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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