In my recurring role at Autism Daily Newscast writing the Patterns for Success column, I normally share with you all practical advice for thriving in the corporate landscape as an autistic professional. As we’re all considering the symbolism of the puzzle piece within our community, I thought I might take a step to the side to share some frank opinions on the subject.
Note: Use of the puzzle piece is considered offensive by many autistic people. This article will explore some of the use of this imagery by Autism Speaks in its awareness campaigns.
Let me confront one matter in particular head-on: I am counted among the legion of autistic people disgusted by the conduct of Autism Speaks and its #MSSNG campaign. I’m offended more generally in the idea of an organization that projects a public image of supporting autistic people while not having any autistic people in vital leadership positions. While I could go on at some length about the depths of disservice this organization has done to me and people like me, that’s not why we’re here this week.
No, we’re here to consider the symbolism of the puzzle piece. As I typically write about life as an autistic professional, it may be apropos for me to opine on the autistic professional as a key piece of the corporate puzzle.
There was a Gallup poll not too long ago that rocked leaders in the business world by suggesting that the vast majority of employees were not engaged, and went on to reveal the less surprising findings that employee happiness and productivity were both direct byproducts of their engagement level. Smart leaders are looking for ways to increase employee engagement, which is an easy win for sustainably increasing productivity without also increasing headcount. It’s like free money!
The missing piece to the conversation is how to better adopt neurodiversity in the corporate workforce. For us, that means finding ways to better engage autistic workers. After all, are we not revered for our laser-like focus on things that interest us?
Imagine, if you will, the benefits of employing an autistic worker that took special interest in some area of the business, who adopted it with great passion and took pride in knowing all there is to know about it. Would that not be a force multiplier in many cases?
In my career journey, most employers have focused their career coaching on how to make me work more like a neurotypical person. I long for a world in which employers look to find maximum value out of employees by engaging them where they are strong, leveraging their own special talents and abilities.
We autists aren’t the missing pieces to the puzzle, you see. We’re here. Many of us are willing and able to make valuable contributions, or even more valuable contributions than we can within the existing corporate framework. The missing piece to the puzzle is society figuring out how to include us effectively, to engage us where we are, to give us the right kind of fuel to the fire already burning inside of us.
But it’s going to take a lot of work. Your challenge/response job interview format will likely be the first casualty. Your newsroom style open office layouts are also getting in the way of progress. Perks like ping pong tables and foosball might be a lot less appealing than sensory deprivation tanks, quiet rooms, and private offices. This is going to take some serious outside-the-box thinking, not to mention action. Those who figure this out will have a strategic advantage over those who do not, though; you’ll have early access to opening up a new segment of the labor force that has, to date, largely been passed over (despite our often amazing intellectual talents).