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This is an article I wrote for Disability Horizons on why more employers should embrace autism. The original article can be found here. To check out more about my own autism story check out my earlier blog post

My name is Maxwell and I turned 27 this September. I was only diagnosed with high-functioning autism in July last year.

Among my interests is a passion for films, politics and social issues. My film tastes can be quite diverse. One minute I can be revisiting my childhood with The Lion King, and the next, terrifying myself with my favourite zombie film, Day of The Dead (1985).

I am also extremely passionate about equality and empowering others, which I want to do by sharing my own experiences. I firmly believe that everyone should be able to achieve their potential. This includes those with autism or any disability.

Maxwell Dean with his dog

 

 

The impact of autism

The biggest impact my autism has, day-to-day, is my anxiety and feeling of self-worth. This can strike at any time, either during the day or night. Sometimes I find myself awake at night, with thoughts racing through my head about what I have done in the past and how I could have done things differently.

I also often find it difficult not to compare myself to others on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. I know that these sites only offer a snapshot of people’s lives. But, as I am sure many would agree, it can be hard to switch off sometimes.

Trying to get a job

My worrying includes concerns about when I will be able to find my next job. I finished my last job as Campaigns Assistant at the National Union of Students in July 2016, and haven’t been able to work since.

I’ve applied for many jobs and had a lot of interviews. But nothing has been successful. The initial applications aren’t an obstacle for me because of my writing experience. However, the challenge is coming across confidently during the actual interview, a problem that, I’m sure, affects a lot of people with autism.

According to the latest research from the National Autistic Society, only 17% of autistic adults are in full-time employment. This is compared to 47% of disabled people.

 

Barriers to employment if you’re autistic

An essential element of any successful interview inevitably involves a candidate’s social skills and the confidence to maintain a flowing conversation. In an anxious and pressurised situation, however, those on the autistic spectrum can find this extremely challenging.

Unsuccessful interviews have a massive knock-on effect on my self-esteem. I have to work really hard to build it up again each time. But by undertaking work placements and challenging myself with new experiences, I am equally determined to grow my self-belief.

This is all particularly frustrating as I know that once I find and settle into the right job, my confidence will increase further. This will, in turn, give me skills to deal with my anxiety better. Not only will I then be able to show my true ability, but I know that a job can give me a renewed sense of purpose and belonging. At the end of the day, I just want to fit in somewhere and be part of a team.

Maxwell Dean

 

What employers need to do

Questions such as; “tell me about yourself,” may seem very straight-forward to anyone else, but can be confusing for someone with autism. To me, it is not exactly clear what the interviewer wants to know. In this situation, I sometimes become confused about where I to start before the interview has even got going.

But employers can make simple changes to help autistic interviewees. They could expand on their question to make it clearer, or be more specific. Though this does not affect me personally, for some autistic candidates, avoiding idioms and metaphors is also very helpful. This includes such cliche phrases as ‘blue sky thinking’. Providing the questions to applicants before the interview can also be a very simple but hugely beneficial adjustment.

Cutting out interviews

With interviews being a massive barrier, a short work trial would be much more beneficial, for both parties. They’re a chance for someone with autism to demonstrate their skills and gain the confidence they need to show their true potential within a work setting, without the pressure of a time-based interview.

Autistic candidates, due to their neurotypical abilities, can possess many strengths. These skills, such as high levels of concentration, reliability, conscientiousness and persistence can be invaluable to any employer.

Autistic candidates can also be highly creative and very innovative thinkers, as they are used to having to think of new ways to overcome complex challenges. They often have detailed factual knowledge of a huge variety of topics as well. Due to the very nature of interviews, these assets are often qualities that can be missed by employers.

Making the workplace more accommodating

Within a workplace setting itself, employers can take many steps to help existing employees on the autistic spectrum fulfil their potential by putting inclusivity at the heart of their approach. Reflecting on my own personal experiences, these could be as simple as creating a quiet room. Or perhaps providing mentors to help someone settle into a new environment gradually, or simply be there if they need someone to talk to.

Above all, however, I believe that it is paramount that employers are patient and recognise that everyone is different. The range of individual abilities within the autistic spectrum, as with those who are not, can be huge. In the end, no-one is the same and we all should value this.

Hiring an autistic person demonstrates, in a very real way, an employer’s commitment to diversity. It’s also an opportunity to create a workforce that represents the full spectrum of society and utilises the talent among the disabled community.

