With the right support, planning and opportunities from parents and employers, many people with autism have the ability to work. Despite this, recent figures show that only 15% of people with autism are in full time, paid employment. 79% of those polled who are not in employment would like to be.
Although not without its own issues, employment and the job satisfaction it hopefully brings can help many people with autism overcome other problems they face including a sometimes overwhelming lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.
As a parent, employment can also mean a degree of reassurance that your son or daughter has the ability to have a happy and sustainable future. Increased independence and work life also leads to increased opportunities for a social life, friendships and relationships.
Here are a few tips that can be helpful when it comes to thinking about employment opportunities for your son or daughter:
Make sure you look for employment suitable to your son and daughter’s abilities and needs. This might be in a specialised programme or in supported employment. Do your research!
Does your son or daughter have a special interest or skill they’re particularly good at? You may be able to identify employment opportunities that can use that.
Help your child identify any additional support they can access, either as a prospective employee or within a company – Access to Work may be able to provide funding for a support worker to assist your son or daughter with the transition into work. Building a strong relationship between your son or daughter and their employer when the job starts is central to successful employment.
Expose your child as early as possible to work experience or voluntary opportunities. Work experience opportunities may be sourced in businesses that your child is familiar with i.e. local supermarket, library. This will enable your child to start to learn about different working environments and begin to understand the ‘social rules’ of a work place. Work experience also looks great on a CV.
Help manage your child’s expectations about work. It may not always be possible to find employment that supports a special interest so encouraging your child to think about several vocational fields will help increase their chances of finding work.
Consider helping your child create a video CV. Video CV’s are a great way to showcase your child’s skills and abilities to potential employers.
Networking with family and friends is invaluable. Do you know anyone that works in the industry that your child wants to work in? Is your neighbour/friend/sister/uncle able to offer a work placement at their place of work? If not a placement perhaps would they be willing to show your child around their place of work and explain what they do? Personal networks are a great way to find supportive places of employment for your child.
Support on the job
Your son or daughter has found work. Fantastic! Here are some things you may want to consider doing:
Make time to talk with your son or daughter about their job, particularly at the start. Make sure they’re happy and know what’s expected from them.
Watch for signs of anxiety and, if necessary, seek professional help
If your son or daughter is in supported employment keep in touch with support staff to find out how things are going
Listen to and observe your son or daughter. You know them better than anyone and if there’s a problem you’re likely to be the first to spot it and be in the best position to help
The times are a-changing
Some employers are also becoming aware of the unique skills often stemming from special interests that some people with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome possess and are looking at ways to support them into employment. This can, if managed well, be of benefit to both parties. Employers gain highly intelligent, loyal and focussed team members while those with autism find routine and the opportunity to delve deeper into their area of expertise.
Even the UK Government is beginning to take notice of this untapped workforce. In 2012, Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform made a speech about the benefits of employing people with autism; not just from a skills perspective but from the point of view of employers addressing the way companies think of themselves as a whole.
Autism Initiatives offer opportunities for supported employment across the UK and Ireland.
Autism Works is a limited company and UK charity which promotes employment for those with autism in the IT sector, working to offer sustainable employment opportunities.
BASE, the British Association for Supported Employment, is a national trade association representing agencies across the UK who is involved in securing employment for people with disabilities, including autism.
‘Finding Work’ is a handbook produced by the NAS for prospective employers as well as individuals with autism to help with job searching and work preparation. It contains worksheets, information sheets and templates on a range of useful subjects including finding work experience, interviews and managing anxieties.
Living Autism also has a directory of agencies offering employment support in your area.