thing, but the very nature of autism makes it a very isolating experience.
I’ve always loved learning more than anything, and I have done well in school and University. I knew before I graduated that finding a job would be a struggle because I have autism, but I didn’t know just how hard it would be. I think I can conservatively say that I applied for around 300 jobs and had probably 75 phone interviews and around 30 in person interviews during the time I was looking for employment. I was always well prepared and tried my best but something kept blocking me along the way – the autism gap.
Finding a job was probably the most difficult experience of my life so far. Companies seemed to try their hardest to make the recruitment process as complicated as possible, but even worse than that, they didn’t always act professionally. When I would disclose that I had autism I just wouldn’t get any responses from my applications. Whenever I did get to an interview I would get good feedback but criticisms about my personality, I had even been told that ‘you would do the job really well but we don’t think you’d fit in when we go to the pub on a Friday night’, after an interview. I cannot express how depressing it is to hear that you are capable of doing something but not wanted because of things beyond your control.
But more just being depressing, it was a deeply confusing time for me because I’d never been bad at anything in my life as long as I had been supported properly. It’s hard to shake the idea that you are a problem and a failure when you keep getting knocked back and encountering roadblocks whenever you apply for a job.
People who knew me and knew what I had to offer would tell me ‘they’re just not the right company for you’, but that wears thin after a few years of hearing it. I tried my hardest not to internalise the negatives but they crept in and ate away at my self-esteem. I have never in my life felt as disabled as I did during the job seeking process.
Somehow, I found my way to a good company through some luck and through help from a very dedicated supporter who was angry at my situation and the lack of support that was out there for me. I am very thankful to that supporter who could still see what I had to offer even when I couldn’t see it in myself anymore.
From my first interview at the company I felt like I could fit in and do well and thankfully that was recognised by my now colleagues. I found the right company, after I had almost given up hope that I would.
My colleagues have treated me with kindness and always been willing to listen to my thoughts. Everything has been well explained and properly taught to me by my manager and I have always been given room to ask questions because that’s how I learn. I am treated as a person, not as a machine and my ‘autistic traits’ are seen as just parts of my personality, which is exactly what they are. I feel like my team are proud of me, and I feel proud to be here with them.
Through employment I have been given the chance to learn, grow and most importantly to prove the worth that I have. Because of this, I’m now in a position where I can work on a project that can help some of those 88% of autistic people to progress and show who they really are and what they can offer to the world.