Data careers are open to everyone – including those who are neurodivergent.

Many people with neurodivergent conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia face barriers to the world of work, despite possessing cognitive abilities that can be extremely effective, especially in areas like data. DDI Skills Gateway spoke with Russell Botting, of Auticon about data careers being open to everyone – as part of the #DataYou series. 

“Historically, individuals on the autism spectrum have been marginalised by society, unequal access to the job market, or experienced significant sensory challenges with the work environment,” says

Russell Botting, Lead Job Coach at Auticon.

Mr Botting and his colleagues at auticon, a social enterprise, aim to increase employment opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum – with a strong focus on data roles.

One study, by the NAS (National Autistic Society), in 2016, showed that only 16% of people on the autism spectrum were in full-time employment or work that matched their academic or intellectual ability

“We have consultants with a PhD or a Masters qualification but despite this, three-quarters were not in work for 3 years before joining us,” Mr Botting says. “Other consultants were working in low-skilled and low-paid support roles. They had real challenges accessing opportunities in the job market.”

Auticon’s objective is to educate organisations on neurodiversity and how to support employees with autism and ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], as well as dyslexia and dyspraxia, into roles appropriate to their skills.

The abilities of neurodivergent individuals are often well-suited to high-level performance in technology roles, which is especially important when tech vacancies are challenging to fill. Large companies, including Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and Microsoft, have reformed their HR processes to access neurodivergent talent.

Mr Botting says auticon focuses largely on employment opportunities in the areas of data, cybersecurity and quality assurance.

He explains the benefits of employing an individual with autism in a data role: “The strength that an individual with autism can bring is around sustained accuracy, long-term memory and a detail-focused mindset.

“Those who are on the autism spectrum are more inclined to spot trends within datasets, remember specific data points, retain large amounts of information and sustain attention for long periods (also called hyperfocus) – without as much drop-off in accuracy.

“We often find that, when working on a dataset, our consultants have enhanced ability to recall specific information from memory. This often means that person becomes an invaluable asset to the team because of the amount of information they can retain.

“The individuals we work with also tend to be very diligent, conscientious and accurate, and have excellent abstract reasoning abilities.”

It is vital to ensure these positive traits do not lead to a culture of overwork, Mr Botting stresses.

“As job coaches, we have to ensure that the tendency for consultants to hyperfocus is balanced by ensuring they take adequate breaks to avoid them burnout,” he explains.

“We help consultants to manage and prioritise their workload and support them with any anxiety they might have communicate with their team whilst working on a project. We also support consultants to manage any mental health difficulties. This is especially important in the context of a pandemic.”

Mr Botting says people on the autism spectrum have a cognitive ability to see data in a very different and very detailed way – and should be recognised for the value they can bring to organisations working with data.

“These are intelligent individuals with exceptional skills, who happen to have autism, but with the right support and understanding around reasonable adjustments can thrive and add considerable value to a team or organisations,” he says.

Data who_ Russell

“Those who are on the autism spectrum are more inclined to spot trends within datasets, remember specific data points, retain large amounts of information and sustain attention for long periods (also called hyperfocus) – without as much drop-off in accuracy.

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