Navigating Employment: Overcoming Barriers with Autism Advocate Ella Sullivan

Thursday, February 29, 2024

A 21-year-old woman, Ella Sullivan, who has autism, recently shared her experience of hesitating to reveal her diagnosis when applying for jobs due to concerns about facing discrimination.

With the support of the charity Graft in Reading, she's actively working to overcome these hurdles and secure employment opportunities.

She joined others telling their stories after a report showed that ambiguous interview questions and application forms were keeping people with autism out of work.

The government has urged employers to "get behind" all recommendations set out by Sir Robert Buckland's report, external.

Ms Sullivan said she sought help to improve her CV, but also to increase her confidence.

"It's all quite difficult, even just an interview is quite scary to navigate when you miss social cues and stuff like that," she said.

"The fear of discrimination does hold me back from disclosing my diagnosis due to the stigma.

"I don't want people to have preconceived ideas about me before getting to know me."

She added: "It can be quite hard to be considered professional with your autistic traits.

"Masking is when you have to hide your traits and it's not always intentional that you hide them - it can be a result of the environment you're in. Masking can be quite tiring and lead to overwhelm."

Another woman using the charity, who did not want to provide her name, told the BBC: "There is the idea that as soon as I disclose my diagnosis I wouldn't be hired or I'd have to explain what autism is, which is such a loaded question as autism is so complicated.

"I started working with Graft because I was managing to get interviews and for certain job opportunities I was progressing quite far but I'm still unemployed and not been offered a job."

Hazel Wright, CEO of Graft Thames Valley, said the charity helped people with autism overcome barriers.

"I think [employers] can engage with people like ourselves and other support companies to be flexible in the way they recruit and interview people with their onboarding processes," she said.