Learning difficulties, autism and employment

‘…6% of people with a learning disability and 15% of people with autism are in full time paid employment

I would like to say I’m surprised with the number of people with learning difficulties and autism who are in paid employment but I’m not. Unfortunately a large number of employers can’t get past the conventional way of employing people; CV, Interview then a choice is made to hire the appropriate person. In most cases this is the standard hiring process and works for many companies but not for those with a learning disability and/or autism.

This topic is close to my heart with a brother who is diagnosed with Asperger’s who finished university last year and is looking for work. His degree in graphics and animation and in my opinion he is talented; he is constantly working on something and expanding his skills and knowledge. However I also know that the conventional type of interview is a daunting experience for him. The interview tips that are given to people are not going to work for him. His body language and lack of eye contact doesn’t mean he’s not interested in the position it’s just he doesn’t understand that what is the right amount of time to hold eye contact or that crossing your arms are the slouching can show him in a negative light. He is passionate about what he does and has a great imagination not to mention his witty and sarcastic sense of humour that occasionally makes an appearance. But an interviewer will not see all this because they may not understand Asperger’s, have not been able to make changes to the interview setting to accommodate him or they just can’t be bothered to think outside the box. I may seem like I’m making sweeping generalisations here and unfairly vilifying interviewers and companies but the statistics don’t lie, they can be manipulated but in this instance they don’t lie. I am biased but personally I think employers are missing out on a valuable talent pool.

‘Normal’ is such a generic term

A disability of any kind does not automatically mean that person is incapable of being employed & being brilliant at their job. Like the rest of us they want to have some kind of self worth, feel a sense of achievement. Despite all the attention surrounding the lack of people with a learning disability, autism or both, I wonder just how many employees ‘get’ what it means to have learning disability, autism or both? What cookie cutter employee mould do they consider normal? ‘Normal’ is such a generic term these days, what is normal? We live in a day and age where people decide to pick which gender they relate better with or no gender at all, they are gender fluid. Yet there is difficulty finding gainful employment for those with a learning disability, autism or both.

So what can, needs and should be done about this?

As I sit here ploughing my way through a box of Mikado I browse through the intrepid world of Google seeking answers to this very question. To begin, with autism and learning disability are not the same.

Autism is not a learning disability, but around half of people with autism may also have a learning disability, which will affect the level of support they need in their life. Some people may also receive a ‘dual diagnosis’; ­ for example, they may have Down’s syndrome and autism.

A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.

Network Autism offer useful pieces of advice for both Jobseekers and prospective employers. If you prefer a more visual guidance visit autism.org to view the video’s.

I know I am biased but do think employers are missing out on a valuable talent pool. With a bit of tweaking here and there, a bit of adaptability and understanding employers could tap into this hidden workforce which for far too long has been ignored.

Resources
Mencap
The National Autistic Society
Network Autism
Dimensions

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My brother; Graduation, Asperger’s and finding a job!

My youngest brother graduated last year with a degree in animation. We are all so proud of him, not only because he got a degree but also because my brother has dyslexia and Asperger’s. Due to the Asperger’s my brother has difficulty socialising, talking with people he doesn’t know and understanding things like sarcasm. However saying this I think University has done him some good as well as the book club for austic people organised and run by the team at SEPT he attends once a month. He is still shy but when we are at his graduation where once before he would have come and found his family afterwards we couldn’t find him anywhere! He was off having pictures with his class and saying bye to them, this is a big deal. When he saw us, me and our youngest sister sent him back to talk with the rest of the people on his course and to take his time. This may come as a bit of a surprise be me and my youngest sister can be a bit embarrassing for him so we kept our distance…it’s only because we care.
With the book club, there is either a book or a theme for topic of discussion; one week was about comic books, another was about Guy Fawkes. Some sessions my brother interacts more sometimes less all depending on the topic and his knowledge of it, but more importantly he spends time with people who are not his family.

Next steps for my brother is to find a job and to pass his driving test, in all fairness it is a lot more difficult to pass your driving test nowadays. I passed my driving test over 20 years ago, if I had to take my test I would probably fail even before we left the test centre car park!

Finding a job is where the whole new experience is a bit daunting for him and his confidence levels, depending on his mood can be a bit low. I honestly do not know how my brother would handle an interview and those experiences can be daunting enough for those of us who are considered ‘normal’.  Those of you who think he maybe sitting around on his PlayStation he isn’t, one thing my brother isn’t is lazy. He has been improving his existing skills and learning new techniques with the aid of online tutorials. He’s always updating his Tumblr & Facebook accounts with latest bits of design work. Question is how do we get employers get past the social hurdles and the need to ‘sell’ himself to see the potential he has?

Whilst doing a bit of research for this blog piece I came across the website The National Autistic Society which has a page called advice about work. This site has some useful information, advice and tips that could benefit both a job seeker with autism and an employer with staff members who have autism. I also want to highlight that employers are potentially missing out on a diligent workforce because they are unable to think outside of the box.

