New research has found that the proportion of autistic people in full-time paid work has stagnated since 2007, at just under 16%. The National Autistic Society have launched a video to draw attention to how autistic people have been repeatedly let down by Government programmes and overlooked by employers.
The film and research are released today as part of the National Autistic Society’s three-year Too Much Information campaign, which aims to transform public understanding of autism and open up the world for autistic people. The campaign launched in April 2016 with a film, Can you make it to the end?, about a child on the autism spectrum experiencing ‘too much information’ in a shopping centre and was watched by a whopping 56 million people.
The charity’s next film puts the viewer in the shoes of an autistic adult experiencing ‘too much information’ in a series of job interviews. The film’s star, played by autistic actor Max Green, becomes increasingly overwhelmed by anxiety and uncertainty about what’s being asked of him – to the point where he’s unable to demonstrate his ability to do the job. At the end of the film we see Max, outside the offices, upset and overwhelmed. The film finishes with the message: “I’m not unemployable, I’m autistic”.
The charity is calling for leadership from the Government to tackle the autism employment gap once and for all – by introducing specialist support to help autistic people to find and stay in work and launching a national programme to raise awareness of the skills and potential of autistic people among employers.
According to a survey of over 2,000 autistic adults, or people responding on their behalf:
- Under 16% are in full-time paid work (static since 2007)*
- Only 32% are in some kind of paid work (full and part time combined), compared to 47% of disabled people and 80% of non-disabled people**
- Over three quarters (77%) who are unemployed say they want to work
- Four in 10 say they’ve never worked
For Max, who has faced a difficult journey to employment, this story is all too familiar. Max, who now has a successful job in IT, said:
“I left school without any GCSEs and felt worthless, like people would think I have nothing to offer. I managed to get an interview at a phone company but it was a disaster – I didn’t know what to expect and became so overwhelmed with anxiety that I couldn’t speak. I just sat there, shaking and sweating.”
“I was at rock bottom but I didn’t let it stop me and knew my family would be there for me, I went to another interview. I froze again but managed to pass across my notes to the interviewer. They were really understanding and must have seen something in me because they offered me an apprenticeship – a lifeline.”
“It made such a difference knowing someone had faith in me, probably more than anyone will ever know. From that moment I’ve given everything. I think this tenacity is part of my autism and it’s paid off with me being ‘Apprentice of the Year’ and going full-time earlier this year. I always say to myself, ‘you’ll never fail, if you keep going’.”
More than 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, including around 450,000 autistic people of working age. Being autistic means you see, hear and feel the world in a different, often more intense way from others. Autistic people often find social situations difficult, can struggle to process information quickly and may be highly sensitive to sound or light or smells. This can make finding and staying in a job very difficult if managers, employers and colleagues don’t understand autism.
Not all autistic people are able to work, but, with understanding from their employer and colleagues, as well as reasonable adjustments to the interview process and workplace, many autistic people can be a real asset to businesses.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But they’ve been repeatedly failed by government and overlooked by employers.
“Various governments have introduced schemes aimed at improving the disability employment rate. But it’s not working for autistic people – just 16% are in full-time work and this hasn’t improved in almost a decade. Our new Prime Minister has called for a country that works for everyone, and that should include autistic people too.
“Many employers tell us they’re keen to recruit more autistic people but they don’t know where to go for support and they’re worried about getting it wrong. It’s clear that we need leadership from the Government to tackle the autism employment gap once and for all.
“A national programme to make employers aware of the skills and potential of autistic people would be a good start. But this needs to be accompanied by the introduction of autism-specific support to help autistic people find and stay in work. Employers also have a role to play by following the growing number of companies, such as GCHQ and Microsoft, which are supporting autistic people into work through specialist recruitment programmes or work experience.
“Not all autistic people are able to work. But many are and are desperate to find a job which reflects their talent and interests. With a little understanding and small adjustments to the workplace, they can be a real asset to businesses across the UK. Autistic people deserve that chance.”
This is an official and unedited press release from the National Autistic Society.