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. Seetec 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.
Chris Christie, 22, from Exeter, paused his Biosciences degree at the University of Plymouth last year during the Covid-19 pandemic and returned home as he was struggling with anxiety and personal issues which were made worse by the lockdown.
Finding work proved difficult and he was referred to Seetec Pluss’ Work and Health Programme, which works with employers across Southern England to ensure services are targeted to support people with disabilities or health conditions which make it harder for them to obtain and retain employment.
When Chris spotted a science job with the Environment Agency, Seetec Pluss helped him to write his CV and application in a way which best demonstrated the skills he had to offer.
He was offered a job as a Laboratory Technician after a telephone interview. The role involves analysing sewer water samples to identify areas where Covid-19 is prevalent.
Chris started in February and said: “Everyone has been really friendly and understanding and I have been made very welcome. They work around me. I want to be productive and they have helped me by letting me do the tasks I can do and excel at. They have let me build up to the harder tasks.”
Initially Chris struggled because instructions were being given in a noisy room and he found it difficult to process the information. Seetec Pluss worked with his employer to ensure he had written instructions, giving him confidence that he was doing the tasks correctly.
Chris said: “It meant I didn’t have to keeping asking members of staff.” His employer has now taken on several young people who also studied at Plymouth and he is able to show them how the processes work. “It’s given me more confidence. I’ve got my first job and this is definitely what I was looking for, I’ve found a role where I’m earning money and gaining good experience.”
Mark Harrison, from Seetec Pluss said: “Every person with autism 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 people with autism 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.”
To mark 2021’s World Autism Awareness Week, Seetec 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 Seetec Pluss and the services it offers, visit seetecpluss.co.uk or call 0800 334 5525. The Work and Health programme is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and the European Social Fund.
Photo: Chris Christie from Exeter
Notes to Editors
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.