Let’s face it – no one likes to complete forms. They’re nerve wracking and time consuming at the best of times. It’s even worse if you are autistic. How do you fit all your complexities into predetermined lines and boxes? Can lines and boxes present you fairly and accurately? What if you are forced to leave something out? What if something is left out by accident? Do you need to complete all of it? Should you? Is it fair? What will it be used for? Even now, just thinking about forms, I can feel my stress and anxiety building.
Recently, someone shared their concerns on Facebook, regarding an online employment form. They said:
“Under ‘disability’ it had a tick box for autism, but it said ‘autism and other cognitive disabilities’. That makes it sound like I have intellectual shortcomings, which I don’t. Is this normal, for Aspergers to be regarded as a cognitive disability?”
This concern highlights a problem we autistics face on a regular basis. The dreaded autism tick box. In fact, it is an excellent metaphor for the lines and boxes NTs would like our neurodiverse community to fit neatly into. We’re forced into boxes when we think outside of them. Why does it have to be this way? What are the alternatives?
In general, I have issues with reductionist “tick box” mentality; it certainly doesn’t accommodate the complexities of the autism spectrum! I think the online employment form mentioned above is problematic, maybe even discriminatory; depends how it is used. Ideally, there should be room for additional comments. Being allowed to provide context would help. Key terms on the form should be clearly defined in a glossary. How do we know if the employer has the same definition as us?
I haven’t seen the form, but it appears it needs to be differentiated. They should either scrap that tick box altogether or include more tick box choices and allow applicants to add further details. Ideally, if the company insists on asking questions like this, they should consult a psychologist (and maybe a lawyer) to help generate the fairest form possible. There should be a section explaining the company’s policies; why is that question being asked and what will it be used for? This needs to be made crystal clear. Perhaps autistic applicants should be able to request a form that allows more open-ended, typed responses, with plenty of room, instead of restrictive lines and tick boxes. Here’s an idea: why don’t they let some autistic people design and test the form? Wouldn’t that be something? What are the chances?
In closing, I responded to the concerned party as follows: “If you don’t get the job, ask for feedback – specifically why they use that phrasing. It may be harmless; they may mean well. Maybe they’d agree with you that it needs to be changed; offering helpful, diplomatic advice like that may land you a different job!”