In this blog we hear from Emma Vinen who graduated with a BA Physics degree from Cambridge in 2020 and now works for the social enterprise and IT consultancy, auticon.
auticon’s mission is to address the inequalities in employment for neurodivergent adults and showcase the strengths of neurodiversity in society. They hire autistic adults as IT & data consultants who deliver high-quality tech, data and cyber security services to auticon’s clients.
Can you tell us about your career path following graduation?
After graduating I worked in a few short-term jobs, then I worked in the legal sector for a year before moving to auticon as an IT consultant.
The same year that I graduated I received my autism diagnosis. I’d had a few challenges with my mental health during childhood and while at university which led me to look for answers to why I’d always felt a bit different. Understanding myself better was part of the mental health treatment process for me so getting the autism diagnosis was a really positive thing.
for me disclosure was also about ruling out companies that wouldn’t be supportive.
What has your experience been of disclosing your autism diagnosis to future employers?
I didn’t have any concerns about disclosure when I was looking for jobs – I disclosed at the earliest point I could. A lot of companies have a box you can tick at the first stage and I always made a point of mentioning that I was autistic if I was having interviews, particularly if they were video interviews or in person interviews. I found that this seemed to improve my chances of getting to the next stage. It felt like with video or face to face interviews it was more obvious I was missing social cues or not making as much eye contact as expected so disclosing I was autistic meant that people knew why that was and I felt I got much more consideration as a result. I also felt that although there was a risk that companies might see that I was autistic and not progress my application, those wouldn’t be companies I’d want to work for, so for me disclosure was also about ruling out companies that wouldn’t be supportive.
How did you get on in your first “proper” job?
My first “proper” job was in the legal sector. I’d mentioned during the recruitment process that I was autistic and then before I started I got in touch to ask if we could talk about reasonable adjustments. I used the advice on the National Autistic Society website on how to approach the conversation, but I still felt like I was being difficult when I was asking for adjustments, and I was worried that I was asking too much. It was hard to know what was reasonable, and then some things that I felt were completely reasonable just didn’t get actioned. For example, I have light sensitivity so I wanted to be able to do something to control the lighting near my desk but that proved to be really difficult. It felt like I was constantly having to push and remind people. I left after almost a year and the lighting still hadn’t been fixed and there were also difficulties with communication – I felt confused and overwhelmed so much of the time. I felt like the company wanted all of the bits of my neurodivergence that made me good at the job, like my attention to detail and my enthusiasm, and none of the things that were more challenging. It wasn’t good for my wellbeing to be in an environment that wasn’t supportive so I decided to look for something else.
What did you do next?
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do after leaving the legal sector – my main priority was finding a job that would be better for my wellbeing. I searched ‘jobs for autistic adults’ online and discovered auticon and really liked the look of it. I thought the application process was quite smooth and actually felt nice. I really appreciated things like auticon offering a laptop to use for the online assessments – they didn’t just assume I had one. I started with auticon in July 2022 and I’ve been really enjoying my first client project.
auticon did an amazing job of matching me with a job coach who understands how difficult it can be to manage physical and mental health problems and helps me to navigate it all.
auticon is specifically an autism-friendly employer – what difference has that made to you?
The job coaching has been fantastic! I would advise anyone who has any disability, but particularly any kind of neurodivergence to take advantage of job coaching if you can access it. The job coaching that is provided as part of working at auticon is integrated into the role and it’s really nice that I can message my job coach any time during working hours and it’s really reassuring to know there is someone there if I have a question or need some help. It helps for me in terms of managing and prioritising my workload, but also my wellbeing. Sometimes what we discuss isn’t so much the job but everything that happens outside the job that affects my work. As well as being neurodivergent I sometime struggle with my mental health and have chronic health conditions which can be a lot to manage at times. auticon did an amazing job of matching me with a job coach who understands how difficult it can be to manage physical and mental health problems and helps me to navigate it all. I also find it really helpful to have a job coach to facilitate that relationship with my line manager at the client I’m working with. My job coach speaks to them directly and makes sure feedback is shared both ways. I feel a lot more confident having someone else there making sure that communication is happening. It has taken a big emotional and mental load off which has given me more time for the bits of the job I enjoy and I feel like I can perform so much better at work as a result. It can also be helpful to work with a job coach to identify adjustments that might benefit you and ensure that those get put in place.
What advice would you give autistic students regarding the transition from University to the workplace?
It’s a big jump from school and University to the workplace where it’s down to you to advocate for yourself and push for adjustments. That can be quite draining and difficult to do so having some help with that is really beneficial. So, if you join a workplace that doesn’t have job coaching built-in, like we do at auticon, there are charities and other organisations that can provide job coaching through Access to Work Funding. Also, look out for support groups, run by local charities or the National Autistic Society for example. These groups can be helpful for sharing experiences, talking about what’s worked and getting some support and reassurance when things get difficult. If you can do work experience or ‘work trials’ with companies you are interested in working for then I would highly recommend doing so, the culture of a company can make such an enormous difference when it comes to supporting individuals with disabilities.