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Working on the Spectrum

Posted March 13, 2024

We're proud to share a message written by a member of our very own Neurodiversity Network in partnership with our Carers and Accessibility Network. At EDF, our employee networks are integral to our inclusive culture, they are open to all and support our people whilst advocating for positive change.

I’ve worked for EDF for twenty years; but I’ve been on the autism spectrum for more like fifty, even if I didn’t have a name for it for most of that time.  I’ve always known I was different, certainly on the inside – right back to when I was in infant school.  Over time I learned to hide the real me, to pretend to be someone else, to be extravert when I wasn’t, to be confident when I wasn’t, even to go clubbing when there was no environment in which I could feel less comfortable than the endless jarring conflict of sounds and images, and the unwelcome touch of a thousand strangers dancing around me.

I was in my forties when I was finally able to put a name to the real me, and like for many people of my generation, it came by accident.  My eldest child was awaiting a diagnosis, and I started to realise that my dad had almost certainly been on the spectrum, too.  It didn’t take a huge amount of deduction to fill in the missing link, and eventually a psychiatrist joined the dots to confirmed it. 

I am autistic.  I am neurodivergent.

But why does it matter? 

So, I’m autistic… who cares?  Should I care?  Should EDF care?  Should you care?

Being autistic means my brain works differently: I think differently, more logically, perhaps, almost digitally, and I naturally respond differently to situations from how most people would.  It can mean that I struggle with social interactions, struggle with communication, and it can also mean that I really struggle with certain environments, particularly those that are busy and loud, like an office.  These might be perceived as weaknesses, and one might reasonably ask why EDF would want to employ someone who struggles in these areas. 

Well, one consequence of my brain working differently is that I am logically ruthless and can think more deeply and more widely than most other people.  This means I see further, think quicker, and can always give a different perspective, and this helps avoid ‘group-think’, a situation where everyone thinks in the same way and there isn’t proper challenge of the ways things are done.  Being autistic is therefore advantageous both to me and to EDF.

But these advantages come with costs to me.  I have consciously masked most of the associated difficulties – I have used my logical intelligence to hide the deficiencies in my emotional intelligence, and I have consciously ignored my difficulties with office environments.  I have worked through the mental, and sometimes physical pain that comes from doing this.  And this pain leads to mental health difficulties for a horrendously huge proportion of neurodivergent people. My eldest child has required significant help for their mental health problems, problems that are rooted in their difficulty in interacting with a world that is not designed for them.  Both for them and for me.

How I accessed help through work

I accessed EDF's Employee Assistance Programme, which put me in contact with high-quality psychiatric and psychological help.  This programme is a fantastic resource that, for me, demonstrated EDF's maternal approach to its role as an employer.  EDF has also given me the opportunity to work very flexibly so that I can prioritise my eldest child as and when necessary.

Now, it was obvious to me that I wouldn’t be the only person in the company who was autistic, but it was equally obvious that for many people it would be very hard to be open about it, because of the negative perceptions that unfortunately many people associate with being autistic. These people would likely be suffering in similar ways to how I had been.  Therefore, it was important to me, as a leader, to stand up and be open about being on the autism spectrum, to help make it easier for others within EDF to be open as well.  Consequentially, I have worked to raise awareness of autism and wider neurodivergence, and the small adjustments that can be made to working environments to help people who are autistic, or are dyslexic, or have ADHD, for instance. 

EDF now has a Neurodiversity Network

The aim is to improve knowledge of neurodiversity, provide support and influence for people who are neurodivergent or who have family members who are, and also to help inform EDF’s decision making.  This is part of EDF’s commitment to being a great place to work and somewhere where everyone is welcome.

I genuinely feel lucky to work for such a caring employer.  There’s always more to do, always improvements to make, but I wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else.

Find out more about equity, diversity and inclusion at EDF.