I was recently tasked to write copy on marketing for our Neurodiverse Employment offering – Project Possible. I know almost nothing about Autism so I set about conducting research on the contributions Neurodiverse and Autistic people can make to companies in the tech sector.
My challenge is to inform managers on real and measurable business reasons to employ Neurodiverse people.
I soon noticed that people on the spectrum and military veterans in transition can face many similar obstacles in their careers. Both communities have an unacceptably high suicide rate which is often tied in with problems gaining and retaining fulfilling employment. Anxiety, depression and related mental health issues are quite common. Barriers to communication and culture fit are significant – although more so for people on the spectrum. Big crowds and noisy workplaces can be deal breakers for both – although usually for different reasons. Both communities face often insurmountable prejudice and stereotyping in relation to employability expectations from business.
I set about looking for examples on where Autistic and Neurodiverse people excel and value add to business profitability. Popular culture has given me a few preconceptions about Autistic people – thankfully mostly true:
I was enjoying the research until it led to me an article that gave the following reason to employ an autistic person:
“If you employ an autistic person they will be really grateful to you.”
“What the flaming f...?” No apologies – I'm still angry. An autistic person should beg an employer for a job and then get down on their knees and be grateful when they are given one? Unacceptable!
To explain to you how I see the contribution an autistic person makes to a team I’m going to talk to you about an Artillery Battery. Stick with me.
If you ever see an artillery battery in action you will see a varied and diverse combination of people, tools, weaponry and skills focussed on one thing.
Make an impact on a specific point on the map as quickly and as accurately as possible.
In an artillery battery there are basically two types of weapons. There are convenient, light, easy to carry weapons that are flexible and varied in their application – rifles, pistols, grenades, claymore mines etc. Small arms can be moved around and re-targeted easily but they have a short range and small impact. Personal weapons can be used offensively or defensively by just about anyone – even to help feed the Battery personnel if necessary.
Then there are the Guns.
There is nothing convenient or portable about an artillery Gun. Ask any Gunner who has had to manhandle one out of the mud and they will tell you that it is definitely a love/hate relationship. Guns are big, awkward to relocate, and require extensive crew training (and more than a bit of sweat) to target and fire. Guns have a long range and exist to make a big impact. Unlike a rifle or pistol that can be applied for more than one purpose an Artillery Gun exists to do one thing – and one thing only.
Deliver a lot of impact in a specific direction, to a specific point, very quickly and very, very accurately.
A neurodiverse team member is like the Big Gun in your team. Their interest and expertise might only impact in one specific area, but when an autistic person brings a skill to the table – they bring it in a big way.
Think about it.