Leaving school and having to think about a career can be scary; there are so many options it can feel a bit overwhelming.
Unfortunately, many people with autism struggle to find work. Recent statistics show that only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment. But that shouldn't stop you from following your chosen career path – the hard part is sussing out what exactly that is.
What kind of job should I do?
Fireman, journalist, interior designer, policeman, teacher, care worker, hairdresser, IT worker, sports person, office worker, manual labourer... ahhh, where do you start when it comes to figuring out a) what you'd like to do, and b) what you'd be good at. The first thing to do is ask yourself the following questions:
· What do I like doing?
· Do I have any hobbies that could be turned into a career?
· What are my best subjects at school?
Answer these and you'll get a clearer picture of suitable careers. For example, if you love sport and get high grades in English, then sports journalism could be an option.
What if I lack confidence?
It can be hard to think about your career when you have low confidence – especially if you're unsure about what you can do. But it's important not to let this hold you back. You may be surprised at the skills you already have; you just need to believe there's someone out there who will value them.
"Autism doesn't hold me back because I have had the correct support from a young age," says Jonathan Young, who is on the autism spectrum and works as a business analyst at Goldman Sachs. Speaking to the Guardian, Jonathan said that he wasn't too worried about how autism would affect his career. "It's key to have that support, both in education and in the workplace, but I don't require anything complicated: people just have to understand that I'm different."
Confidence can be nurtured. Start by focusing on your special interests – for example, do you enjoy problem-solving, analysing data or numbers, or organising stuff? These are all valuable skills to employers.
What jobs are out there for me?
More than you might imagine! One way to get your foot in the door is with a work placement or work scheme. In Wales, a five-year project called Engage to Change will work with 800 employers to help improve employment skills for young people with autism through paid work placements.
There are various other work schemes across the country, including the London-based Harington scheme that delivers individual learning programmes to help young people into work, and Action for Kids that has job coaches to help you learn work skills that can eventually be practised in a real work place. Action for kids also offers ‘Supported Employment’, which is helpful whilst at work.
Speak to a careers advisor or the Job Centre about schemes in your area.
What support is available?
When getting careers advice, it's important to speak to someone who understands your skills and aspirations.
The National Careers Service has a range of trained advisers that can help young people with special educational needs, as well as a database of services. "Advisers are trained to check the caller’s individual needs at the start of each interaction so they can offer extra support where necessary," said a spokesperson for the National Careers Service.
There are also several charities that offer support and advice. The National Autistic Society has information to help people with autism find out more about available job opportunities, and Autism Plus has five social enterprise businesses offering positions for people with autism and learning disabilities. Your careers advisor will be able to tell you about what's available in your area.
Young people with autism not only possess valuable skills, they also deserve the chance of a good career. As George Harvey, Youth Patron with Ambitious about Autism, said: "If young people with autism have the skills and experiences to make this country better, then why should they be denied the chance to do so?"