Guidance on how to help and support people with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism in long-term employment has been co-published by charities the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, The National Autistic Society (NAS), and Goldsmiths, University of London.
The guidance, which is the result of a two-year joint research pilot, is designed to help businesses recruit and retain staff with autism, via a better understanding of their unique needs and promotion of their mental health and wellbeing. Only about 15% of people with autism are in employment, according to a 2008 NAS survey. This low number is partly attributable to the fact that people with autism often experience mental health problems. Anxiety and depression alone are estimated to affect around 65% of people with the condition, compared with around 15% of the whole UK population.
Barbara McIntosh, co-director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities said: “Over recent years, there has been a growing awareness amongst employers of the need to support the mental health of their staff. Some, particularly in the financial, engineering and pharmacological industries, are also realising the benefits of providing extra support for people with autism. “However, we know that two thirds of people with Asperger’s have mental health problems, and rarely are employers looking at these issues together. This is a lost opportunity for people with autism and for businesses, as it leaves a talented and capable section of the workforce – one that has much to contribute within the right working environment – without the targeted support they need. This new guidance is designed to provide practical advice on implementing this joined-up approach, to help employers and employees get the most out of working with each other.”
David Perkins, manager of Prospects, the NAS’ employment support service, added that most adults with autism are willing and able to work. “The problems in finding and keeping a job arise from the lack of available information, advice and practical support that is autism-specific. In many instances autism is a hidden disability which can lead to misunderstandings in the workplace by those unaware of their colleague’s diagnosis. “Yet people with autism thrive in a structured and well-organised environment and often have many strengths that are advantageous to an employer, such as accuracy, a good eye for detail, reliability and consistency.”
Dr Elisabeth Hill of Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “I hope the guidance we have produced as a result of our research will help dispel some of the myths out there surrounding mental health, especially in terms of the misconceptions as to what kind of jobs people with autism can do. This advice would be useful when working with any individual with autism but particularly for those employees who experience increased anxieties surrounding the workplace.”