OPINION: We need more autistic individuals in the workplace

by | Mar 18, 2021 | Opinion

Since I completed all of my required high school courses by the end of my first Grade 12 semester at Streetsville Secondary School, I decided to take a co-op class for the second semester — as well as the whole following year — to see what it was like.

Knowing how to prepare for job interviews, asking the right questions to potential employers, and understanding the importance of workplace safety and proper workplace etiquette, were just a few life skills that made me more confident in being in a workplace setting.

I did three different types of co-ops throughout my last two years of high school: a kindergarten TA, a music TA and an apprentice baker. For each co-op, I came to grow more confident in myself as an employee by the time I started applying for colleges. That led me to Humber’s journalism program because of my passion for writing a good story.

I’ve also worked at numerous summer jobs, mainly at the Blackdown Summer Cadet Training Centre in Borden, Ont., as a paid staff member for the past two years.

Two years ago, I’ve led platoons of younger cadets through their two-week summer training and made sure my fellow staff also did their assigned jobs as well.

This past summer, I did more administrative work at Blackdown’s Headquarters for about two weeks.

For this upcoming summer, I’m hoping to be accepted into a similar position. But because of COVID-19 restrictions, I have to consider both virtual and a few in-person positions at other bases including Trenton or Connaught.

Among all of my workplace experiences, I’ve usually been given good feedback by my employers and fellow staff. I did all my tasks assigned to me with little to no supervision, I asked for help when it was needed and I showed punctuality, positivity and effort every day that I worked.

There were times where I’d barely interact with fellow staff for guidance or for some conversation while working because my concentration depending on the task could not be easily divided, or I felt I had the confidence to complete a task, however easy and difficult it may be, by myself.

This leads to why I think we need to have more people with autism be given the chance to work in a workplace setting.

Many autistic individuals are intelligent and passionate about a certain field of study, and some can only communicate to others through that passion.

Workplace environments and their staff could help those with autism with basic soft skills such as communication, organization, time-management and socialization among their superiors and peers.

A co-op program could prepare those with autism with the responsibilities of a paid job that reflects their preferred work style and workplace accommodations.

If employers are to hire those on the autism spectrum, it’s important for them to understand what kind of resources the autistic individual needs: a quiet space, extra time, supervision where appropriate and proper training. Patience is also required to understand and accept an autistic individual as a human being and seeing what kind of skills they have to help them succeed on the job.

Autistic individuals like myself have — and want — the same opportunities and challenges as fellow employers and employees in the workplace. We hope to thrive and grow in such environments and want to be able to become financially secure through our work.