Stereotypes

The more I read and understand about autism, the more articles like this one annoy me.

It’s basically about the characteristics of people with autism and how employers can benefit from using those characteristics in the workplace.

Which is all well and good. Except the characteristics mentioned are pretty much just the stereotypical ones that get trotted out every time anyone mentions autism. And, even more irritatingly, they are characteristics that seem to be more closely associated with the male presentation of autism. Women tend to have somewhat different characteristics.

Looking at the article more closely, almost none of the things mentioned seem to apply to me:

  • Loyal and diligent (what am I, a Labrador?)
  • Low turnover risk (the longest I’ve stayed with one employer is 4.5 years and that was in a couple of different jobs)
  • Close attention to detail (yes, sometimes, but I wouldn’t say it was a key strength)
  • Ability to concentrate on long, repetitive tasks (not unless it’s something that captures my interest; actually, I have quite a low boredom threshold)
  • Retention of large amounts of information (I’ll give them that one)
  • A knack for detecting patterns (not really)
  • Strong mathematics / coding skills (er, no. I can do VBA and Excel spreadsheets but that’s my limit)

My main issue is that the more articles like this seep into public awareness, the more the perception of autistic people as somewhat socially inept maths and technology experts becomes ingrained. Which is a bit of a problem for people like me, who don’t completely fit that stereotype. Because if people assume that that type of role is all people with autism can do, then that makes it harder for those of us with different skill sets to persuade employers that we add value as well.

OK, so my technical skills are always likely to be better than my relationship management skills. And I’m always going to express myself better in writing than I can verbally. That doesn’t mean that I can’t build relationships with people, or give decent presentations (actually, I’m a pretty good presenter if I have time to prepare – I credit my musical training for that one).

But I’m probably not going to be able to fix your computer. And it doesn’t help any of us for people to assume that, just because I’m autistic, I can.

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