Will Brown April 18 2024

Autism Awareness: From Curiosity to Advocacy

In light of Autism Awareness month, I wanted to share my own journey on a topic that once seemed, well, to me, very foreign. From misunderstanding, to enlightenment, and eventually, advocacy. This story was inspired by my involvement in Gately's Ability Committee, an initiative focused on raising awareness of and enhancing support for individuals with neurodiversity and/or disabilities.

Why I Joined the Ability Committee:

Throughout my life, I have always somewhat found myself relating to those deemed "different" in society rather than dismissing them. Partly because they’re really cool, interesting people, but also, I am excited to learn from people who may be different from me. So, the opportunity to be part of creating an equitable working environment for people unlike myself seemed like a moral imperative that I wanted to pursue. But also, it seemed like a tremendous opportunity to learn more about neurodiversity to expand my own horizons.

Learning and Unlearning:

When I first joined the Ability Committee, my understanding of Autism and neurodiversity was rather narrow. I was curious, but I knew little, and that's okay too. The most important aspect of creating inclusivity, in my opinion, is to focus on curiosity so that inquiry can turn into clarity. Only through that lens of learning do we begin to really appreciate the complexity of neurodiversity.

Curiosity serves as a firewall to blinded certainty. When you remain curious and open to new information, you’re less likely to be blinded by unwavering certainty or fixed beliefs. No matter how confident we are in our knowledge, we must always be cautious against misconceptions – which run the risk of inadvertently putting our neurodiverse colleagues and friends in a box of simplistic stereotypes.

I had my own share of misconceptions about Autism. Here are a few common ones. Take a moment to reflect about whether you might believe any of these myths:

  • Not Capable of Leadership Opportunities: Due to their distinct abilities and viewpoints, neurodiverse people can thrive in leadership positions.

  • High Accommodation Costs: Many accommodations for neurodiverse employees are cost-effective, busting the myth of high expenses.

  • Lack Workplace Reliability: Autistic individuals often show remarkable loyalty and dependability in their roles, far from being unreliable.

  • Lack Emotional Depth: Autistic people experience a wide range of emotions; a lack of expression does not mean that a person does not feel anything.

  • One-Size Fits All: The Autism spectrum is complex and cannot be simply categorised into "high-functioning" or "low-functioning.

  • Don’t Have Off Days: Just like everyone else, Autistic individuals have varying levels of performance, which can change day to day.

  • Very Few Autistic People Are Savants: While not all neurodiverse individuals are savants, many autistic individuals possess deep, often unique interests and talents, enriching their communities and workplaces.

The Ripple Effect- How it helps me and others:

Being part of the Ability Committee gives me space to challenge and improve my own perceptions. Sounds silly, but if for nothing else, the meeting calendar notifications that pop up are almost a subconscious cue for me to practice empathy, consider views differing from my own, and consider how neurodiverse individuals might be experiencing the workplace in ways that I wouldn’t have considered.

It's at these meeting we discuss company initiatives the committee is involved in & highlight the fantastic work of our partner charities.

Ultimately, it's all about boosting our understanding and empowering us to represent neurodiversity better within our company— influencing the wider culture, and laying the groundwork for an inclusive environment where everyone’s unique outlook is valued and nurtured.

Towards a more inclusive horizon:

Whilst I cannot speak for the experiences that have been lived by Autistic individuals, I feel it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak empathetically and inclusively, so that we can contribute to, and celebrate the diverse range of human thought. Much like the Ability Committee, it helps us broaden our own horizons and make the collective team experience that much richer. So, let's reach out, embrace our differences, and build a more empathetic and diverse world.

Check out how you can make assessments more accessible to neurodivergent participants


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