 

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The Lion King (1994)

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Of all the films that drew me into their world as a child, The Lion King perhaps did it the most. In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t destroy my VHS tape by watching it so much. From its fantastic musical numbers with Elton John and orchestral set-pieces, gorgeous visuals and spot-on voice acting from actors such as Jeremy Irons, there is a reason why this is considered an animated classic. This is also the only childhood film I still have on the VHS format; though I would give anything to be able to find my old childhood Simba soft toy!

 

Spider Baby (1968)

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Here is a film you may not have heard of. Spider Baby was an early film from one of my favourite B-movie directors, Jack Hill. He also directed other exploitation favourites of mine; Switchblade Sisters and Pit Stop, while putting B-Movie icon Pam Grier on the map with her performances in Coffy and Foxy Brown. Quentin Tarantino, a huge fan of Jack Hill, would later cast Grier in Jackie Brown with Robert De Niro and Samuel L Jackson in 1996. From the get-go, Spider Baby is guaranteed to bring a smile with its fun opening musical style credits narrated by the great Lon Chaney Jr. To any classic horror fan, Lon Chaney Jr is instantly recognisable as the star of Universal’s 1941 horror classic; The Wolf Man. This is a reference which Chaney and Jack Hill use to create some very funny lines and in-jokes for horror fans.

Lon Chaney plays the guardian of three adult siblings who suffer from the ‘Merrye Syndrome’. This is a condition which makes them regress to a primitive mental state as they grow psychically older. As film also hints, this may also include cannibalistic tendencies. Due to the excellent performances of the actors, however, we as the audience can only sympathise with these quirky, child-like and naive characters. One of these is the titular Spider Baby. In the film’s opening scenes, she traps one of her unfortunate victims in her ‘spider web’. This character is played by actress Jill Banner, who tragically died at the young age of 35 as a result of a fatal car accident, before the film’s rediscovery by genre favourite Joe Dante. Sid Haig, another exploitation icon plays Ralph while actress Beverly Washburn plays their sister Elizabeth. When combined with the atmosphere created by Hill and cinematographer these performances help to create a truly unique, strange and truly unforgettable little picture. 

Near the end, Lon Chaney gives a truly outstanding and touching performance as he realises he cannot protect them from either the dangerous reality of the outside world any longer. Many horror film fans have made an interesting observation of the broad similarities between this and Tope Hooper’s later 1974 picture The Texas Chainsaw Massacre over its depiction of the reclusive Merrye Family.

 

Jurassic Park (1993)

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This is another film which never fails to lift my mood or bring back nostalgic memories. The main theme by John Williams still remains my favourite score for any film and I still sometimes play it on Spotify if I am in the mood. The cast is also outstanding. Jeff Goldblum and the late great Richard Attenborough, in particular, give very memorable performances. Yet the main star of the film is, of course, the dinosaurs. In this age of CGI, it is always refreshing to go back and see the work of practical effects icon Stan Winston and his fellow visual effects artists on the film.

By using an ingenious combination of traditional animatronics and ingeniously integrating this with limited computer effects, Jurassic Park still manages to take my breath away. Indeed, of the 14 total minutes of visual effects, only six use CGI. The key when creating these practical effects was to give the audience’s brains a physical reality on which to view the computer made shots of the full dinosaurs. This lost approach to special effects is why Jurassic Park still holds its magic for me.

 

The Iron Giant (1999)

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The Iron Giant is as much of an animated masterpiece as The Lion King. Yet, it was also substantial box-office failure in 1999 for Warner Bros due to their poor handling and marketing of the film. This was a soul-crushing experience for its director Brad Bird. The film’s reputation has, however, deservedly grown in time and can count a certain Guillermo del Toro as one of its original fans. Bard Bird has since gone on to direct such animated hits for Pixar as The Incredibles.

The film is based on Ted Hughe’s 1968 novel, The Iron Man and tells the story of a young boy’s discovery of a strange metal giant from outer space. During the rest of the film, we follow the boy’s heartwarming journey with his new metal friend, as they both learn how ‘you are who you choose to be’ and in doing so, saves the giant from his own original design as a weapon. This narrative arc is undoubtedly the strongest part of the film and what provides its ultimate magic. This element is complemented by its stunning hand-drawn drawn animated style.