This guest blog post was submitted to Love & Autism by Samantha Craft (aka Marcelle Ciampi), a speaker at the 2018 conference.
Sean, a member of the selection committee for the ANCA World Autism Festival, wrote: “ ... I am a brilliant logical thinker. I am very analytical. I seek the truth; I can see patterns in everything. I like things organized and categorized, if something becomes my special interest I can become an expert after learning everything I can on the subject. I think in pictures and can-do thought experiments ... I think outside the box. I have a knack for predicting the future especially trends. I have great long-term memory with great detail. My senses work very, very well. I am highly in tune with my surroundings including peoples’ feelings. When everyone else is panicking or emotional I am calm. I have an affinity with animals ... I'm loyal to those who are loyal to me. I am honest and say what I mean. I am not manipulative. I don't play head games. I don't have hidden agendas. I am not materialistic. I am caring. I am passionate. I take pride in everything I do and notice every little detail. I am protective ... wherever I have worked, I have often been the go-to man. Once you get to know me then you know I'm a great person 99.9% of the time.”
The attributes Sean describes are reminiscent of many of the same qualities I find in individuals on the autism spectrum.
Here is what autistics and those that identify with having Aspergers had to say about their attributes:
“We understand the world differently ... that can be a huge issue for interpersonal skills and following the rules. But it can also be an amazing boon to their companies, as we are often doggedly dedicated, hyper focused, and can find answers no one else might ever think of. If they let us.” Unemployed, on Government Assistance, Canada
“Behind the difficulties, we have invaluable work ethic, innovative ideas, and incomparable focus.” Floor Clerk at Architectural Firm, Canada
“I am extremely good at pattern recognition and problem solving. Show me your problem and I can work out the cause and a solution that suits best.” Yoga Teacher, UK
“We spend so much time on just one thing, looking at a certain thing, and concentrating on it hours on end, that it’s almost impossible to quantify because to us it’s just normal, where to others it would seem extreme. I’ve always spent so much time doing one thing that I’ve gotten good at it. I can spend 10 to 15 hours doing the same thing; no problem.” Futures Trader, USA
“We are very diligent workers who don't take time off and work very hard. We love doing a good job.” Fast Food Delivery Driver, UK
“We may not present well, but we can get a lot done without drama. We also have good ethics.” Home Health Aide Retail Worker, USA
"We have higher attendance rates and are more loyal than for employees in general" Works in Program with Adult Autistics, USA
“We are the most naturally apolitical workers ever. Nonjudgmental, trustworthy, direct.” Professor with Doctorate Degree, USA
“Autistics have abilities that every employer would dream of having in all their employees. #1: Incredible concentration and attention to detail. #2: An incredible work ethic and ability to solve problems with out of the box thinking.” Self-Employed, USA
“We are different. It's not a bad thing. We have amazing abilities when given the chance. Honesty for example shouldn't be taken advantage of but celebrated.” Artist, USA
John Elder Robison, best-selling author, wrote in Neurodiversity: What Does It Mean for 2015? Neurological Diversity is a fact of life, gift and disability alike, “It’s worth considering that a person whose brain is wired a little different may have an inherent ability to solve certain problems that a dozen more typical peers find intractable. They don’t solve those problems because they are smarter or better; they do so simply because they think differently. Even if they are disabled most of the time when compared to their typical peers, they are gifted at those moments of triumph.”
Thorkil Sonne, the director and president of Specialisterne, stated autistics have new ways of solving new challenges and are extraordinary, hardworking, honest, and loyal. Dr. Temple Grandin, bestselling author and scientist says, “People on the spectrum are very good at details; they’re also very good at anything that requires vast amounts of knowledge on something.”
Even as autistics are each individuals with their own unique attributes, there are a cluster of attributes that are more common to those on the autism spectrum than not. One commonality of most autistics is the ability to highly focus on one specific area of interest and to retain prodigious amounts of data.
Autistics are often admired for the following attributes in the workplace:
- Strong Logic Skills
- High Integrity
- Sustained Concentration
- Interesting Points of View
The skills and attributes of autistics listed below are an organized collection of traits based on my experience as a lead job recruiter for a neurodiverse technology company, as well as information I gleaned from members of the autistic community, and 100s of resources about autism and the field of employment.
Strong Logic Skills
Autistics often have an uncanny ability to detect details and are known for their adeptness at unconventional ways of approaching problems. In a 2009 co-study, by the University of Montreal and Harvard University, published in the Journal of Human Brain Mapping, clinicians reported autistics are up to 40% faster at problem solving than non-autistics.
Many autistics demonstrate strong logic skills, such as:
- quick thinking
- the ability to generate new ideas out of ordinary findings
- tackling new challenges with creativity
- pragmatic reasoning skills
- keen recall and attention to details
- ease of mastering facts
- instinctual pattern seeking
- self-taught skills to the point of mastery
Autistic employees are “very specific and very clear. As opposed to possibly a neurotypical person that may try to slide in at 9:10, the folks that are on the spectrum will say, hey, I arrived at 9:02 today. Do I need to work until 6:02?” stated Jamell Mitchell (during a 2017 PBS Newshour broadcast).
Beyond the logical skills, that reflect a potentiality for innovative thinkers, autistic employees often demonstrate high work ethic and integrity, such as:
- commitment to the job
- accuracy and precision
- high-quality work
- fundamental truth seeking
- honesty, genuineness, and fairness
- lack of hidden agenda
- transparency in presentation
- high tolerance for coworkers
- responsibility taken for own action
- the want to do right by their employer
- job loyalty and longevity
- going far beyond what is expected or asked
- turning challenges into strengths
- working overtime without being asked
It’s not hard to rationalize the importance of high integrity in the workplace. A workforce with personal integrity can lead to direct benefits for a place of business, including increased productivity levels, the ability to trust the job will get done, minimal managerial oversight, adherence to rules and procedures, and respect of workplace confidentiality.
