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.
Many people with autism report negative experiences finding and retaining employment. Employment specialist Pluss 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 across the UK to ensure services are targeted to support some of the most vulnerable people in society, Pluss, part of the Seetec Group, 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. I have made good friends and I have grown in confidence a lot.”
Next Steps, based in Barnstaple and Bideford, works closely with Pluss, 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 is fantastic.”
Pluss Chief Operating Officer, Mark Harrison, 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.”
Lynda Gordon explained many people with autism 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.
“People with autism 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 and good at following instructions. If the job interests them, they don’t tire of it. We have people in finance who are massively interested in figures while others in the furniture workshop love working with their hands.”
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 in 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. I tried several jobs before Next Steps but all were unsuccessful. They didn’t understand me or how to help me learn my role.
“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.
James Heal at work in Next Steps’ charity shop in Bideford
Frazer Edwards from Barnstaple works as a Junior Videographer with Next Steps.
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.