There are about 200,000 people with autism in the Netherlands, for whom it is not always easy to find a suitable job. Therefore the Brunel Foundation introduced AUT in the Brunel Office on World Autism Day 2019: people with autism are invited to share their story and have open and transparent conversations with Brunel colleagues to talk about the difficulties they face in daily life and in finding and retaining work. One of the remarkable conversations was between Bruneller Martin Jansen and Irene Nass, who works as an Export Documentation Specialist at a dairy company. Here, she shares her story.
I am proud that I am a go-getter and can think in opportunities. I dare to be vulnerable and ask for help if necessary. As a result, I can also see my autism as a strength, and can also mean something to others.Irene, Export Documentation Specialist
What did your study path look like?
"I first did senior general secondary education and then pre-university education. In 2007 I completed the study Business Administration EIA and then I started working for a while. Nevertheless, I wanted to continue studying, and that is why I started the pre-master Human Resources Studies in 2008. Because the French language appealed to me more, the switch to study French Language and Culture was a logical choice. In 2014 I obtained my master's degree in French Linguistics."
In what way effects the diagnosis of autism your situation?
"During my college studies I got stuck a few times; actually earlier also. A lot of misdiagnoses have been made, but when autism turned out to be the correct diagnosis, I was not immediately relieved. I was afraid that I would not be accepted in society and even developed fear of failure. Fortunately, I had a dean who guided me well. Together we looked for what worked best for me, so that I could complete my studies in the right way. Whether I am open about my autism during job interviews? I've brought it up a number of times, yes. Unfortunately, I have sometimes experienced that my contract was not extended because of this. I am less social in some situations. The company found that difficult to take into account.”
How do you cope with your autism?
"I find it difficult to make mistakes because I am still sometimes insecure about what I have experienced and that employers aren’t always open about how they think things are going. But actually I was able to learn a lot because of my autism. I experienced that structure is very important to me, as well as a comprehensive onboarding programme. Besides, I taught myself to ask my colleagues before I go home, whether I could help them with anything. I am not always very empathetic; this is a way I try to compensate for that.”
What are you most proud of?
"Since I know what I need to function well, I am doing fine at work. I currently work four days a week at an export secretariat. As an Export Documentation Specialist I am responsible for the export documents. My work has a clear structure, and that works very well for me. I am proud that I am a go-getter and can think in opportunities. I dare to be vulnerable and ask for help if necessary. As a result, I can also see my autism as a strength, and can also mean something to others. For example, I have worked as a volunteer for the child hotline Kindertelefoon for years, and as an experience expert I am committed to Human Library, a project in various libraries. This project focuses on people who have to deal with prejudices. Could be someone with tattoos, someone in a wheelchair, someone with autism or a visual impairment. Because they function as a living book, to whom people can ask questions, we hope to remove prejudices by entering into a conversation. I myself also had certain prejudices, but these sessions made me look at people differently."
In what way would you advise employers and people with autism?
"I advise people who have autism to see it mainly for what it is: a different way of thinking and acting. I also would like to emphasize how important it is to ask for help; don't try to solve everything on your own! I would like to say to employers and colleagues of people with autism that it makes no sense to generalize and to make assumptions. Autism means adapting yourself but also requires an adaptation of the environment. Instead, ask open questions so that you can look together for what is possible. That is why I like the AUT in the Brunel Office conversations that the Brunel Foundation offers: I can just be myself, and I notice that the diversity among Brunellers is great. It is great to see that Brunel is helping build an inclusive society by offering everyone the same opportunities and by giving you the space to be open. Because of this, one can enjoy going to work and is appreciated for his/her talents."
Related: Pascal's Story: "Everyone felt part of Brunel, a real community"
"I think it’s important for employers to keep an open conversation. Not just about autism, but any difficulty an employee might face in their job. We’re not all good at the same things, but oftentimes we have to keep up appearances that we can do anything. I think an open dialogue, coaching and guidance is something everyone with or without autism benefits from on the work floor."