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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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Ever since witnessing The Devil’s Backbone (2001) many years ago, it has become a very personal favourite of mine. Not only because of its outstanding direction, beautiful cinematography and genuine performances, but because of the haunting but very human message at its heart.

After spotting a showing hosted by the new independent pop-up Snowcat Cinema I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to see one of my favourite films on the big screen for the first time.

Frustrated by his experience in Hollywood with Mimic, Del Toro returned to the fantastical roots found in his debut feature Cronos with The Devil’s Backbone. As with his critically acclaimed offering; Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Del Toro sets his story against the context of the Spanish Civil War. Here the narrative develops through the eyes of the war’s abandoned children at an orphanage, the last refuge from the violence which has engulfed the countryside outside.

With his opening sequence, the director conjures an atmosphere which haunts the individual arcs of its characters and the audience’s own viewing experience alike. Through this sequence, Del Toro also awaken’s the film’s core message. This is a message which is emphasised throughout the film by the director’s masterful use of imagery and it is this; The ghosts to which humanity is blind, are those which doom us to repeat its bloody and tragic history. Tellingly Marisa Paredes’s character, Carmen, comments early in the film “Sometimes I think we are the ghosts”.

 

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As the narrative develops we gradually begin to learn more about the orphanages’ dark past and the ‘one that sighs’ through the eyes of our main character Carlos. This is expertly balanced with the anxieties of our main character as he struggles to fit into his new surroundings. We also come to learn about the tragic and intertwined pasts of our other characters, including Carmen, the Orphanage’s headmistress, doctor Cásares and her lover and the orphanage’s bitter caretaker, Jacinto. As with any good filmmaker, Del Toro achieves excellent and sincere performances from the whole of the cast to bring these characters and their individual stories to life, including Fernando Tielve as our protagonist Carlos.

Equally, using his composure behind the camera and with the help of cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and composer Javier Navarrete, Del Toro crafts many scenes to impress and capture the viewer. This includes gothic-tinged images of Santi walking the corridors of the orphanage at night. Santi himself is an equally fantastical and horrifying creation, an unseen but haunting reminder for our characters of the escalating civil war and of their own personal regrets and demons.

At the centre of many of these images is the unexploded bomb in the middle of the orphanage’s courtyard which we witness descend from a plane at the start of the film. This also becomes an important visual element to the story. In many ways, it is just as much a ghost as Santi, simply another looming spectre of the war.

Though not as well-known as his most celebrated work; Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone offers an equally powerful message about the monsters which hide within men. Much like in Pan’s Labyrinth, the most disturbing and powerful scenes found within the film are those where there are no ghosts, only man’s inhumanity.

To this end, The Devil’s Backbone is a truly timeless piece of filmmaking and one which we can all learn.

Snowcat Cinema’s next genre offering will be Philip’s Kaufman’s own excellent 1978 take on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers later this month on the 29th March. You can found out more info about them and future screenings in Penarth and at the Crafty Devil Bar in Cardiff on their Facebook page here.