Friday 26 November 2010

Thinking outside the box

Welcome back to Adventures with Autism Works,

This week at Autism Works has offered plenty of challenges from designing an autism-friendly application form to coping with Arctic weather conditions! I have continued working on designing the application forms as well as drafting the guidance notes for applicants over the last few days, which is proving to be a hard yet very fulfilling, and at times, entertaining task. Most importantly though for me, from this task I am finding that there is so much that the eye doesn't see.

It may be assumed that being a person on the autistic spectrum, I shouldn't have too many problems being able to develop an autism-friendly application form. In my previous entry, I talked about the problem of not having any good practice examples of practice to build upon, but the other factor that makes the task difficult even as an individual on the autistic spectrum is being aware that whatever I include in the form may make sense through my own eyes, but may not through the eyes of others on the autistic spectrum. This is where the ESPA students can help when we eventually test the forms on them, possibly over the next two weeks.

A theme that was talked about at my meditation class earlier in the week was about seeing the fulfilment is undertaking and eventually completing a task, however challenging, in terms of what it will bring. In this case, an autism-friendly recruitment process. An aspect that meditation practice has really helped me with most of all though for the challenges that I am facing is being able to think 'outside the box'. Chances are that some of you reading this blog may have come across or attempted the nine dots puzzle where the challenge is to connect a square of nine dots, like the one below, using four lines.

For those who have attempted the nine dots puzzle, did you assume that the  answer lay within the square formed by the dots? Go on, admit it! Without giving too much away to those who haven't attempted it, you may want to look a little further.

These and other qualities from meditation practice are really helping me to enjoy the challenge that my duties at Autism Works are presenting. As well as the tasks that involve thinking outside the box, there are also those that require concentration and attention to detail, including updating the company database. From beyond the autistic spectrum, the tasks that require concentration and attention to detail may appear to be more 'in line' with Asperger's Syndrome than those that require thinking outside the box, but for me though, it is a good mix. When interchanging between different tasks, I am finding it helpful to start with a refreshed mind each time, as what it is that can so often block our thinking is when we become 'lost' or 'stuck' in something specific, including writing this blog entry!

From the early feedback on the application forms and guidance that I have put together this week, I feel that we are making progress, but the acid test though will come when we test them on the ESPA students. Be sure to revisit Adventures with Autism Works to see how the journey continues to unfold.


Friday 19 November 2010

Testing Uncharted Waters

After a week of being in meetings and debates surrounding the development of the Autism Works recruitment policy, this week has seen me going out there and actually meeting the ESPA students, including the Training and Awareness (TAG) Group, to test our recruitment material, including application forms, on them as well as gather any suggestions they may have.

The students are an interesting and certainly entertaining group to work with, not to mention that there were some interesting individual responses to the concept of Autism Works. When Peter Macdonald, Managing Director at Autism Works, and myself introduced ourselves and Autism Works, and as soon as I mentioned that I am also on the autistic spectrum, the attention and questions immediately turned towards me, completely ignoring Peter! They may have been slightly surprised to see someone on the autistic spectrum on the other side of the table. Nonetheless though they made both Peter and myself feel very welcome.

It is a delight to get to work with the students not just for their hospitality but also their input is highly likely to be of great help to us. In my last blog entry, I talked about the difficulties that go with being on the other side of the recruitment table, but one of the aspects that makes developing the recruitment policy hard is lack of availability of good practice to replicate or build upon. Though there is now a lot of good books and guidance on employment and autism available, we have been unable to find a template to work from to produce an autism friendly application form. This is where hopefully the feedback from and any suggestions that the students will help us to make the process as autism-friendly as possible. It is often surprising what one may have missed in the eyes of outsiders, which is why we are looking at testing what are for us, uncharted waters, by trying out our recruitment procedures on the students as part of the Employability strand within the ESPA curriculum.

The biggest challenge that I am finding difficultly with, is being on the recruiting side of the table, particularly when developing the application form, because you are doing it from a recruiting perspective, it isn't always apparent that certain questions you devise make sense to you but may not make sense through the eyes of applicants. From the various presentations and practices that we have looked at, as well as looking at it from my own Asperger perspective, it is certainly helpful to ask closed rather than open or abstract questions, particularly as it is possible that applicants on the autistic spectrum could interpret abstract questions quite literally.

An aspect of me that Peter has noticed, and readers may also have noticed this from the titles of my blog posts, including this one, is that I seem to be able to interpret and understand metaphors much better than I used to. Though this is a good thing in that it helps me not to take things literally, at the same time I forget how an applicant with Asperger's Syndrome may answer a sample application question: 'Can you please describe your experience with computers?', one may provide an answer such as: 'I use my personal computer to surf the net, play games and watch videos.' Through non-Asperger eyes, such an answer on an application form can be seen as inappropriate or even 'stupid', but through Asperger eyes such an answer is more than valid, as after all it is answering the question but not providing the answer others are looking for.

Something that was discussed at meditation class this week that I have found helpful in my work is the ability to see things from a beginners mindset, as it is often surprising what gets lost as one becomes advanced. There is much that needs to be learned and unlearned when developing an autism-friendly recruitment policy that the wider world will benefit from. To help us, we welcome any suggestions that any readers may have, and certainly if anyone knows of any existing autism-friendly application form templates, please let us know.

