Only one in five adults with autism 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 people living with autism 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 people with autism 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.
Marcus Reed, 23, from St Dennis in Cornwall, worked in a seasonal retail job before Christmas but the impact of the third Covid-19 lockdown made finding a new role very difficult.
Marcus, who has autism, said: “I have found it very difficult because a lot of employers are cautious in their approach to inclusivity. It seems to me that if you mention your disability, many people misunderstand what you are able to achieve in the workplace.”
Marcus is registered with Pluss’ Health Works for Cornwall service, launched in December in partnership with Cornwall Development Company to support more than 5,000 people across the county who are out of work, helping them to build confidence and find work through a proactive approach that matches them with employers.
The Health Works team has recruited people with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) to join
a People Panel, which will help to break down barriers and listen to their experiences in order to
co-design the programme in a way they feel works best.
Marcus is chairing the People Panel, which he hopes will help to empower other people who are facing some of the same barriers he has come up against when trying
to find work.
“People who have had the experience of living with autism or ADHD can help those with similar issues and understand how get through to them. Because we share similar experiences and difficulties, more people are likely to listen,” he explained.
“Some employers believe, because you have autism, you can be short tempered, struggle to talk to people, will only be able to do repetitive jobs and have a lot of problems that will need to be addressed. That’s not always the case – disabled people are probably some of the most loyal and dedicated workers too.
“With my diagnosis, I find I am constantly doubting myself and worrying in case I mess up. I try not to overthink, I tell myself ‘You can do it’ and I prefer to say yes and just
jump into it.”
Marcus is passionate about sport and believes it has helped him to develop as a person, as has gaining sports coaching experience in schools. He hopes to secure an Activity Instructor role over the summer and would ideally like a permanent job in the sports industry or a role supporting others to achieve their potential.
Part funded by the European Social Fund, Health Works for Cornwall provides a specialist team of Change Coaches and Employment Managers dedicated to providing the one-to-one support each person with a health condition or learning disability needs to help them towards and into employment.
The team will also work with employers to encourage work trials, job matching and job creation to meet skills gaps.
Mark Harrison, Pluss Chief Operating Officer said: “Each individual with autism is completely different, no one size fits all. We offer a holistic service, which starts with getting to know the individual, so we understand their skills and aspirations and the barriers they face.
“It’s about helping people to get ready and skilled for work, building self-confidence, supporting any training needs and preparing 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 people with autism to show their skills.
“We support employers to reduce ambiguity, with ways to communicate to meet the individual’s needs and how to structure their day to help them adapt to a routine. We assist the induction process, including identifying ways to involve the wider workforce, such as buddying systems and autism awareness training.”
To mark 2021’s World Autism Awareness Week, 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 Seetec Pluss and the services it offers, visit seetecpluss.co.uk or call 0800 334 5525.
Latest figures (July to September 2020) from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show just 21.7% of people with autism were in any form of paid employment.
A 2016 National Autistic Society report on the autism employment gap showed 77% of adults with autism who were unemployed wanted to find work.