Autism: Employers still need to recognise that autistic people can do a good job for them – Hayley Matthews

After Autism Acceptance Week earlier this month, I thought I’d write about a great webinar I attended recently hosted by the Human Health Education and Research Foundation (HHERF).

Saturday, 30th April 2022, 4:55 am
The talents of people with conditions like autism and Asperger's syndrome should not be overlooked (Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)
The talents of people with conditions like autism and Asperger's syndrome should not be overlooked (Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

James Cusack, a Scottish father, husband, chief executive, and autism champion joined everyone to discuss aspects of autism. I could have listened to him all day, what a fantastic speaker he is, with very motivational words!

There are so many questions around autism, and I think now, after the webinar, I understand why. A friend told me once that the spectrum is so vast and different that many people can have completely different experiences.

This would make sense because everyone can experience autism in very different ways – any of us can be anywhere on the colour wheel and that means we’re all having a different experience in life.

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There is still huge stigma around autism. James is the chief executive of Autistica, the UK’s largest autistic foundation, and he described how growing up was for him and how he had got to the position where he is now.

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He spoke about his experiences and the challenges that have spurred him on to research autism which led to him becoming a member of Autistica’s scientific review team. What an achievement, and a massive help to the autistic community, to have someone like James at the forefront, being a voice for others.

With his work, James is making a better future by increasing awareness and understanding in the UK, something Ossama Salamah CEO of HHERF is also passionate about. When Ossama asked James about his work, we were told exciting things about a health plan for people with autism, which is being developed to be used in the NHS.

Not all of us fit in a round hole, a square hole or even a hexagonal hole for that matter. However, while we are all different, the one thing we all share is a need for healthcare.

When I shared my own experiences with the group of going through the neurodivergent assessment stage with a family member, I told James about the extreme stress, distress and anxiousness that I had witnessed. Even self-harm has been a serious worry in our family.

Anxiety is often a sidekick of autism and, as James said, the anxiety can often be more challenging that the autism itself. Stress and anxiety are very debilitating – I can say that first hand as someone who’s grown up with high anxiety and stress due to family circumstances – so to battle high anxiety with autism, I can only imagine the stress.

The fact that really got my attention was that autistic people have a much higher rate of unemployment. That shouldn’t be the case. There are huge advantages with autism, ones that employers should be utilising, not shying away from. So isn’t it time more employers raised their awareness?

Although many companies have greater understanding than before, there’s still a way to go.

I’m not telling you all this to scare you. It’s simply to raise awareness of the amazing work being done by passionate people. If you want to learn more about what these amazing foundations are doing you can visit their websites, hherf.org and autistica.org.uk, and together we can make the future better for the next generations.