Julian recently participated in Specialisterne’s Sydney Cluster Assessment Centre which offers an alternative pathway for people on the autism spectrum to connect with employers who recognise the valuable contributions and talents that people with autism can bring to organisations. Julian has kindly shared his experience of the program and has offered some valuable insights from his own experiences and has provided suggestions for employers to think differently about their recruitment processes.
Q: How old were you when you were first diagnosed with autism? What impact has the diagnosis had on your life?
I don’t remember exactly when I was diagnosed but I was mid primary school, about 8 or 9 years old. The main impact was needing extra support with specialists at school and as I’ve gotten older I have relied on support from family and friends. I have learned to present a more normal front when I’ve had to.
Q: What qualifications do you have?
I have a Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of Wollongong, and a Diploma of Graphic Design from Illawarra TAFE.
Q: Why do you think it’s so difficult to get a job being an autistic adult?
A number of things – I think underdeveloped set of social skills can make interviews challenging. Even if we have qualifications and the requisite skills, some of us can present as nervous. Speaking with large groups of strangers can be daunting. There is also a general stigma still associated with autism. If you present as a bit different, employers may make an assumption about you. It becomes difficult to demonstrate your skills and abilities. I have applied for more than 100 jobs. I had a 5-month stint with a small company as a software developer while at Uni and 3-month Internship with a bank but it didn’t end up going anywhere.
Q: What was the most common barrier you faced in regards to gaining and maintaining employment?
I’ve not had a lot of experience keeping employment. Being able to sell yourself is a big hurdle. It’s not something I’m comfortable doing. I find it hard to talk about my skills and abilities. That’s why the Specialisterne program is so good because they let you demonstrate your skills rather than explain them.
Q: How did you hear about the Specialisterne Sydney Assessment Centre opportunity?
I subscribe to the Specialisterne mailing list so I get notifications when programs come up.
Q: What interested you about the program/why did you apply?
I’d already participated in a previous Specialisterne program with Westpac and it was really good. I didn’t end up getting a job with Westpac as there was a miscommunication from another internship I had so I missed the timing window. When I saw another program come up in Sydney I jumped at the chance.
Q: How did the Specialisterne training and assessment format differ to other employment or recruitment pathways you have experienced?
It’s very different to the regular process of seeing a job, applying for it and hoping someone notices you. With the Specialisterne program employers come to you and you can show them what you can do in an informal environment. It’s a format most people could benefit from, not just people on the spectrum.
Q: What would be your ideal role?
I’ve never really had an ideal role per se as it’s always been a case of anything that looks interesting I’d go for. The position as a project documentation administrator was interesting but I wasn’t successful. I think I would have suited that role because it was mostly working with excel, being detailed, and the repetition would allow me to get into a work flow – that plays into my strengths because I can become very focussed.
Q: What can autistic adults do to alleviate the stigma that employers may have from employing autistic adults?
In my honest opinion I think it’s incumbent upon employers and society in general to get over their stereotypes and grow up and educate themselves. I don’t think it’s the responsibility of autistic people to change how employers think.
Q: Do you believe the statement that one of the biggest aids to changing attitudes is education?
I would agree with that. Education and time. It can take time for people’s attitudes to change. They may never change so it may be incumbent upon employers to see the difference and to change the way autism is viewed in the workplace.
Q: What would your advice be to employers in regards to hiring an individual on the autism spectrum?
Try and gauge what skills the individual might bring as opposed to what qualifications they have. The regular employment process inhibits people because those with qualifications get a look in, but other people may have the requisite skills and may be better suited. It’s about having recruitment processes that don’t disadvantage people on the spectrum. I think employers have a lot to gain by buying into Specialisterne programs. There’s a lot of talent who have had trouble finding work.