Only one in five autistic adults are in paid work in the UK although around three quarters would like to be. World Autism Awareness Week (29 March to 4 April) aims to draw attention to the 700,000 autistic people in Britain and help to make the world friendlier to those affected by it.
The pandemic has been challenging for autistic people, compounding the impact of existing barriers, particularly for those with high support needs, as they have continued to navigate the restrictions during the lockdowns. This has caused confusion and left some autistic people feeling more isolated.
Many autistic people report negative experiences finding and retaining employment. Pluss, an employment and health specialist, believes no-one should be left behind and everyone should have an opportunity to fulfil their potential, whatever their background or disability.
Working with employers
Working with employers across the UK to ensure services are targeted to support some of the most vulnerable people in society, Pluss has partnered with North Devon-based Next Steps Development.
The charity is an employer, providing a wide range of work opportunities for people with disabilities, half of whom are autistic.
Lynda Gordon from Next Steps explained: “The majority of people working for us have had negative employment experiences, because they have not had the support or understanding they need.”
James Heal, 30, from Bideford, who has been a Stockroom Assistant in Next Steps’ charity shop in the town for five months, agrees: “What I like about my job is that I am not rushed, it is an understanding environment. I have always struggled to find suitable jobs where they understood my needs. Most don’t understand Autism and Dyspraxia.
“Next Steps allows me to learn at my pace and make the environment easier to understand. Now every day is positive, I get up and look forward to going to a nice place to work.”
Next Steps, based in Barnstaple and Bideford, works closely with Pluss, part of the Seetec Group, which supports people with autism and other disabilities to obtain and
retain a job.
Lynda Gordon explained: “Pluss have been a lifeline, they are brilliant at supporting individuals right through the Access to Work process. Our relationship with Pluss
Mark Harrison, Pluss Chief Operating Officer said: “Each of the autistic service users we work with has different support needs, we take the view that to get the best out of people, there can be no one size fits all approach. We offer a holistic service, which starts with getting to know each individual, so we understand their skills and aspirations
and the barriers they face.
“Our focus is on equipping people with the right skills to enter the workplace, to help build their self-confidence and supporting any training and development needs they may have to best prepare them for the recruitment process.
“Building a relationship with employers is essential, we encourage them to think differently about their recruitment procedures, such as offering work trials to enable autistic people to be given the space and opportunity to show their skills.
“Providing this type of targeted support helps our society take one step closer towards eliminating the disability employment gap. Pluss believes people of all abilities should be able to find and sustain employment to build a better future. Closing the gap is more important than ever as the pandemic has impacted job prospects across the board.”
Lynda Gordon explained many autistic people struggle with anxiety because they worry about misunderstanding what is said to them. Working with employers to understand the adjustments they need to make, including explaining requirements clearly, is the key to gaining a committed and capable employee.
“Autistic people can make a very valuable contribution in the workplace,” Lynda said.
“It may take them a little longer to learn the role but, once they have, they are often very methodical, hardworking and reliable workers.”
At the Bideford charity shop, James Heal has learned how to quality check donations, to steam clothes, some stock control and customer service skills. He also helped to paint the walls while the shop was closed during the latest lockdown.
James explained: “Pluss helped me get the job by helping with job searches, phoning companies and even attended interviews with me. They also helped me to apply for
a Job Coach.
Frazer Edwards, 26, from Barnstaple, loves his job as a Junior Videographer with Next Steps: “I get to be creative and work with awesome people who also have creative ideas, many also have autism,” he said.
“I feel valued at work and have really grown in confidence.
“Next Steps are supportive and focus on what you can do. They are still helping me and I want to help others know about it so they can work somewhere supportive too.”
To mark 2021’s World Autism Awareness Week Pluss’s Mark Harrison concludes: “No individual should be left behind, everyone should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
“Employers can have a really positive impact in their communities if they can adapt to have more inclusive recruitment. Pluss is able to support both employers and individuals on this journey.”
For more information about Pluss and the services it offers, visit www.pluss.org.uk or call 0800 334 5525.
Latest figures (July to September 2020) from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show just 21.7% of autistic people were in any form of paid employment.
A 2016 National Autistic Society report on the autism employment gap showed 77% of autistic adults who were unemployed wanted to find work.