With only 16 percent of adults with autism in full-time employment, is it time for agencies to open up their doors to the neurodiverse? asks Alice Franklin, Strategy Intern at BBH.
Illustration by Asa Nowers.
It wasn’t until I was 23 that I was diagnosed with Asperger’s but to be honest, it hardly came as a surprise. About 20 percent of people with Tourette’s (another thing I have) are on the spectrum, and I’d been missing social cues, taking things literally, and getting obsessively interested in things since forever.
But when I was diagnosed, instead of feeling relieved that I was not alone in finding humans confusing as fuck, I was left feeling a bit, well, unemployable. I had just graduated, and couldn’t imagine who would want to employ an autistic Tourettic who couldn’t sit still or read someone’s body language.
In truth, I wanted to work in advertising, but from what I’d been told, you needed communication skills, social dexterity and the ability to understand human behaviour innately. But I didn’t understand anything innately. I just didn’t get people. Why they lie all the time. Why they pretend to be people they’re not. Why they litter. What the hell they mean by that facial expression.
Given that I’ve got twenty-five years’ experience of it, I can speak with some authority about Asperger’s. But as I’ve only had a couple of weeks here at BBH, the idea of me speaking with any authority about advertising is somewhat laughable.
But, nevertheless, might I suggest that advertising agencies need people with autism?
Sure, autistic people might not understand that idiom straight away, might neglect small talk, and might forget your face even if we’ve met a hundred times.
But we can remember and retain tiny details most neurotypicals forget, we can concentrate on tasks for hours on end. And forget the media stereotype of the socially reclusive and uncreative autistic – I love going out, and people with autism can be creative as hell. After all, we are wired differently, we think outside of the box all the time, because for us, the box doesn’t even exist.
Unfortunately, for many people with autism, interviews are a nightmare, and inaccessible application processes must be part of the reason only 16 percent of adults with autism are in full-time work.
No exaggeration – it took me years of bombing interviews to get the knack. I had to learn to look interviewers in the eye, to say more than one-word answers, to steer the conversation to places I wanted to talk about. None of this was innate. I had to learn it, slowly and painfully, taking years of rejection whilst I worked in a bar – a job where a decent memory for cocktail specs was required, and an interview was not.
But if ad agencies were to hire more autistic people, shake up their application processes to make them friendlier for people on the spectrum, it’s the autistics who’d be doing the agencies a favour, not the other way around. Advertising needs people who think differently. Autistic people are just that.