Career Profile: Benoit Beauchamp, Associate, Network Management
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development causing most individuals to experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. Autism affects as many 1 out of 66 Canadian children. The term “spectrum” refers to a continuum of severity or developmental impairment.
Asperger Syndrome (AS) is often considered to be on the “high-functioning” end of the autism spectrum. For people with AS, unspoken rules of social interaction and communication which most of us take for granted, such as body language or facial expressions, may be hard to understand.
To mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, Allya Davidson, W5 producer and Steering Committee member of Bell Media’s Diversity and Inclusion Think Tank (DAITT), spoke with Benoit Beauchamp. Benoit, who has Asperger Syndrome, has been with Bell for more than 20 years.
What did you know about the autism spectrum and Asperger’s growing up?
BB: When I was young, autism was not widely known. My first experience was when my son saw a neuropsychologist at the age of 3 and was diagnosed with autism. He is my first child and it wasn’t obvious to me, but it was clear to my wife, who has a sociology background and has worked with young children.
When did you realize that your brain also worked differently than others?
BB: When my son was in the process of being diagnosed, the specialist asked some questions about my son’s behaviour in comparison to my own when I was young. I realized that when I was young I was exhibiting similar behaviours as he was. When I’m with people I’m happy to be with them, but sometimes I’m not really with them – I’m doing things in my mind. When I speak with people I don’t look them in the eyes, for example. I’ve learned to remember to make eye contact, but it doesn’t come naturally.
When were you diagnosed? How did that come about?
BB: I received my official diagnosis at the Clinique Autisme et Asperger Montréal in 2014.
Was the diagnosis a moment of clarity – did things in your past make more sense?
BB: Yes! When I spoke with other people and reminisced with them about things I had said or done, they said “now I understand why you XYZ.” It’s not an excuse but an explanation.
How did you handle the diagnosis at work?
BB: I told my boss first and asked him to tell my colleagues. I worked with HR and an occupational therapist through my union. I also picked up resources from Autism Montréal, which broke things down well, including a document for my employer which explained my behaviours – for example, “sometimes Benoit will react in a certain way but he’s not being mean and doesn’t have bad intentions.” That helped.
How do you work differently than neurotypical people (those without intellectual differences)?
BB: I have a huge imagination and I often view the big picture – I look years ahead. People will ask my opinion because they know I think differently. The negative is that I’m not a great at selling an idea, because while I am good at coming up with ideas, I don’t express them well.
I’m not very hierarchical – I will talk to a VP the same way I’d talk to a colleague, which can be good or bad. I’m also not very tactful. I don’t always understand figures of speech and can take them literally.
How can workplaces be more inclusive of people on the autism spectrum?
BB: Companies need to have alternative ways of looking at candidates – especially on the technical side. They need to think more about different strengths and capabilities. I may not be good with social cues, but I can perform very well technically. The same goes for performance evaluations. Workplaces where others have a basic understanding of ASD would also be helpful. We all must try to adapt more.
ASD can be an invisible disability – what can neurotypical people do to make sure they are being inclusive?
BB: People with Asperger’s have more diverse communication skills than what is often depicted in movies or TV shows. We can speak with other people and it’s not always apparent at first look that someone is on the autism spectrum. I think the difference is that we have some problems with socialization.
I have other strengths, like looking at how people work and seeing how they could work more efficiently and that can be an advantage. However, I lack tact and don’t see cues in body language.
I would say, pay a little more attention to people’s differences. It’s small things that make daily life easier.
The theme of World Autism Awareness Day for 2019 is Assistive Technologies, Active Participation. What does that mean to you?
BB: Companies should realize technology can help those with Autism, as things like telecommuting are now possible with technology. Many with ASD don’t feel the need to be around people so telecommuting is a great option.
As for Active Participation, being at home is not isolating for me. I work with people across the country and often by phone, so my network is mostly people I don’t see. For me interaction is important, but not in the same way as someone who is neurotypical. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s that communicating on messenger is the same as if I have spoken to someone. In fact, it’s often easier for me than speaking face-to-face.
What should everyone know about autism?
BB: Don’t judge based on a first interaction. ASD is not visible physically for all people. For some, yes – my son will flap his hands or move his eyes when he’s nervous – but I’m more capable of controlling things like that.
There are things like insomnia or changes in routine that can have an effect on someone with autism. If I have to go to a special event I’ll think about it all night because it’s a change. But on the flip side, I like change in my work. Doing the same thing over and over at work – I find it annoying. I’m a contradiction! Routine is important, but only in the things I physically do, not in the way I think about ideas. There is a lot I can do, just in my own way.
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