Family & Education

Autism: Yes, there are jobs for you

Laurel Herman helps autistic people find employment


I’m known as an inveterate Mrs Fixit,” says Laurel Herman, explaining what propelled her to set up ASPiERATIONS in 2014.

After hearing about the endless struggle of an autistic relative to find work, she saw there was a need to support him and other autistic people in finding employment. At the same time, she recognised that many autistic people had valuable skills to offer businesses, but were so often alienated by the recruitment process.

Drawing on her own broad experience in the corporate world, Laurel “got the great and the good around a table and told them that they were missing a trick. These people listened and suddenly ASPiERATIONS was born.”

It has since become a family affair, with Laurel’s son Gabriel taking on the role of chairman in 2016 and Laurel, a member of South Hampstead Synagogue, becoming the organisation’s ambassador.

While many autistic people may find social situations challenging, their skills, which may include logical thinking and attention to detail are particularly useful in the Stem sectors, as well as pensions, insurance and law, says Laurel. “They often notice patterns and tiny inconsistencies in reams of paperwork.”

However, the recruitment process presents huge challenges, particularly the interview stage, explains Gabriel, who is co-chair of Hampstead Synagogue. “Autistic people often have problems with ‘social imagination’ — over-imagining experiences that are about to happen. In their mind, they’re thinking of all the possible questions and how they could respond. It can be totally overwhelming, so a lot of autistic folk won’t even go to the job interview.”

To defuse this anxiety, they set up the Aspiera Project to give autistic students the opportunity to practise job interviews with real employers. “Businesses learnt how to interview autistic candidates and were very, very impressed and autistic candidates were able to practise job interviews in a very safe place,” he says.

To help businesses become “autism fit ‘n’ friendly,” ASPiERATIONS offers autism awareness training and advises on reasonable adjustments, such as providing a quiet working environment if someone is highly sensitive to noise or allocating them a permanent work station if they don’t like change.

The ultimate goals are for more autistic people to be in rewarding jobs which match their skill-set and greater understanding among employers. Says Laurel: “We need to change the perception of autism from a disease or a disability to an understood, accepted, respected and welcomed difference.”


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