We are seeing a lot in the media lately about the lack of mental health support available because of lack of funding but also because there still those who live in a bubble where if something doesn’t fit the cookie cutter mould then they can’t work with them. It is those people that cannot see beyond those boundaries to see the diamond hidden in the coal.

If anyone does see the same potential in my brother that his family do then contact him through his Tumblr page just remember he’s not going to fit a uniform mould but has qualities & talent that some of us ‘normal’ people could dream of having.

The Art of a Job Interview When You Have Asperger’s
The National Autistic Society; Advice about work
On mental health, the Tories need to put their money where their mouths are
Young people’s mental health services in the UK need cash not empty promises

Funding for Autism; is it enough?

Since my brother has been diagnosed with ASD; Autism Spectrum Disorder I have noticed a positive change in his personality and his outlook on things in general. He doesn’t say much about University expect it is going well but since telling his university lecturers about his diagnoses I’m not sure if they now have a better understanding of how to teach my brother or how they explain things to him but he seems much happier with his course these days. I’ve also noticed him interacting more on the family group whatsapp messages. To some these things may sound insignificant but for my brother these changes are big steps for him.

Although there is no definite cause of ASD there has been research and studies reporting factors that could contribute to the development of ASD, this could be receiving high doses of  high levels of “male” hormones in the womb to taking antibiotics during pregnancy. During my brothers assessment our mum mentioned she took antibiotics during her pregnancy with my brother for a tooth infection. Aside from the antibiotics she had a normal pregnancy. Were the antibiotics a contributing factor or could it have been something else?

According to an article I recently read on the BBC news website in the UK the cost of lifetime support for a person with ASD is approximately £1.5 million, costs that are much higher than care for a person with heart disease, stroke and cancer combined,  yet only £6.60 person is spent on research. whether a cure can or cannot be found research is important to further understand ASD, both from a person with ASD and a non ASD perspective.

In total autism costs the UK £32 billion per year, looking at things from a financial view point it can seen how early diagnosis, intervention and care can help reduce these costs. Knowing this information yet essential support is still being cut.

In June, the mental health charity Young Minds released the findings of a series of Freedom of Information requests, which showed that 77% of NHS clinical commissioning groups (now responsible for designing local health services in England) had frozen or cut their Camhs budgets between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

If my brother had been diagnosed earlier who is to say how different his school experiences would have been. Although he was entitled to additional support for his dyslexia I don’t believe the school fully understood that the support my brother needed wasn’t just with education but with also trying to understand social dynamics. Teenage years are a confusing, scary time for those of us considered normal, imagine how a person with ASD would feel? The question is should schools be required to provide adequate support for young people with a form of mental illness or whether teachers should be able to recognise certain traits of ASD or any other forms of mental illness?

If budgets continue to be cut the only ones missing out will be those who most need the support.

Are employers missing out by not employing people with autism?

‘What is autism?’

According to The National Autistic Society Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It would be unrealistic to group all people with the autism as every individual is different. There are those with autism are able to lead independent lives others may need lifetime support.

Recently my youngest brother at the age of 20 has been diagnosed with ASD, from reading information out there me and my siblings knew our brother had some of the traits but weren’t sure, he is currently studying towards a degree. My brother has some social constraints which he is working towards improving and wants to be able to find a job after graduation. My concern is how some employers are fixated on trying to find a mythical perfect employee who ticks all the check boxes at the same time missing out on a perfectly capable and loyal employee.

It is estimated that 695,000 people in the UK may have autism spectrum disorder, depsite this figure though fully capable of doing a job only 15% of people with autism are in full time employment. This isn’t because the 79% of people with autism don’t want to work it is more about finding the right environment for them to work in and employers being able to provide that environment. It is not just employers we should be looking at educating but also work colleagues. Company culture is something all job seekers look at when looking for a job, for those with ASD this is no different. Whilst researching this piece I came across situations where people with autism have made requests to help them to do their job but were met with comments from colleagues thinking they are making up their autism or are trying to get special treatment. Just because a person with autism may not show any visible disabilities does not mean it doesn’t exist.

Only employing someone with ASD

There are companies who will only employ those with autism. Companies with this approach will adapt their interview process to make it less daunting and to gauge the skills and knowledge of the interviewee. The intentions of these type of companies are noble but we should also be looking at how to integrate those with autism with those who are considered ‘normal’. We need to be looking at ways employers, work colleagues and those with autism can all work together.

Every person on the autistic spectrum is different, what worked for this company may not work for another, it is about finding the right balance and people who understand what is required to get the best out of a person whether that is working in an IT environment or a library.

I would say to employers, before disregarding someone due to autism or any mental illness because you think they won’t fit in with the company culture, think if it is time to change your company culture?

References

Life on the Autism spectrum

The National Autistic Society: Employment Support Service Training and Consultancy