Introducing: Martin Neumann, Auticon Consultant
Auticon Consultant Martin on the challenges and advantages of being on the autism spectrum
Auticon Consultant Martin with Job Coach Elke
Auticon is an award-winning IT B2B consulting business. All Auticon Consultants are on the autism spectrum. We pride ourselves in creating autism-friendly work environments as well as delivering outstanding quality to our clients.
About Disability Confident
The Government’s Disability Confident campaign aims to encourage employers to recruit and retain disabled people, removing barriers to work faced by disabled people. The campaign works with employers to show that employing disabled people is good for the individual, business and society and aims to make a significant contribution to the Government’s ambition to halve the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people.
I’m Martin and I’d like to tell you about myself and my work as IT Consultant with Auticon. Auticon only employs Consultants who are on the autism spectrum. Most Consultants, like myself, have Aspergers syndrome.
What is the fundamental difference between a non-autistic person and myself?
The perhaps most obvious thing is that I find it really difficult to interpret facial expressions or body language, and I sometimes can’t tell what emotions other people are displaying. I can’t read intended emotions of facial expression, gestures or tone of voice as easily as other people can. As you can imagine, this can make it very awkward to talk to people and it also makes it very difficult to build personal connections. It takes many years for me to build up friendships in the same way as others do.
In occupational contexts, it is difficult for me to remember the face, the role and the name of a colleague. In most cases I am happy to get two out of three right. That isn’t always an ideal starting point for small talk!
It is also nearly impossible for me to lie. On the one hand a good lie requires constant observation of the opponent: Do they believe it, how can I make them believe it? A skill I struggle with. But what’s worse: a lie is a distortion of reality and I couldn’t handle this distortion gracefully. My mind would scream “but it isn’t the truth!”.
In general, interaction with people is hard for me. I have to analyse every remark, facial expression and gesture individually, assess them in their context and rely on learned patterns of behaviour in order to mimic a small talk. In my mind I have about 2000 learned ‘if-then’ rules, to help me figure out what other people’s intentions are.
However: Being autistic also equips me with extraordinary skills, that most non-autistic persons don’t have!
One of those skills is that I see patterns: in behaviours and language, in pictures and films, in history and current politics, in technical connections and functions, in data and programmes. These patterns are connected to each other and they form trees: trees of possibilities, of probabilities, of functional dependencies, of interference and interdependence.
This ability is often extremely helpful, because it enables me to predict how people might behave, even if I don’t understand why they behave that way.
It is even more helpful in a technical context. I can see connections that other people cannot see. I don’t need to look for flaws or mistakes in a drawing, text or a program as these errors flag up immediately whether I like it or not – sometimes they even cause me physical discomfort or pain.
So how did I become an Auticon Consultant?
I studied informatics and civil engineering on a postgraduate level, then worked as computer programmer and civil engineer. After a day at work my wife would explain to me why people behaved the way they did, what their motivations were and how I could interact with them.
As my children were born, I saw them develop from biological machines to admirable people with needs, feelings, hopes and goals. My wife and my children were the first people I could see as individuals and understand their behaviour. So I slowly gained some of the understanding that other people are born with or effortlessly develop during childhood.
In my 30s I founded a civil engineering planning and expertise company with a long-time friend as my business partner. He would handle customers and the networking part and I was in charge of the technical know-how. I was even appointed as an official public expert. I had to vow to not let personal feelings influence my expert opinion and advice. Well, that part was easy!
But when my business partner fell ill and had to stop working, I had to take on his tasks. This put a very heavy burden on my shoulders and I wasn’t able to cope for very long. It didn’t take long for me to burn out and I knew I had to find a profession that was a better match for my skills. I don’t want to have to worry about being autistic, I want to be able to focus on the work I love and am very good at.
That was in 2011, the year Auticon was founded. The rest is history.
Over the past years at Auticon I have worked on a range of complex but interesting client projects. The feedback clients gave me was always extremely positive and encouraging. They appreciate that
- I have a different approach to solve problems
- I have a quick understanding of dependencies, interferences and interdependences
- My opinion and advice is always entirely unbiased
- I focus on the task at hand
- I am inherently honesty and truthful
- …and of course my experience in 35 years as an engineer and software developer