In the meantime, be sure to visit again soon for more adventures in Autism Works.

Friday 12 November 2010

Sitting on the other side of the table

Welcome back,

After a spell of campaigning as well as watching our Facebook profile continue to grow steadily in relation to the numbers of 'likes' we have been getting from places as diverse as London, Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires to name but a few, this week sees my adventures with Autism Works venture into, what is for me, uncharted territory. For the first time in my working life, I am involved in developing a recruitment strategy and in due course will be involved on the other side of the interview table, all of which will be a huge learning curve for me.

Like many adults with Asperger's Syndrome, including those I know personally who read this blog can relate, I have many times experienced the frustration of being unsuccessful at interview after interview to the point where I have felt that the interview panel has prejudged me or that it is just 'impossible' for me to obtain employment through this method. When one sees such outcomes through disappointed or frustrated eyes, so many criticisms of the interview process and organisational practice arise, including face-value judgement and wondering whether or not a particular candidate from within the organisation was 'picked out' beforehand.

Now though, as Operations Manager at Autism Works, one of my main duties is to assist in developing the company's recruitment strategy. So far, it has been apparent to me when working on the recruitment policy just what a novice I am in this area! But this is largely though because I have never been involved on this side of the recruitment process professionally. Though my MA (Hons) in Information Management, which I completed back in 2001, covered recruitment practice, over time much of this been lost because I have never had the opportunity to put it into practice.

What I have got to appreciate already though and will no doubt do when Autism Works eventually shortlists and interviews for its first software testing positions, early in 2011, is just how hard it is on the other side of the table, especially since our task at Autism Works is to develop a recruitment process that goes beyond conventional practices, so that it is both manageable for and supportive towards adults on the autistic spectrum. What we are sure that we can expect is that when we publicise our first software testing positions is that we will most likely be inundated with applications, and we can only initially offer two positions. All week at Autism Works we have had concerns about raising expectations too early as well as how we will handle a possible huge number of disappointments, in terms of what we can offer unsuccessful candidates. 

Having been through the disappointments and frustrations on the other side, when attempting to develop a recruitment policy that positively discriminates towards adults on the autistic spectrum, it is so often easy to forget that one can approach it more openly and creatively rather than conventionally. Forming an autism-friendly recruitment policy has involved adding supportive elements, which each time, when added at meetings I have found myself thinking 'why didn't I think of that'.

The biggest challenge of developing a recruitment strategy, especially for people on the autistic spectrum, is that whatever model an organisation implements, it can never be perfect, like whichever model of democracy a government implements, they can never get it quite right. This will be a huge challenge to me in that it will most likely involve having to learn from mistakes, a technique that I have so often struggled to master throughout my working life, but will also present me with an opportunity to see myself and my capabilities through different eyes, going from excessive heartache from unsuccessful job interviews to seeing it from the other side of the table. 

Be sure to keep up-to-date Adventures with Autism Works soon for further developments, and remember to keep circulating us through Facebook.


Friday 5 November 2010

Magic Numbers!

Welcome back,

First of all, we would like to say thank you to everybody who joined us in supporting the Communication Shutdown campaign, even if it felt isolated being without Facebook or Twitter for a day, and I would like personally thank Jonathan Miles and the staff at BBC Radio Newcastle for giving the campaign the recognition we felt it deserved, especially in relation to its effectiveness in raising much-needed global awareness of autism. We would also like to continue to thank those of you who have visited our Facebook page and 'liking' us as well as passing it onto friends.

Within the autistic community, opinion appeared to be largely mixed in terms of whether or not to take part in Communication Shutdown, with some people on the autistic spectrum feeling uneasy about having to do without what they felt were the only social environments they felt comfortable in. As a person with Asperger's Syndrome myself, I can fully understand this, but at the same time it is important to realise that the purpose of the campaign was to give people not on the autistic spectrum an idea of how it may feel to be on the autistic spectrum in relation to social isolation that non-access to the social networks can present, not to be a disadvantage to people on the autistic spectrum.

When speaking on BBC Radio Newcastle earlier in the week, I talked to DJ Jonathan Miles about how it is not only the unconnected feeling that non-access to the social networks can create in relation to how largely dependent on them we have come, but also how a slip of the finger can unintentionally offend other users similar to how in physical social environments, non-awareness of facial expressions can be easily misunderstood. When admitting that he would find it difficult to manage without Facebook and Twitter for a day, Miles also said that we had set ourselves quite a task with Sunderland apparently having the highest number of social network users in the United Kingdom!

It was a great privilege to be interviewed by Jonathan Miles for BBC Radio Newcastle. I had previously met him when he gave me a free pair of binoculars at the Sunderland Air Show earlier this year! The appeal of his show is that it puts a different and often humorous spin on current events, including being concerned about not being able to let people know about his half-eaten cheesecake on Facebook!

Numbers has been something that we have been keeping a close eye on since we created the Autism Works Facebook page, with our 'likes' going up by up to fifty per day. We had initially set ourselves a target of 10,000 likes by January 2011, but with the rate of likes being as it is, we have started to think up more memorable and easily-remembered numbers, how about 11,111 users by 1.1.11?

Be sure to keep circulating our Facebook page through the social networks to help us raise our profile as well as gain further credibility, and watch this space for further developments within Autism Works.