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.

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