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Autism at work: changing the perspective

April 2nd is World Autism Day, raising awareness for the needs of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. On that day, we celebrate their talents and highlight the various efforts for making them an integral part of society. We caught up with Autism Coach, Natalie De Koker, and Chief Talent Officer, Thijs Calcoen, from Autimatic, a Belgian organisation determined to maximise employment for autistic people, through a unique staffing concept.
“The potential for the labour market is massive.”

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    About Autimatic
    Founded in 2019, Autimatic aims to maximise employment for people on the autism spectrum, through a unique staffing concept. Today, Autimatic employs 35 professionals with autism, who mainly work from home, mostly part-time and on fixed tasks. They specialise in administration, office automation and artificial intelligence. Their goal is to create an inclusive labour market that recognises the talents of all individuals, regardless of their limitations.


      More about Autimatic

      Are there many biases about autism that hinder the employment of people with an autism spectrum disorder?

      Thijs Calcoen: “First of all, there’s no such thing as ‘the autistic employee’. Autism is a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways. Like all of us, people with autism have their strengths and weaknesses. Because we often look at autism through standard spectacles, we quickly interpret their behaviour as ‘odd’, while we just lack the context to understand the differences. At Autimatic, we want to provide that context and turn limitations into talents. Employers who are on board with this, get a very valuable group of employees in return.”

        What kind of jobs offer the best chances of success for people with autism?

        Natalie De Koker: “The most suitable job will vary from one person to another. But autistic people are generally very strong in repetitive tasks. They often have great attention to detail and focus, and remain committed to a task longer than most people. That’s why we believe that people with autism are an excellent addition to existing teams within an organisation. But again, there’s no one-size-fits-all.”

        Thijs Calcoen: “Together with the employer we look for suitable tasks. Some people prefer it when the job is almost always the same, while others like a little variety. Yet, overall, we strive for long-term assignments with the same employer. That is beneficial for everyone.”

          Thijs Calcoen, Chief Talent Officer, Autimatic
          Choosing the right job for people with autism is not about filling open vacancies. Rather, we help craft jobs, tailored to the individual.
          Thijs Calcoen, Chief Talent Officer, Autimatic
          Thijs Calcoen, Chief Talent Officer, Autimatic

          For employers who are considering hiring someone with an autism spectrum condition, what do they need to know?

          Natalie De Koker: “As everyone with autism is different, my first and most crucial tip would be to ask your employee what he or she needs. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. Most individuals on the autism spectrum struggle in some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication and flexibility. To reduce these obstacles, it’s important to focus on three things: clarity, overview and predictability.” 

            Tips when employing people with autism

            1. Ensure a fixed daily routine and appoint a dedicated contact person.
            2. Create a clear planning and communicate changes in good time.
            3. Put unwritten rules in writing, as it is hard for autistic people to read between the lines.
            4. Don’t give many assignments at once and make sure to write them down.
            5. Confirm priorities to avoid people getting lost in the details.
            6. Don’t beat around the bush, communicate directly.
            7. Give preference to digital customer contact and avoid people having to make phone calls.
            8. In case physical presence at the workplace is required: create an autism-friendly workstation with a fixed desk and a minimum of triggers.

              How does the collaboration between Autimatic, your customers and employees work?

              Thijs Calcoen: “When a company wants to use our services and we’ve agreed on the type of tasks they want to outsource to Autimatic, we first select a buddy. This is an employee who will act as the fixed point of contact within the company. The Autimatic employees can turn to their buddy with all work-related questions. However, the buddy does not have to solve everything. There are regular meet-ups with us and the coaches, to see who needs to step in.

              In the future, we want to involve the coaches even more in the workplace. That way, they can assess from the start whether a particular task is feasible or not. We believe all parties involved will benefit from a closer relationship between the coaches and the company.”

                To help autistic people adjust to their new job or workplace, job coaching can be very useful. What does this entail exactly?

                Natalie De Koker: “As an autism coach, I provide mental support, when employees struggle with social contact, cooperation or communication, for example. We meet up ad-hoc or during recurring fixed appointments to discuss specific issues. I mainly act as a sounding board, helping them come up with a concrete solution, like sending an email to request a meeting. Things that seem very normal to us, are often less evident for people with autism.

                In addition, I provide guidance and counselling in stress-related cases. Either the job is too stressful or employees experience difficulties at work due to a stressful home situation. Together, we look for methods to manage their time more efficiently, as well as possible ways to relax. It’s important to point out the importance of self-care, so they don't completely lose themselves in a job.”

                  Nathalie De Koker, Autism Coach, Autimatic
                  Job coaches are not only there to assist the employees. Employers can also come to us with questions or ask for advice on how to handle a certain situation. It goes both ways.
                  Nathalie De Koker, Autism Coach, Autimatic
                  Nathalie De Koker, Autism Coach, Autimatic

                  In the summer of 2020, SD Worx called on the services of Autimatic for its SME Starters service. Since then, four Autimatic employees have been handling the administrative connection of new customers on a daily basis. A huge win-win, reducing the workload of payroll consultants, while making the best use of the strengths of people with autism. It’s a prime example of more inclusion in the workplace.

                    Annette Ergenzinger, People Growth & DEIB Expert at SD Worx
                    The collaboration with Autimatic is one of many initiatives to foster an inclusive culture as an international company. Many little things can start something big, and we learn from each experience.
                    Annette Ergenzinger, People Growth & DEIB Expert at SD Worx
                    Annette Ergenzinger, People Growth & DEIB Expert , SD Worx
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                    Want to learn more about our collaboration with Autimatic?

                    We’d be happy to share our experiences.

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                      Annette Ergenzinger, People Growth & DEIB Expert at SD Worx

                      Annette Ergenzinger

                      People Growth & DEIB Expert