It’s the question I am asked the most, and it’s hard to answer. From one viewpoint, the answer is yes. After all there is no behaviour specific to the Autistic Spectrum, just different degrees of shared human behaviour. There are, however, distinctive patterns of behaviour, patterns, according to Autism expert Uta Frith, that can be so distinctive they are instantly recognisable to the Autism professional. How is it that autistic people all over the world, across different cultures, socio-economic status, and personality types, share patterns of behaviour, even down to common favourite TV programmes or special interests?
The Autistic community is one of shared thinking patterns that impact how a person learns, develops, and relates to the people and things around them, and that lead to recognisable patterns of behaviour. Rather than learning primarily through an intuitive social sense, for example, the Autistic person can learn through trial and error, as if in a new country where the social culture needs to be deliberately learned. I have lived and worked in 2 Spanish speaking countries. I noticed that to achieve social success in a different language and culture I had to become an astute observer, that it was easier to get things wrong and that I was more tired at the end of the day than when in more familiar territory. This experience is close to the effort it can take for people on the Autistic Spectrum to fit in at work. It can be exhausting, and can use up working memory so that some days, just focusing on work and not ‘social and work’, can be a much needed break.
Sitting outside a culture, learning its patterns and working to fit in can have its plus sides. It can be refreshing to notice what people do as just that- as social behaviour of a group of people. Having worked with over 200 people on the Autistic Spectrum I find this a breath of fresh air that has a surprising result- people who work around our consultants over time can be more themselves too at work- and more likely to question doing what has always been done ‘just because’.
The Autism Spectrum Quotient was developed by Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre to help adults see what they may have in common with Autistic thinking patterns. It is available on the link below:
For a brief introduction to Autism, I can recommend:
Autism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
An Autism at work consultancy, we work to help people on the Autistic Spectrum get ready for and succeed at work, and we train and coach employers to welcome their talent. In our training workshops where actors role play communication scenarios, participants often relate to what they see, such as moments of social awkwardness, or the experience of being misunderstood. Although that does not always mean a person is on the spectrum themselves, we hope that relating to what they see can make the door a little more open to people on the Autistic Spectrum, as it is when we notice shared experiences across labels that define us that true diversity can begin.