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Header How I gained a new lease on my career as an adult with autism
• Oct 3, 2023

Bill Mancini dreaded work anniversaries.

On the rare occasion Bill held on to a job for a year, he wanted to feel more confident. He could feel himself starting to daydream about a raise — maybe even a promotion.

But those thoughts were always shrouded by another. At every work anniversary, Bill found himself asking the same question: How much time do I have left?

The answer was inevitably disappointing but not exactly surprising. There always seemed to be an expiration date on every job Bill held. At one point, he had it down to a science.

"I knew how so many other jobs had begun and ended that I could almost predict when they would end," said Bill, who held 14 jobs over the course 23 years. In that time, only three employers retained him past one year.

"It was the same sequence of events: I'd say something that was misinterpreted, or I'd misinterpret what someone said, and my boss would call me in and say I was having trouble fitting in. The second time that would happen was always the last," Bill said.

Bill was in his early 40s when he learned he has autism. His diagnosis and the lack of support he received all his life, were the answers to the questions he had been asking himself for years. They explained why he struggled to hold a job, why making friends was so hard and why so many of his relationships failed.

Most of all, it explained why no one ever seemed to understand him.

Finding the answer wasn't exactly a relief, Bill said, because he didn't know what he could do to change the results.

Doing more for neurodivergent candidates

After the diagnosis, change would only come when Bill connected with Specialisterne, an international non-profit organization that works with businesses to hire candidates who are neurodivergent.

Since 2016, TD Bank Group (TD) has worked with Specialisterne to hire 85 neurodivergent colleagues in the United States and Canada for full-time and contract positions. Their roles range from software engineers to risk analysts.

Most of the neurodivergent colleagues hired through Specialisterne are working in technology roles for the bank's Platforms and Technology team, which welcomed eight new colleagues through the program in August. The bank has also hired neurodivergent colleagues for roles in TD Insurance, Finance, Risk Management, and other groups.

Bill was hired as a business analyst with TD Wealth in 2021 and is responsible for extracting and packaging stock and stock options data for clients.

The Specialisterne program directly addresses the historically low employment of autistic people. In the U.S., 85% of autistic adults surveyed were unemployed in 2022, a Deloitte report found.

"The traditional job hiring process can immediately place autistic people at a disadvantage," said Doug Harris, a member of the Platforms and Technology People with Disabilities subcommittee focused on raising awareness about hiring neurodivergent talent at TD.

"They struggle to get in because traditional interview methods fail them," said Doug. "They'll look away [during the job interview], not out of disrespect but because they're focusing on what's being said to them. Their body cues and body language may be different and can be misinterpreted. Hiring managers don't always know that."

TD, which plans to hire 20 colleagues through Specialisterne this year, has worked with the organization to replace the traditional hiring process with an inclusive assessment tailor-made for autistic candidates. Their preferences and accommodations are disclosed to hiring managers before they meet. Rather than an interview, candidates complete a series of exercises to evaluate their skill sets. The final step involves giving each candidate an opportunity to perform in the role for a week to determine their fit.

"If employers level the playing field, both during the hiring process and afterwards through accommodation, autistic colleagues can shine," Doug said. He's personally seen it at TD.

"Our autistic colleagues have won performance awards," he said. "They've been promoted. They've done some amazing things. I'm not saying they're special because of that. I'm saying they're no different than you or me."

Fourteen jobs in 23 years

Before joining TD, Bill estimates he was either unemployed or underemployed for two-thirds of his professional life. Finding a job was difficult because he often had to explain why he held so many jobs in such a short time and why, between them, there were often months and years of unemployment. He'd tell every interviewer that he was unemployed in those periods because he was taking care of his children.

The answer was true, but not entirely.

"It wasn't the whole story," Bill said. "There was a point where I lost my spirit and motivation. I was just so afraid of the process repeating itself. I didn't want that pain in my life."

Eleven of the 14 jobs Bill has held over the past 23 years lasted less than a year. For almost every position he's held, Bill remembers a social moment that defined his experience and, he thinks, signaled the end of his employment.

At one early stop as a programmer, Bill remembers a colleague who had just finished building an application. Bill asked him: "How many times do you think you'll have to fix it before it'll run?"

The question was a fair one, Bill thought, because when programmers build applications they almost always have to iron out the kinks. But his colleague was offended, and it led to Bill being pulled aside by a manager.

"I didn't think I was having problems connecting with people," Bill said. "The only thing that occurred to me was: 'Gee, I guess he's kind of sensitive.'" About a month later, Bill was looking for a new employer.

After his diagnosis, Bill tried another tactic. He decided to disclose to another employer that he has autism so that he could seek accommodation.

"One week later I was gone," said Bill, who did not disclose his disability again until the job hiring process with TD.

These experiences began to weigh on Bill. A thought entered his head: The less time he spent around people, the less risk there was of offending them. "I was the problem," he said.

Over four years, Bill put his theory to the test and start working as a delivery driver — a job, he thought, that would allow him to isolate himself from his colleagues and not offend them. But eventually, the same pattern re-emerged and he was let go.

The work isn't done when employers hire autistic talent, said Robert Opp, a senior recruiter at TD in the U.S., who has been working with Specialisterne over the past seven months. Just as much effort needs to be placed on retaining these colleagues, he said. TD has been successful in doing so, retaining 73% of the colleagues hired for full-time and contract positions through Specialisterne since 2016.

"It starts with the hiring managers — they need to know how to support their employees," Robert said. explaining that TD also engages Specialisterne for training of hiring managers. "We want to help provide our hiring managers with the resources they need when they're bringing [an autistic colleague] on board and that they're giving them every opportunity to succeed."

A fresh start

Bill is now approaching his second work anniversary at TD. He'll be the first to admit it's making him anxious. No experience could erase "30 years of jobs that didn't work out." But when he speaks about his upcoming anniversary, there's a bit of levity in Bill voice. He says it's hope.

TD is the first employer to accommodate Bill by allowing him to work from home. Communication gaps are minor, but when they do occur Bill says his colleagues and managers are understanding and always willing to connect and provide clarity.

For the first time in his professional life, Bill can comfortably think about the future. He can think of where he's going to live long-term. He can plan a vacation with his family. He can tuck away savings into a retirement fund. He's even allowed himself to start thinking about long-term opportunities at the bank.

"Before working at TD, I only had a series of jobs. I didn't have a career," Bill said. "Now, I'm starting to see TD as a home and as a family. There's no way I'd give this up. With each passing day and month, I know I'm providing value to the bank. I know I'm worthwhile."

That, more than a milestone, is worth celebrating.

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