Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on Thursday 2nd April, Allison Hope-West, autism director at the Priory Group, has urged companies to come forward saying many adults with autism could fulfil satisfying roles in the workplace but have not been given the opportunity to make their ambitions a reality.
Allison stated that a lack of understanding among employers of autistic spectrum disorder and a lack of specialised employment services were major hurdles to gaining employment, while more training was needed for those who supported autistic adults in jobs.
Autism in the workplace
According to the NHS Information Centre, around one in 100 adults has autism - a lifelong condition which affects people’s understanding of the world and their communication with others. The autism spectrum includes classic autism, Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism.
But with the right support, those with autism can lead rewarding lives, and many can be socially and economically independent. The majority of the over 300,000 working-age adults with autism in the UK want to work.
Jim Glover is vice principal of Priory’s Strathmore College in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, which currently has 34 students on the autistic spectrum, aged 16-24.
The College runs a café, factory unit and horticultural centre to help develop their skills.
It also has links with local employers; in 2013/4 10 students left the college to enter voluntary part-time work, and one had a paid apprenticeship. Twelve months earlier, 10 went into voluntary part-time work and one entered full-time paid work.
Mr Glover urged more employers to come forward.
"We really appreciate the support we receive from the employers we work with who offer us work placements for our learners. However, we would urge more employers to consider how they can offer work placements that lead to paid employment.
"Simulated activities are valuable to help develop learners’ work skills, but we could be wasting valuable time when we could be training the learner on the job, with the prospect of continuing with that employer."
"Autism need not be a bar to achievement..."
Sandra Morgan, principal of Priory Coleg Wales, a specialist co-educational college for students aged 16 to 25 with Asperger Syndrome and associated conditions - which was established in partnership with Coleg Gwent, Wales’s largest further education college - added: “Autism need not be a bar to achievement. Yet only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment.
"Ofsted, the education inspector, has admitted that opportunities for supported employment or other gainful and meaningful activity after the age of 19 are variable and, in some areas very limited. Supported apprenticeships may be the answer but are few and far between."
Briony Robinson attended Priory Coleg Wales where she studied for a BTEC Level 3 in art and design and received merit-merit-merit – equivalent to 3 ‘A’ levels, thus qualifying her to enter university.
Now at the University of South Wales in Newport, Briony is studying Performing Arts for Theatre and Film and likes "anything to do with the stag"”, says her mother, Julia.
Julia says that some people don’t yet fully understand autism and Asperger’s, but people like Briony can be the "perfect" job candidates given the opportunity.
Briony stated: "Going to university has enabled me to follow my dream in the drama world. I have built up my confidence so much and am looking forward to the rest of my course and becoming a successful actress."
What can employers do?
Priory’s Director of autism, Allison Hope-West said: "It is really useful for employers to have positive statements about the benefits that people with autism can bring to their service - such as work ethic, reliability, thoroughness, honesty and attention to detail.
"Every person on the autistic spectrum is individual, and some will manage well in a workplace setting with little intervention. But employers do need a better awareness of the condition, because there's a lot they can do quite easily that would help."
World Autism Awareness Day 2015
The United Nations General Assembly declared Thursday 2nd April 2015 World Autism Awareness Day.
The website cites research suggesting that employers are missing out on abilities that people on the autism spectrum have in greater abundance than "neurotypical" workers, such as:
• Heightened abilities in pattern recognition
• Logical reasoning
• Greater attention to detail.
"These qualities make them ideally suited to certain kinds of employment, such as software testing, data entry, lab work and proofreading, to name just a few examples. The hurdles that need to be overcome to unleash this potential include: a shortage of vocational training, inadequate support with job placement, and pervasive discrimination," the UN says.
The research goes on to say that in order to "unleash" the potential that people with autism represent, appropriate vocational training and support is needed, and "a recruitment process that can allow people with neurodiversities to successfully integrate into the workforce".