According to the latest statistics, autism affects roughly one per cent of the Dutch population. Statistically speaking, therefore, ABN AMRO must have at least 200 employees with autism. So far, I’ve only met six, which is why as Autism Ambassador I am a strong advocate of making autism something that can be talked about at the workplace.
My ultimate goal? To ensure that the labour market is more open to people with autism.
Cor Jongejeugd Data Analyst & Autism Ambassador
Cor’s Black Box
Autism has figured large in my life since 2008. When my child’s school recommended that he be tested for autism, the penny dropped for me as well. I heard his test results and thought: but that behaviour isn’t odd at all, surely? I’d have done exactly the same thing myself. So I had myself tested as well, and sure enough: in 2009 I was diagnosed with autism, too. Once I’d been diagnosed, I initially felt a bit lost. What does this mean for me? How will it affect my work? That’s how I discovered that part of my diagnosis means that by nature I tend not to communicate much with work colleagues, for example about how I arrived at a certain solution. My colleagues used to call it ‘Cor’s Black Box’. I also find it difficult to set priorities. I often failed to meet deadlines, especially if something unexpected happened.
Openness about autism is a win-win situation
My colleagues and manager weren’t surprised when I finally told them. They knew that I had my own user manual. Their reactions were great. They wanted to know what the diagnosis meant for me and how they could help me. Together, we devised a new way of working for me. I now receive a clear weekly schedule with priorities highlighted, and I have a job coach who specialises in autism. Because I have a clearer picture now, I am also more flexible. In the past, if I had to take on an urgent job, it caused me a lot of stress; now, it’s no longer a problem. Openness about autism is a win-win situation both for employees with autism and for the organisations they work for. It’s given me control over my own functioning, and that gives me lots of self-confidence. And the bank now makes better use of my qualities. I have a great eye for detail and I’m very patient, which means I’m good at spotting errors in complex data reports, for example.
Working as an Autism Ambassador
In my quest for information, I attended a series of talks by Diederik Weve from Shell. He talked about the Autism Ambassador, an initiative of the organisation ‘Vanuit autisme bekeken’ (‘The autism perspective’). He asked if being an Autism Ambassador might be something for me. I went and spoke to Diversity & Inclusion about it. They thought it was a really good idea, and I was given the green light for my initiative. Now I deliver talks and workshops, and I’ve set up the internal ABN AMRO network ‘Autperforming’. It’s great to see what being an Autism Ambassador has achieved. It’s helped place autism much more clearly on the radar within the bank. For example, for two years now, Head Office has devoted attention to World Autism Day. And most important of all, the good experiences so far have given the bank the confidence that people with autism can also excel.
As an Autism Ambassador, my main aim is to inform others and address preconceptions. Naturally, some things are characteristic of autism, but not everyone is the same. We have to be careful about stereotyping: not everyone with autism is like ‘Rainman’. Everyone is unique, whether they have autism or not. My ultimate goal? To ensure that the labour market is more open to people with autism. So that when applying for jobs in later life, my children can come straight out and say that they have autism, and potential employers will see that as an opportunity not a barrier – an opportunity to create more diversity at the workplace, but also to benefit from the special talents that many people with autism possess.
Like to know more?
You can read more about autism and work at Uaanzet.nl (for people without autism) and Autismewegwijzer.nl (for people with autism) or watch the film about Cor and his role as an Autism Ambassador (all in Dutch).