Friday, 28 March 2014

Employment Pilot Program

I will report what I have been doing with an employment pilot program since a few weeks ago, (as I have been busy with work etc.). As I have mentioned previously in my blog I have been running a social group for Aspie adults since late last year and decided that employment help for Aspies would be the first project that I would focus on advocating for in the local area. Garry, who has been my mentor for over 6 months, planned to come down to Orange for a week to assist in getting an employment pilot program for Aspies discussed with service providers and also to help strengthen the social group.

So a bit more information about how my personal experiences for gaining useful help in applying and getting an interview and also performing well in an interview. Currently I am with a mainstream employment service provider. When I first joined the provider I was happy with the level of support as I was provided training to build up my confidence being interviewed and the staff member helped me write my applications for jobs. She spent the time that was needed to make sure I had a reasonable chance in gaining employment. Unfortunately a few months after that the staff member was promoted to another position and over the past year I have had about 5 different people, all who said I was perfectly capable of doing all the applying myself with no help at all. I have recently wanted to join a Disability Employment Provider (DES) but need an official diagnoses (multiple psychologists have said that it is highly likely that I have it although nothing official yet) to give to Centrelink for them to transfer me to the service I need. The need for individualised service where the staff understood me and the services I need was affirmed when I went to the service provider I am currently with, in which she asked me how long I had Asperger's. It is ignorance like this that shows just how hard it is to get services that will help people with different abilities that are little known about still in society.

So this is why I am currently building up the group in Orange, Garry taught me a-lot about how to build up rapport with the others in the group and how to get them involved in the running of it and the associated projects. When he was down we also built up our professional networks and to invite professionals in Orange to work together in the process of creating a special program for people with Asperger's to help them gain employment and work with employers to help them identify appropriate roles, provide reasonable adjustments in the workplace to make it easier for the Aspies to feel comfortable in the environment (to ease sensory issues etc.) and to understand how Aspies like to learn and work so they can alter their management strategies to get the Aspie to work at their best potential. People we spoke to include the Cathie Mathews from the Health Department and who advises the education department also, Betty Ross from ICAN ( who is assisting us in many ways including planning education sessions for employers and DES providers, Chris Lear who is an officer in the National Disability Co-ordination Officer (NDCO) program. He was able to provide us with contact details of valuable services and was very helpful in providing other input regarding our employment program. More information about the NDCO program can be found here
Meeting with Kris Lear - Early march

The next step in achieving better results for Adults on the spectrum will be to grow the group, both in size and strength. I am currently organising to set up a stall in the main shopping centre in Orange and other events that will grow the size of the group. I am also organising to start an Aspie
Adult Social Group with the Bathurst Autism Support Group (that focuses on school aged children), Betty from ICAN and several members of the Orange group who will pitch in when they can.

As you can see I have been very busy, but with all this work comes rewards such as the Adults starting to achieve closer to their potential (including me) and the reduction of ignorance of Autism in the community, leading to better understanding and inclusion. If you have any stories of what helped you get your current job, and what services providers did that wasn't as helpful please reply to this post. Thanks for reading and enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Increasing employment opportunities for adults with Autism

A recent study by ASPECT, a not-for-profit organisation that support stakeholders and individuals with Autism, found that despite the Australian national employment rate being 95%, just 54%  of the adults with AD and HFA in this study (excluding those still in full-time education) had a paid job at the time of completing the survey. 

As a nation (and other nations) must work together to improve the employment rate of those with Autism. As the above statistic shows although some people born with autism go on to achieve great things, the majority of them are not given the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

People with autism may not understand the unwritten social rules that others usually pick up without
thinking. For example, they may stand too close to another person or start an inappropriate subject of conversation, appear insensitive, as they have not recognised how someone else is feeling, often struggle understanding irony and sarcasm, and often offend as they are often very blunt with their comments. Because of this it is often hard for us to be successfully through the hiring stage and holding onto a job for the long term.

Although there are some  issues that may arise because of the difficulties people with autism face, the benefit to employ them outweighs the issues. Some things that are being done to help people with autism gain meaningful employment include the US plan requiring all federal employees to have at-least 7% of their workplace positions be occupied by people with a disability. (1) An organisation called Specialisterne (2) works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges through social entrepreneurship, corporate sector engagement and a global change in mind-set. 

The low employment rate of people with Autism isn’t because they don’t have the skills, the commitment, or the drive, but because many employers just don’t understand the benefits of employing someone with autism.

Employers need to know that it makes good business sense to employ people who are reliable, punctual and loyal; people who have good attention to detail and concentration levels; people who have excellent problem solving skills and can be analytical, resourceful and creative. What good employer wouldn’t want an employee with those skills?

It is also a disadvantage for employers, who are missing out on a large national resource of loyal and hard working staff. So the economy is also missing out.Employers must first realise what they are missing out on, then equip themselves to capitalise on it.
An effective way of assisting people with Autism in the realm of employment is to provide support searching for a job, applying and selection process and then when a job is found providing on the job support. The first stage of support would include career counseling to help the adult decide which field of employment they would like to get into and organise relevant further training if required. If the adult is already suitably qualified it may be necessary to help develop confidence, help with writing resumes, role-playing interviews, sourcing internships, placements and work experience among other things. 
Whether to disclose your diagnosis is a tough decision even in today's society as many people's opinions of people with a disability is negative. Much work needs to be done to improve the image of autistic's and to promote the positive aspects of autism. If you choose to disclose to a potential employer and get invited to an interview your employment consultant should identify and organise reasonable adjustments for both the interview and if you are successful the workplace. 
 When the applicant is successful it is essential for the employment consultant and the employer to work together. (3) The type and level of support required will depend on the person's individual needs, but could include:   
  •  appointing a colleague to act as a mentor to the employee with autism,
    through helping them with any issues that arise and advocating on their behalf
    if necessary
  •   arranging general and specific autism awareness training for staff who work with the employee(s) with autism
 Link 3 at the end of this post gives more information about employing people with autism including advice to help managers communicate effectively and suggested adjustments to make at the interview.
As you can see we are starting to make some progress and there are some great programs out there but there is still alot to be done. I am currently seeking comment from anyone who has autism/asperger's to let me know what works, what doesn't and what you found the most difficult in obtaining employment and also what your employer has done well and what could be done better. I am also interested in hearing stories from parents, employers and staff at recruitment agencies and employment consultancies. Please leave a comment below and please enjoy the rest of your week :)