30th March 2020

Raising autism awareness at Civica

We're celebrating neurodiversity and supporting a more inclusive workplace

If every person thought the same, it would be difficult for organisations to innovate. To celebrate neurodiversity, Civica is raising awareness of autism spectrum conditions (ASC) this week and beyond. With about 1% of the population being on the spectrum, it’s crucial to ensure that workplaces are inclusive of neurodivergence and all employees understand the needs of those with ASC.

Four Civica employees have shared their unique experiences with ASC:

  • David is a Senior Software Engineer and was diagnosed in his early forties, along with his family.
  • Julie is a Revenues & Benefits Officer and has a daughter and grandson with ASC.
  • Kate is a Digital Specialist and has two children with ASC.
  • Sam* is a placement student who has ASC.

*name changed

Just 16% of adults with autism are in full time paid employment

When David thinks of the recruitment process for those with autism, he’s reminded of infographics that show common non-verbal mistakes made at job interviews, such as failing to make eye contact or fidgeting too much.

“These are like an autism symptom checklist. It’s not surprising to me that many people with ASC have trouble finding a job as these unconscious biases are very difficult to overcome.”

Sam believes that honesty is the best policy when it comes to disclosing ASC.

“After being rejected for a previous job, the feedback indicated that my nervousness and low score in a question about teamwork let me down. I hadn’t disclosed my condition but if I had, these may have been overlooked. I decided that I would be open in my next interview, which happened to be with Civica.

“From what I was told after finding out I was successful, disclosing was a good idea. Colleagues can understand why you might do things differently or why you may find them challenging, and try to help. Autism is nothing to be ashamed of.”

43% of autistic people have left or lost a job because of their condition

Like many with ASC, Sam has found this can lead to both positives and negatives in his role and work life.

“I want to get everything finished to the best of my ability – though this can mean I work too much or don’t take enough breaks. When I first joined Civica I barely spoke to anybody and would turn down any social invitations. The truth is, I always wanted to say yes but was too anxious to do so, and would have felt uncomfortable around new people.

“I also advise my colleagues that if they see someone with autism not saying anything in a social situation, to try to say something to give them an opportunity to talk. Lots of us may desperately want to be involved but can’t do it ourselves."

Only 16% of people with ASC feel that the public understand them

With Civica’s support and her own personal experience prompting her to do so, Julie returned to college and then to university to gain a degree in Education Studies, focusing on special educational needs.

“This gave me a huge insight into the complexities which our brain has to deal with and how early years’ development supports us in later life.

“I believe that the more we openly talk about autism, the more that people start to understand the challenges which those with an autism spectrum condition face. As autism becomes more recognised and understood, then people on the spectrum will not feel isolated. Inclusion will then be something that happens naturally.”

David’s experience with autism initially came about through his daughter studying A-level Psychology when they briefly studied a unit on autism.

“She immediately recognised many similarities in herself. Once we started looking into it, we gradually realised we were all on the spectrum."

One by one, David, his wife and two children were all diagnosed, which they’ve spoken about candidly in the below video.

“Initially, I thought that an ‘official’ diagnosis wouldn’t help that much, but I was wrong. Once the diagnosis was complete, it felt like a weight had been lifted. I had a reason, an explanation, for why I was different; why I made so many mistakes and had problems; why certain sensory stimuli affected me more than others. I was finally able to forgive myself for the social errors and I was able to relax and be honest about being different.”

Autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people

Kate’s children’s experiences with ASC have been extremely different. Her son is brilliant at all things data rational whilst her daughter is more creative, yet interprets the world radically different to her peers.

“I’ve learned that autism isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ and the spectrum has all sorts of variety within it. As a parent, my children have taught me so much: perspective (don’t sweat the small stuff!), determination, resilience, patience, communication – and certainly getting things done within the education and health and social care systems.”

60% of employers are worried about getting support wrong

A workplace that is already supportive and sensitive and responsive to employees’ needs is already on the right track.

David says: “I have consistently felt supported by my colleagues throughout my experience at Civica. I told my manager once I was diagnosed and the instant reaction was, 'how can we support you better?’ This was a huge relief, as ASC does increase the tendency to worry over how you are perceived socially.

“Civica also has a peer support Yammer group for employees with ASC and it’s a great support system – just knowing you’re not alone is a huge help!”

Sam adds: “My original manager has family members with autism so having that first-hand experience really put me at ease. I was also assigned a desk in a quiet area beside the wall to reduce the number of people walking past me and avoid other sensory overload.

“Whilst autism has its advantages, it’s not a strength. However, if I was offered a cure for autism I wouldn’t take it. Autism is a part of my personality and to remove my autism would change me into someone else.”

Kate adds her final thoughts: “We describe autism as our kids’ ‘superpower’ – not because it’s something that defines who they are, but something that super-charges what they’re capable of.

“Although it’s not why I chose to work for Civica, it’s great to work for an employer that’s autism aware and encourages and celebrates neurodiversity. Some of the best inventors, innovators and change agents worldwide are autistic. Without difference, there’s no change!”