Endowed with the want to do their best and remain honest and loyal, autistic workers are not likely to cut corners when under deadlines, nor steal, cheat, or try to gain the upper hand. And an autistic worker will not commonly leave out pertinent information or fabricate facts to beat the workplace competition or gain recognition.
Supervisors have nave noted high retention rates among autistic workers. A tendency to strive when there are set routines and habits leads many employees on the autism spectrum to master one role and stay loyal to one place of business for a long period of time, when the job and workplace are a good fit overall.
Alongside logic skills and integrity, most individuals on the autism spectrum exhibit a remarkable capacity for sustained concentration. In fact, autistics are oftentimes capable of:
- an ardent focus on a limited number of things
- sustained engagement in area of interest
- sticking with a job until it’s done
- a methodical work style
- a high tolerance for repetitive tasks
- a high tolerance for structure and routine
Interesting Points of View
Adding to the growing list of beneficial attributes, individuals with autism also make interesting coworkers, and typically have:
- a unique wit and sense of humor
- a vast knowledge of specialized interests
- success in getting the job done
- decreased tendency to gossip, manipulate, or backstab
- an increased tendency to be loyal friends
- ability to find the positive in a situation and turn it around
- capacity to relive events in great detail
Contrary to some publicized stereotypes, many autistics do use sarcasm and have a keen sense of empathy. Many of us also do have long lasting relationships with loved ones and friends. Jeanette Purkis, of the website Autism Books and Other Things, a civil servant, and accomplished Australian-based autistic writer and speaker, in a recent 2017 social media meme, wrote: “As far as I know it, autistic people make the best friends. We tend to be honest, loyal, kind and thoughtful and value one another’s friendship. We usually operate on one level and what you see is what you get.”
Out of the Box Thinking
Another attribute that typically goes hand-in-hand with autistic traits is the ability to think outside of the box. This is not surprising considering the autistic’s tendency for advanced logic skills, including approaching new challenges in a new way.
As an out-of-the box thinker myself, I am open to risk taking, have a fair amount of courage, and welcome new approaches and strategies. I like to see where the fork in the road might lead. And I’ve definitely got some gumption. I dig my heels into a project. I adhere militantly to deadlines. I am trustworthy to no end. And my work efforts tend to stand out from the crowd.
As a young child, I loved playing with my Jack-in-the-box—a red and white, tin-box toy, with a closed lid and small red crank, that I would wind and wind to the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel,” until the lid popped open, and out sprung a floppy doll. Today, I cannot remember if the doll was a miniature clown or dog, but I can still recall the wonderment and the palpable feeling of bold anticipation.
Today I get that same sensation when opening a cylinder container of premade biscuit dough. No matter how many times it happens, when those spiral, paper seams of the Pillsbury container burst open, I’m jolted a bit. And who amongst us isn’t momentarily reenergized by the unexpected “boo” from someone leaping out of hiding? There is something to be said about the element of surprise and the anticipation of something to come.
In a roundabout way, out of box thinking is similar to that Jack-in-the-box jolt. Despite it being an overused managerial cliché, the premise of out of the box thinking is an effective catchall when aiming toward organizational change and success. Like that child at the Jack-and-the-box crank, most successful business leaders have the ability to anticipate, risk-take, and step out of one’s comfort zone. Indeed, out of the box thinking is synonymous with courage.
Another word for out of the box thinking is expansive thinking—a process wherein a problem is presented, and participants are invited to propose outlandish ideas. In strong contrast to the out of the box approach is the notion of in the box thinking, a concept of confinement that summons images of being locked away in self-preservation with the lid closed, waiting for some outside influence to redirect their course of action—much like Jack, waiting for someone to turn the crank. In the box thinking is narrow in scope and involves a restrictive and tentative approach to solution gathering. Out of the box thinking is focusing on the possibilities; whilst in the box thinking is focusing on all the reasons why something won’t work.
Individuals who think outside the box:
- have courage
- welcome new ideas and strategies
- incorporate creativity in thought processes and endeavors
- are natural risk taker with ideas
- anticipates things before they occur
- instinctually focuses on many possibilities
- looks for unique solutions and apply unconventional approaches
While most unsuccessful business leaders are trapped in perpetration, thinking: if something is not broken, it doesn’t need fixing, leaders who think outside the box recognize the advantage to approaching problems and challenges in different ways. Autistics, by nature of neurology, approach life from an outlier’s perspective—they are born to be out of the box thinkers. Autistic employees’ creative ideas can lead to innovative measures to meet that next quarterly earnings goal. Autistics are natural creative problem solvers. And chances are, most businesses have a challenge they are currently trying to work out.
This is an original piece authored by Samantha Craft. All rights reserved.
Please contact the author to quote content: [email protected]
Samantha Craft (aka Marcelle Ciampi) is best known for her prolific writings found in her well-received blog and book, Everyday Aspergers. She is the founder of Spectrum Suite LLC, Lead Job Recruiter and Community Manager for ULTRA Testing (an innovative technology company with a neurodiversity hiring initiative), a professional educator, Community Achievement Award Recipient at the 2017 ANCA World Autism Festival, and active in autism groups locally and globally.
Since 2012, she has had the opportunity to converse with 1000s of individuals on the autism spectrum across the globe. A former schoolteacher, with a master’s Degree in Education, Sam has been published in peer reviewed journals, been featured in autistic literature, and has completed several graduate-level courses in the field of counseling. Some of her works, especially The Ten Traits, have been translated into multiple languages. Her list of traits for females on the autism spectrum has been shared in counseling offices around the world.