This guest blog post is from Richard Lamplough from 'A Potential
Diamond' one of our newest Stay Connected members.
I sat in on an Apprenticeship interview at the beginning of the
week supporting a young man with Asperger's Syndrome; let's call
The employer and, in this case, the
Apprenticeship provider, was a large FE College in
the South East of England. Andrew had the suitable qualifications
for the post (working in office administration) and many of the
skills required, not least a great eye for detail and a very
methodical approach to his work. He had the 9.30 slot, the
three people on the panel seemed very friendly and the sun was
So far, so good.
Andy answered the questions well (I only had to intervene once
where I felt a question was a little ambiguous) and for a few
fleeting moments I had high hopes for him. But when the
interview came to an end and the panel told him that they were
seeing another six candidates over the rest of day, my heart
sank. Two or three people maybe, but six? I knew, at
this point, that whilst my boy fought a brave fight, he wasn't
going to be a contender.
Whilst he didn't recognise it, here's an example of why the
interview was such an uncomfortable situation for Andy.
Panel: "Can you give us an example from a former job or
voluntary placement where you've had to handle a difficult customer
or client and how you dealt with this situation?"
Andy: (after a few moments contemplation) "I can safely
say that in all former work situations, paid or voluntary, I have
never had a situation like that to deal with."
And that was that.
There was an awkward silence whilst the panel struggled on how
to prompt Andrew to "imagine" such a situation, but it was always
going to be difficult for him to pull the required metaphorical
rabbit out of the metaphorical hat.
I suspect few of the other candidates would have had such a
problem answering this question, if, like Andy, they didn't have
direct experience of dealing with an angry customer. Perhaps
they would have drawn on an experience from their home lives; an
unpleasant neighbour, or even an annoying little brother or
But Andy was never going to be able to do that. Besides, he had
answered the question truthfully and accurately so felt he didn't
need to elaborate any further.
If Andy had been a wheelchair user and the door of the interview
room had been too small to let him through, the employer would have
found another room. Correct? So, if they can do that, why can't
they make reasonable adjustments to take on board his
I'm not going to heap too much criticism on this particular
employer in this particular case. In fairness to them, they
made every effort they could to put Andy at ease throughout the
interview. But they knew about his Asperger's before they
interviewed him (he had declared it on his application form) so
perhaps, if nothing else, they could have thrown in a few questions
or tasks to redress the balance a little.
Panel: "Take us through a detailed step-by-step process of
how you would set up a database of our customers, sorted by size,
based on a calculation between their number of employees and annual
I'm not sure how the six-pack would have got on with a question
like that but my boy would have walked it and it would have been
particularly handy for Andy to get one over on his competition.
It didn't happen, of course, and when I heard from Andy
yesterday it came as no surprise to me that he hadn't been offered
the job. He was bitterly disappointed but was determined not
to let this set-back deter him from applying for office
administration positions in the future. He'll get support
from his mum, and from me, and I hope he'll get another interview
before too long. But then what? Here's a two-sentence call
Employers need to accept that the job interview process
discriminates against some people on the autistic spectrum.
Then they need to address this.
I'm not saying that finding ways to "level the playing field" is
easy, but if we want to change that depressing statistic that says
only 15% of autistic people have paid employment then something
needs to be done about it. If employers struggle on how to do
this they only need to get in touch with somebody who can give them
the advice they need.
Here's a thought.
If you're an employer and you have vacancies that come up
regularly you could pay someone to help you
make your recruitment processes accessible to people on the
autistic spectrum, perhaps even turn it into a permanent job.
Place an advert via Twitter saying something like:
#Autistic person needed to make our recruitment process
#accessible to other #autistic people. Competitive salary.
I can guarantee you would get a flood of high quality
applicants. Your only issue might be how you select and
interview those that reply to you.
Richard Lamplough runs A Potential Diamond, a
community-based project in Sussex, Surrey and Kent supporting
people with autism and learning disabilities into paid employment.
Find out more at www.apotentialdiamond.org