To mark World Autism Acceptance Week we’ve spoken to several members of our workforce about their own experiences of autism – whether directly or indirectly. Find out more about the obstacles that many autistic people face, as well as the abundant strengths and benefits that neurodivergent people can bring to the workplace and beyond.
 
 

Aaron Walters, Software Test Engineer at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence


World Autism Acceptance Week 2022 - Aaron Walters Headshot Autistic people are all different. For every maths genius there is someone who struggles with maths, for every detail orientated developer, there is a creative person with no interest in programming.
 
I’d like non-autistic or neuro-typical people to understand that I’m trying my hardest to fit in. This means that language is important. I do not have autism, I’m autistic. Saying I have autism implies a lot of negative thinking, autism means my nervous system is different to yours, I’m literally wired up differently so being autistic is who I am.
 
For me, change is hard. I live my life by planning and rehearsing what I’m going to do and what I’m going to say, I also plan and rehearse what you are going to say too. In my head I’m running thousands of simulations constantly over and over again because I know I don’t handle change or surprise well.
 
So please remember that everyone is different and every time you meet someone who is autistic make time to understand the person. Just because you know someone who is autistic doesn’t mean the next neuro-diverse person will be the same.
 
 

Angus Currie, Director Digital Defence Services


World Autism Acceptance Week 2022 - Angus Currie Headshot I am married with two boys, both with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
 
Tom, 18, is classically autistic, non-verbal and requires 24 hrs care. Finlay, 15, is in a regular mainstream school but with access to an autistic centre within the school. Tom will always need the care of us or very understanding carers, whereas Finlay will have to forge a career and mature his understanding of society and the workplace.
 
One time, I was walking through Godalming with a very tired Tom (he must have been about 7) over my shoulder. A fella barged past and Tom decided he did not like this and behind my back thumped him. I spent 5 minutes explaining autism, and the guy was great, not only apologising but wishing me well.
 
Tom, meanwhile, had gotten upset and was now protesting on the floor so I had to scoop him up – crying and wriggling – to get him in the car. A couple then challenged me as they thought I might be abducting him. Again, I tried to explain and passed them a card from the National Autistic Society which says my child is autistic, please understand. Small things like this really help.
 
 

Liesl Brain, Software Tester


World Autism Acceptance Week 2022 - Liesl Brain Headshot Four members of my immediate family are on the autistic spectrum. My eldest son has ADHD, the middle one and my husband have Asperger’s, and the youngest has high functioning autism.  Things are easier now the boys are young adults, although two still live at home and I can’t see one moving out unless it’s into some form of supported living. Our days still have to be very structured, with changes discussed in advance as much as possible.
 
When it comes to the strengths autism brings to the workplace, it’s important to remember that autistic people think of things in a different way to most people, finding solutions that others would not think of. They are often very logical and persistent, making them ideal coders and help desk second line support.
 
They are just as clever as anyone else, but see things from a different perspective. They may need to break a complex situation down in order to grasp all aspects, but that can be useful in understanding the problem so that’s no bad thing. But in the workplace, keep meeting to small groups. Tolerate doodling as people on the spectrum often need to keep their hands busy while their mind concentrates.
 
 

Rebecca Peagram, Financial Director


World Autism Acceptance Week 2022 - Rebecca Peagram Headshot Autism is a range of “differences in thinking” grouped under an umbrella – but not all autistic individuals are the same (obviously really).
 
My youngest son is autistic. I knew early on he was different; not least he was far less demanding of my attention as a baby than my older son and tended to amuse himself chuckling away in his baby bouncer.
 
I can see now the things he would bring to a workplace. He just sees things so differently from most of his peers. He challenges the status quo, is a master of negotiation and identifies problems to solve that others hadn’t even spotted as an issue. He will move mountains to get something he wants and his resilience, persistence and determination to master things he is interested in are extraordinary.
 
As a parent of a child with complex needs, the support from my managers has been invaluable. The flexibility to attend appointments and deal with emergency situations is crucial. I would also say this is the first place I have worked where I have been able to be open about some of the challenges in day to day life, without people making their own judgements on my career aspirations and ability to deliver on my commitments.
 
 

Peter Cawley, Chief Counsel


World Autism Acceptance Week 2022 - Peter Cawley Headshot If you go back only a few years, very little was widely written or spoken about autism in the context of work. Many exceptionally talented people would have been expected to simply ‘gotten on with things’ or been treated as slightly eccentric or different. Even more would have found traditional work difficult or impossible to find or hold down.
 
There are a broad spectrum of conditions that autistic people manage, and it remains the case that many of those on that spectrum will be misunderstood, misdiagnosed or simply unable to find their role in the ‘traditional workplace’. In 2022, it is sadly still the case that only 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full time employment.
 
Although I don’t have direct experience of the challenges that autistic people can face, that doesn’t preclude me from joining the discussion.
 
On the contrary, as a member of the Digital Intelligence Leadership Team I feel duty bound to support all colleagues with any form of disability, not just to ensure that we meet our obligations as
an employer, but to help ensure that we create the best possible environment for our employees to succeed in. By fostering an open and supportive culture in Digital Intelligence, I hope that more people will feel confident to speak up, participate and ultimately thrive.
 
 

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