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The secret life of an autistic retailer

different, business“What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done,” – Dr. Temple Grandin

Retail has always been a surreptitious sanctum for people on the Autistic Spectrum. It offers an irresistible ambience that eulogises an attention to detail within the safety of a collective atmosphere. While revering in the diversity of sensory endeavour toward a competitive distinction.

A silent yet prolific entity of autistic people, unbeknownst to the company, the workforce and often themselves. Thriving at each level, participating in every discipline, be it accounting, buying, sales or human resource – senior leadership included.

Identifying this cadre of untapped specialists requires little more than the removal of social blinkers and the desire for a meaningful culture of emotional intelligence.

Look no further than an extraordinary display in a certain store or perhaps the intricate housekeeping standards of a department. Do not be surprised to discover us in unprecedented examples of merchandising or in the revelation of groundbreaking product ranges or meticulous logistical know-how and exceptional integrity compliance.

There is no definitive list of traits or behaviours other than perceived eccentricities and uncommon foibles. Perhaps an in-depth knowledge or expertise within a particular field may coincide with a nonchalant disregard for other disciplines. Similarly, a passion and confidence in a preferred field might conflict with the uncertainty and unwillingness to venture into another. Nothing disparate from human behaviour in us all.

To disclose or not to disclose……that is the question?

In an inclusive world this wouldn’t be an issue, however, in reality, fear, incomprehension and prejudice create a quandary for the individual deliberating to come out or not.

So what is at stake?

Employers can be prejudiced against those they perceive to be disabled and often hide behind the bureaucracy of health and safetyre concerns and the like or assume that the customer may feel uncomfortable in their presence. Ignorance is the key factor.

The word ‘diversity’ is bandied around at length, but there is no hint of inclusion beyond the traditional boundaries of race, gender and religion. There is a need for courage on all sides to strip away the natural inhibitions and reluctance of change in an effort to form beneficial bonds of embodiment and benefit.

The time has come for the industry, of which there are many who are dedicated and empathetic, to review the ambivalence towards meaningful inclusivity. Time to formulate a strategy of proactive change before the inevitable enforcement of legislative compliance becomes a reality.

If on the other hand, there is no intention to embrace and define this amazing community then best leave them be.

April is Autism Awareness month.

Dave Farrell is a retailer and writer with three decades of experience on three continents. He can be reached at Freelance Alliance NZ on

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