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Saturday 21st September 2019

My husband has been diagnosed with autism – and it could be threatening his livelihood

Throughout my schooling career, there has been one line that stuck out to me.

One day, on a breezy autumn afternoon, my science teacher stood up and declared: “Revision is the new rock and roll! You rock through it, get good grades, and roll through to a good job with good pay!”

Looking back, I understand why he was trying to enthuse a class of apathetic fourteen year olds with his cheesy one-liners. He was also most likely talking about success in the STEM subjects. So, being an arts graduate, I’m on a different scale.

My husband, on the other-hand, who I’ve been with since we were teenagers – both of us slightly unsure where we’d slot in when it came to careers – he chose a STEM subject, eventually moving along the educational ladder to obtain a Ph.D in Heterogeneous Catalysis (that’s chemistry, for those of you not in the know).

Everything seemed rosy, he’d completed his thesis back in January, which, those of you who have ever completed a Ph.D will know was no easy feat. He also has glowing references, as anyone who’s ever worked with him will attest, he’s nothing if not hard working.

Once he’d become a doctor, the interview invitations started coming in – but to no avail. The feedback suggested that he was ‘difficult to engage with’, which seemed odd; he’d tried so hard. Then it struck me: a few of my relatives had, in the past, expressed concern that he might be autistic, which didn’t bother me at the time, so I’d initially brushed it off.

He has since been informally diagnosed and referred to a specialist centre for more help.

Autism is particularly troubling because it’s an invisible disability, which can make diagnosis difficult. Many people, like my husband, aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. Here are some of the other difficulties that people with invisible disabilities face:

Long waiting times

A referral to an assessment centre took about a month to process. Once this had cleared, we were told that the waiting list was an estimated fourteen months.

If we wanted to pay for a private diagnosis, we were told it would have cost us £1,250 in total.

Communication

In the UK, only 16% of people diagnosed with autism are in full time employment. This is a tricky figure to digest, as each diagnosis exists on a vast spectrum, there’s no one face of autism- most autistic people don’t have chemistry Ph.Ds, so it’s difficult to know what my husband can expect. One thing that he does have in common with a lot of autistic males, however, is a shared lack of ‘people skills’.

The Equalities Act

The Equalities Act lists autism as a ‘protected characteristic’. This means that an employer cannot fire anyone because of it. However, when it comes to hiring, the rules are a little bit more murky – a company is not legally obliged to disclose why they haven’t hired someone, there are often so many candidates going for the same job that they can pick and choose at the interviewers’ discretion.

As such, we’ve had conflicting advice on whether to disclose his disability up front.

Overall, the main problem with job interviews is that they’re usually a ‘one size fits all’ situation, where first impressions are, more often than not, also last impressions too.

One thing that is clear, though, is that more needs to be done to enable people with disabilities, whether they’re invisible, or in plain sight.

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Maddy Sutherland

Maddy Sutherland

Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.

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