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Shining a Light on Autism and Neurodiversity: A Q&A with Heindrek Allen

Thursday, May 20, 2021

As we continue to build a more inclusive workplace, we’ve set our sights on further exploring how organizations can hire and retain neurodiverse talent. While C-suite attention is typically focused on correcting racial and gender inequalities, which is important for any diversity and inclusion program, neurodiversity is often inadvertently left behind.

Neurodiversity (ND) is broadly defined as a variation of cognitive functioning and abilities regarding sociability, learning attention, mood, and other neural processes. While not a comprehensive list, many ND individuals are classified with Autism, OCD, ADHD, and Dyslexia.

We caught up with Heindrek Allen, Help Desk Analyst here at Workforce Logiq, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 13. Heindrek shares his thoughts on the importance of incorporating neurodiversity into the workforce based on his firsthand experience as a neurodiverse worker.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about your background, specifically with Autism and your journey to your current role?  

I was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s at age 13 after being tested by many doctors and specialists. Even before my official diagnosis, I was put through a variety of therapies starting when I was 6 months old: From music to speech therapy and an assortment of others in between, getting to a point of effectively functioning in an office environment was a challenging, but very rewarding road.

I’ve spent most of my career working in IT as well as in customer service. Many people are surprised when they learn this since they don’t often associate those on the spectrum with performing well in customer-facing positions. But those assumptions are completely unfounded. Dealing with the complexities of human emotion within these job roles is natural for me because I’ve been trained to communicate with people in a very specific way.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being on the Workforce Logiq team?

I’ve always felt my differences were much more than accepted here; they are fully embraced. But this was not always the case at my previous jobs where I felt I had to hide this major part of who I am. With my current role, my manager has fully immersed himself in my mannerisms so that he can understand how to use my differences as an advantage, instead of ignoring my abilities. For example, I unconsciously mirror people’s body language as a way to read social cues. A lot of people aren’t even aware that I’m doing this, but my boss picked up on it right away and saw how it can be used as an advantage. For example, I can perceive a lot that goes unsaid in a typical business exchange – like if the customer is unhappy but doesn’t want to outright say it – so I can clue my boss into this scenario to help him manage it before it becomes a problem.

Being accepted for who I am and having a manager that understands where my strengths lie is what true inclusion is all about and what makes me grateful for my Workforce Logiq team.

Being accepted for who I am and having a manager that understands where my strengths lie is what true inclusion is all about and what makes me grateful for my Workforce Logiq team.

Q: What does Autism Awareness mean to you?

It means just that – awareness. But let me take it a step further. It also entails having an understanding of Autism without any contingencies or predispositions.

As a person on the spectrum, one thing I struggle with is the number of Autism-related charities that are dedicated to “curing” rather than advocating, recognizing, and supporting the Autistic community. This just continues the narrative that autistic people need to be changed in order to fit into society instead of being celebrated for the differences that make us unique in such wonderful ways.

Q: Why is neurodiversity in hiring so important from your perspective? What are the benefits to expanding neurodiversity in the workplace?

I can only comment from an Autistic-specific point of view as neurodiversity, in general, is so broad. While there are certain characteristics that most people on the spectrum share, the one-size-fits all mentality does not apply. In our recent roundtable panel at Workforce Logiq on building a neurodiverse workforce, the statement was made “if you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person”. Other people often assume that everyone on the spectrum behaves, reacts, and operates the same. This just isn’t the case and I’m so glad that the Workforce Logiq team is truly working to redefine that assumption.

People often assume us on the spectrum will only succeed in data-focused roles, but again this is not the case. Sales is great example of an area people wouldn’t usually expect to find us in. I spent 4 years at an electronics retailer and consistently held the highest record on the floor. Autistic people can so deeply absorb people’s emotions that when properly processed, we can perform better than most and succeed in communication-based roles.

Autistic individuals can also be very direct. When we set our sights on a specific thing – whether it’s a hobby, industry, home project, etc. – we fully immerse ourselves to the point of expertise.

Q: What steps can organizations take to better include autistic individuals in their hiring strategy?

There is absolutely zero question about it – employers need to eliminate personality tests. At Workforce Logiq, personality tests are not a requirement when interviewing and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve always felt these antiquated interview tactics were designed to specifically weed me out.

When interviewing, it’s important to remember to be flexible and tailor each interview for the individual person. If you tell jokes in interviews, remember, those on the spectrum likely won’t understand and laugh at your joke like other candidates would.

Instead of relying on typical interview social cues and mannerisms, employers should look more closely at a candidate’s background and provide them with questions in advance related to the job. Again, it’s not one-size-fits all. It’s a fluid process that requires continuous improvement in order to create actual change.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to organizations to better support Autistic employees?

It starts with adjusting your mindset before any real change can be made. Get out of the “old-school” corporate way of thinking. While strides are being made, there is still a lot of work to do, so employers can be more vocal about where they stand on the issue.  They must ensure their ND employees know it is okay to express their true selves and not feel like they have to hide to be accepted. True support stems from the facilitation of transparency, and the better organizations convey their acceptance, the more successful their actions will be.

To learn more about Autism and neurodiversity, check out our recent Q&A with Monique Gonggrijp-Bello, Workforce Logiq General Counsel and mother of a child with Autism, as well as our Q&A with Jeff Diegel, supplier partner Infotree Global’s president and D&I advocate.

 

Heindrek Allen, Help Desk Analyst, Workforce Logiq

Heindrek Allen joined Workforce Logiq in October, 2019.  As a Helpdesk Analyst, he provides essential support to our 900+ team members around the globe by troubleshooting and resolving reported problems with their computers – including systems, applications, and hardware.  When not at work, in his wife’s words, he is a “Professional Hobby Collector:” He likes to sew, latch-hook, make candles, can goods, garden, bird watch, photography, cross-stich, dog train, paint, write, wood work, cook, and more.  He’s currently working on a cookbook of his own recipes.  Heindrek is also an active supporter of many organizations including the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, the ACLU, BLM, and the ASPCA.

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