What is an Autistic Leader?

Leadership initiatives and a fully inclusive employment and enterprise culture needs empowerment programmes built on trust and openness, and an increasing number of companies worldwide are seeing the potential of autistic employees. Auticon in the UK is a unique, multi-national IT consultancy and social enterprise, which exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants. In the US, the Autism at Work Roundtable was set up by a group of international corporations with the belief that many individuals on the autism spectrum have the capabilities businesses need. Regarding the critical co-design aspect and social responsibility of such organisations who are genuinely open to change, disabilities and inclusion expert consultant Jonathan Kaufman writes:

“It is essential that companies utilize both their internal disability employee resource groups as well as cultivate partnerships with the local autism community to establish an ongoing dialogue and illicit internal and external feedback. This method not only allows companies to develop a deep dive into the local autism community’s resources, needs and preferences, it also creates a more efficient hiring process by showing what can be leveraged internally and what should be outsourced.”

Dialogue, in this context needs very careful consideration, if it is to identify, gain the trust of, and nurture future autistic leaders.

We might begin by asking what provision there is for helping an autistic employee on a career ladder (or business enterprise programme) for without this crucial element, the offer is not complete. A key aim for our organisation will be to invite and encourage autistic leaders and create a self-supporting network, utilising, teaching and developing Professional Dialogue Facilitation, Coaching and Mentoring.

British researchers Brett Heasman and Alex Gillespie, last year developed methods for understanding cross-neurological interactions and interactions between autistic people; initial findings suggest that neurodivergent intersubjectivity reveals potential for unconventional forms of social relating. This aspect is key to understanding the autistic community and individuals with special or super-abilities, unique to autism.

At Autism Dialogue we already bring the autism community together for deep, safe interaction, opening a new space for generative discussion and potential growth. A range of people with a wide variety of experiences and views on autism communicate together, thereby increasing familiarity and promoting deeper awareness, respect, openness and understanding.

We believe our methodology facilitates increases in well-being and improvements to independence – supporting reduction of psychological stress and anxiety in social settings and interactivity – for both pre and post-diagnosis people.

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Clearly, this is radical, and a strengths-based approach that goes way beyond mere ‘therapeutic intervention’. It could have huge potential for autistic children and the field of education as well as developments in healthcare, criminal justice systems and wider society. Autistic strengths have yet to be fully embraced. For example, see the parallels between Autism and Gestalt Perception (put forward by Olga Bogdashina) and how this ‘superability’ to view the whole, could be applied in organisational development. Peter Shankman has grasped his ‘ADHD’ (a common co-morbid of autism) by the horns to create the wonderful Faster than Normal programmes. Some notable figures who are or are speculated to be autistic are Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Can we even dare to imagine autistic leaders steering international policy development, or more…? As our politicians increasingly struggle at their jobs, benefits of neurodivergent thinking would seem a real option.

In addition to meeting current guidance put forward by the national autism organisations and UK government, we aim to:

Support autistic leaders and create a network for the professional development of public and cross-sector Dialogue, Coaching, Mentoring and Leadership programmes.

An additional benefit would be the relieving of some of the huge pressure on existing autism diagnosis waiting lists and service demands, by referrals and signposting.

Finally, as a friend pointed out to me recently, there may well already be many autistic leaders and executives out there, some ‘closeted’, some ‘unknowing’ and of course, many of them might be knowing, succesful and happy.

Please jot down your thoughts or ask a question below.

Thank you.

Further Reading

Read the full report of Autism Dialogue no.1, 2017-19. Download: http://flowdialogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2019-1-Autism-Dialogue-Report_v1.pdf – includes full references.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn under the title ‘Where are our Autistic Leaders?’

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