Autism Awareness Day 2022
On Saturday, it was Autism Awareness Day. We wanted to raise awareness about this subject as well as reduce the stigma on hiring individuals with autism by talking to our Warehouse Team Leader, Louis, who was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 20.
Louis has worked with us for almost 9 years. He was 19 when he was assessed for having autism. ‘I had never heard of autism before I was assessed. I always felt I was a bit out of sync with my peers and others my age,’ said Louis. Growing up, he liked his own space and enjoyed playing with his own toys instead of with other children.
The assessment was an interview type process with his Mum and an autism specialist, where they analysed certain traits Louis displayed and other behavioural factors that may navigate towards autism. Then, a year later, he received the official diagnosis, of high-functioning autism, just after he turned 20.
High-functioning autism is where an individual exhibits no intellectual disability, but may exhibit deficits in communication, expression, and social interaction.
Aspects that pointed Louis towards this type of autism was his direct nature of speaking, which in he’s said could often be construed as rude, but he just ‘says it how it is’. Keeping a routine and structure throughout his life was another key element that he was very focused on, ensuring in every aspect he was prompt and on time. Working at Obart Monday to Friday assisted with this routine, with daily tasks he was able to keep a structured routine here too.
Louis has a photographic memory, which he uses to his advantage during work. It took him 6-7 months to learn our 1,300 pump pallet locations. He explained how his mind works in remembering these aspects. ‘Numbers are something that I find I can memorise quite easily. I take a letter or a number off the pumps name, for example a ‘KTV2-50’. I’d take ‘5’, then take a number or letter off the racking location, which could be ‘A-A-0-1’, I would take the ‘A’ for example. I’d then put the two together which helps me associate which pump is where.
We tested out Louis' memory on our YouTube channel, you can check out the video here: https://youtu.be/QQN0urZ6-iw
Over the course of Louis’ 8 years at Obart, his confidence and ease has grown considerably. He assesses himself every day, trying to find new ways to understand himself. Although routine is still a big aspect of his life, he says ‘it’s not as bad as it used to be, I now find leeway with some aspects of routine.’ With his job role, there is no specific routine, which he says has helped in the years he’s been with Obart. There are busy days and quieter days, making it easier to adjust to a more relaxed routine.
He describes the people he’s surrounded with at work as putting an ‘arm around his shoulder’ by being supportive and giving time to get to know him.
'Jordan specifically helped me to come out my shell a bit more, pushing me to
start going out after work and on the weekend, socialising with people my own age.’ When Louis was younger, he mainly spent time with family and older friends. ‘It’s a lot different now’ he says, as he’s enjoying his time spending time with friends his own age. ‘If I’d have been diagnosed a lot earlier in my younger years, there’s always the possibility that certain tendencies might be different. Socialising might have been different and maybe I could’ve learnt to combat that a lot earlier.’
‘Matt has always been a big supporter over the years,’ Louis explained. After his diagnosis, Matthew, our MD undertook some training on autism with their team at the time, as well as inviting the course leader to Obart, to meet with Louis and the team. The course leader also had autism, and was diagnosed into early adulthood, like Louis.
In 2021, Obart co-operated with Grow19, a college for 19-25 year olds with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) bringing 3 individuals on site once a week for work experience. Louis said, ‘It was a step in the right direction in hiring people like me. I want to show people that if you give us a chance, we will work hard and repay you in that respect.’
A statistic found that only 22% of autistic people are currently in employment. When Louis was told this surprisingly, he thought it would be lower. ‘I still think it should be higher, although I expected it to be around the 15% mark, I believe it could easily be up to 40%, if the stigma around hiring autistic employees was removed.’
‘I believe people don’t take their time to understand the people they’re hiring. They see ‘that’ word and ask themselves, ‘do I want the stigma that goes with it’ instead of learning more about autism and that it’s not a negative thing hiring someone on the spectrum.’
Louis continued, ‘If I could remove one stereotype about autism, it would be the initial stigma. Some people aren’t educated enough on this condition. They believe they’ll have to cater for who they’re employing, which isn’t necessarily the case.’
We asked Louis what he would tell his 20-year-old self, who’d just been diagnosed. He said ‘For the first few years after my diagnosis, it was a struggle for me to understand what I was going through as well as dealing with adulthood. I would tell myself just to take my time in understanding my own mind and what I’m going through, as I’ll get there eventually.’
Louis is currently saving for his first home and is planning to move out on his own very soon. He thoroughly enjoys formula one and has not missed a race in 20 years, being heavily influenced by his grandad, who is also into cars, pushing him in college to become a qualified mechanic.
Lastly, if he wasn’t working for Obart, he said a career path in criminal psychology would be of interest to him. ‘I find it fascinating what pushes people to their breaking point, stemming from learning about how my own mind works.’
For more information on Autism Awareness Day, visit: https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/raise-money/world-autism-acceptance-week-2022