By Jack Welch
For most individuals who classify themselves as having a condition that will affect almost every decision and direction they take in life, finding stable employment can be a stubborn obstacle more so than most. Those who might find themselves diagnosed within the autism spectrum are sadly the victims of exclusion from the labour market more than most, with a shameful 15% of those who are considered to be in full time employment alone. Moreover, this decreases even further to 9% who have been able to secure part time employment. Like many other learning disabilities, there are those on the autistic spectrum who simply could never be in employment. With lack of communication abilities and constant care and supervision, this is just one bracket which has to be taken into account that will most likely not be moving into employment as they enter adulthood. However, for the milder end of the spectrum or the Asperger end in the spectrum, people who identify with the condition in this respect often have higher than average intelligence and lack some of the associated difficulties of those who are severely impacted by some of its symptoms. While not curable, as some may mistakenly claim, people with autism can easily thrive if given the right measure of support as they grow older.
It may feel like a mystery as to why the existing figure of those with autism who can work remains as incomprehensibly low as it is. Research by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities points to the poor mental wellbeing of people with autism and in particular the risk at which they are exploited by alleged ‘friends’, including financial areas. The stress factor is also likely to play a significant role when jobs which require the candidates to be able to tolerate high pressured situations will see those with autism collapse under the strain of the demand. It is interesting to note that almost 50% of those with a physical disability are now in some form of employment themselves, meaning that the solution to being a wholly disabled friendly workforce has not yet been cracked. Under the new Ambitious about Autism campaign ‘Employ Autism’, which I have a role as one of the Youth Patrons of the charity, we are seeking to transform some of those attitudes that employers have and make their workplaces more accepting of the talents, as well as the provisions, people who are autistic need to succeed.
As it stands there has been strong progress as the official campaign launch approaches. Last year alone saw four volunteers from Ambitious take part in a work experience programme with the Civil Service, which resulted in a huge success of opening the eyes of these employers to the contributions young workers on the spectrum can bring to the workplace. A roundtable, which was attended by Disability Minister Justin Tomlinson, and a conference to get the discussion going have now also taken place to extend the debate in how to make those changes widespread and for employers to embrace those adaptions people with autism need. Already, Microsoft has become one of the leading faces to make employment on the spectrum mainstream. This requires more than positive discrimination alone though in the long run, with a standardised prospect of employment for anyone, regardless of their condition, who is able to work. There’s much more to make this a reality.
Follow the progress of the Employ Autism campaign here.