Disability in Business: When Autism Becomes a Force

Article from our special issue the parisian economy : Disability at work, initiatives to follow.

In her office, away from the noise and hustle, Lali Dugelay wears three bracelets on her wrist. When she takes one, it doesn’t go very well, when she takes two, it doesn’t go at all. It is an important means of communication for her. In this way, she can express her feelings without speaking directly to her peers. “Once they realize I only have one or two bracelets, they know how to adapt and leave me alone, no questions asked,” she confides.

Lali, 45, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Autism in 2020. An ad that allowed her to become aware of her needs: “I told myself I needed to find a job that accepted me for who I am, with my specifics. to feel good about my work. »

In March 2021, she found her happiness as director of communication, employee of the company Homnia and the association Club des six, in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine). His two employers offer roommates for people with disabilities. She was immediately well received: “The founders understood that I needed some tweaks. I managed to choose my workspace. » No photocopier, no too hot or too cold lights. Lali is very sensitive to sensory stimulation, which she avoids. “I need to have an office where no one walks past me, otherwise I get super stressed,” she breathes. When anxiety overwhelms her, she can take refuge in a dedicated room to relax.

work flexibility

Lali has been sharing her office for a year and a half with Maïté Borde, director of human resources. The latter must also adapt to Lali’s deficiency in his way of working. “If I need to make calls, I’ll leave the office so I don’t bother you,” she says.

Access to teleworking was also facilitated. Lali can choose to work from home up to four days a week. “My bosses are very flexible, I don’t need to justify myself. Sometimes I call them in the morning because I’m not feeling well and I’d rather stay at home than take the subway to the office,” says Lali.

Last October, she wanted to raise awareness of autism in companies and business schools. Thus, she dedicates 20% of her time to this as a micro-entrepreneur, with the consent of her employer. Before joining Club des six, where she flourishes today, she had bad experiences in business. So it’s obvious to her to spread the good word. Her goal is that autism at work is no longer a taboo and that the various structures take into account the needs of people with invisible disabilities.

“In the clubs I worked for, I felt out of step in the way I was compared to my peers. I wasn’t integrated at all… It was a real problem, it has to change! insists Lali. “I’ve always been a really good employee because when you’re autistic, you have a very keen vision of everything you do… You really have a sense of excellence at work. Not to be well regarded by our bosses, but because we don’t know how to do it any other way. If the instructions are not very precise, I will go further to have, at least, answered the problem or the mission that was asked of me”.

“A big plus for the company”

These adaptations within the office are beneficial for both Lali and her colleagues. “We create arrangements that are easy to make,” says Maïté Borde. When she recruited Lali, she mostly wondered what she could bring to the company. “Her autism is also a strong point, she has a way of working and a different perspective than ours. She is very efficient and that is a great advantage for the company”. A “true passion” for this human resources director, who sees no difference with the other employees.

Like Lali, 9 million French people have an invisible disability that can affect their daily lives. While adapting to their employees is obvious for Club of Six and Homnia, for others this issue remains overlooked. “Autism should be a non-issue in companies, insists Maïté. It should be normal to make the necessary adjustments. »

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