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Employment Benefits People with Autism

A unique event to discuss Autism and employment was held at Goldsmiths, University of London this week. For the first time charities, researchers, business and government were brought together to look at how people with Autism, and related disorders, can be supported effectively into employment.

It is estimated that within the UK there are around 535,000 people with Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD), including with Autism or Asperger syndrome. According to Professor Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics, who spoke at the event, this represents a potential cost to the UK economy of £28 billion a year for supporting both adults and children. [1]

The event was organised by Dr Elisabeth Hill and Dr Joanna Yarker from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, in partnership with the National Autistic Society. Dr Hill said: "The workshop was a real success. This was the first time that so many individuals and organisations with an active interest in supporting adults with ASD into and in employment joined together for a day of discussion and presentations. Not only were we able to share the aims and outcomes of our work with one another, but we were able to spend quite a lot of time discussing the key challenges that adults with ASD face on a daily basis, how we might reduce these challenges and what our priorities must be for the future."

"Our interest in this area came about after a chance discussion over coffee when we realised that we could combine my interest in understanding the experiences of adults with neurodevelopmental disorders, including ASD, with Jo's interest in health and employment. No-one appeared to have done any research into Autism and Employment, so we started doing some research.

"After setting up an on-line survey to scope and then evaluate people's experiences, we were actually approached by policy and campaign teams, the voluntary sector and government departments, as well as researchers and later a team from the National Audit Office. Each contact was made because the organisation was focusing on an employment related issue with respect to ASD, but very limited data were available. Our survey came up at the top of a Google search, so we quickly realised that this topic has really not been well studied, that it is important to people with ASD and that there was therefore overwhelming need for research in this area.

"Now a whole raft of documents relating in some way to this issue will be published in the coming months[1], and this provided a basis for the presentations at the workshop.

"Our own research so far has shown that employment is beneficial for adults with ASD. Appropriate work based supports, such as that provided by supported employment consultancies such as Prospects[2] and Employ-Ability[3] who participated in the event, and workplace adjustments can make a huge difference to both the employee, members of their team and their employers. These should all be considered on an individual basis but might include a quiet place to go at lunchtime, clear rules about when and how to respond to phone calls and emails, and changes to the ambient lighting or temperature in an individual's office space.

"Shockingly our work has also shown that many of those adults with ASD who do have employment are forced to change their job (within and outside organisations) frequently as well as taking on roles far beneath their ability levels. This is not a sensible use of any individual's skills and has a direct, negative consequence for the employee as well as for the employer.

"We had also looked at indicators of depression and anxiety in our survey. Rates of these were higher than we would have expected in a non-ASD group, and similar to rates reported in other research studies. It is likely that being in well-supported, gainful employment will have a long-term impact in reducing levels of depression and anxiety in this group. This is something that we must look into further."

It is expected that the findings of the workshop will feed into policy and campaign work, to partnerships with supported employment agencies and employers as well as to successful funding bids to pursue further in depth, and evaluative research.

[1] Knapp et al. paper with the most recent economic costing of ASD to the UK economy (see reference below), National Audit Office's Value for Money report on adult autism services, National Autistic Society's report on awareness of and access to work related benefits among people with ASD, Department of Health's Adult Autism Strategy.



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