Autism and employment by Alex Lowery
Written on 9th Feb 2016 by Alex Lowery
I wrote an article for the second booklet of ‘Autism in the workplace’ by Jonathan Andrews. Jonathan has given me permission to share the article on my own blog. It’s about my experiences of employment.
The first time I ever got a feeling of the workplace was back when I was 16. I had some work experience in my father’s office. I did some basic jobs like stamping post, printing and indexing. I found that I kept on having to do the same job for hours on end. I got extremely bored. Now, don’t get me wrong: I know that office work isn’t the most fun job to do for anyone, but I especially struggled with it. I found that I got so bored that I simply couldn’t keep my attention on the work. I also wasn’t great at hiding the fact that I was bored. I started to exhibit stereotypical autistic behaviours which stuck out to everyone. My Dad’s colleagues started to worry about me when they saw me. They thought perhaps I was unwell. They also may have interpreted my behaviour as being rude. None of these things were the case. I was just really struggling to cope with the job because I found it so stressful. A lot of the jobs I had to do, I enjoyed to begin with but after a while I just got really tired of them, and couldn’t help but really struggle to cope with them.
I remember thinking ‘when I come to look for a job when I’m older, there is no way that I’m going to work in an office’.
Six years later, I still stand by the fact that there is no way I could cope with working in an office. Issues like this are a few of the many, many reasons why it’s so hard for adults with autism to find work. It’s hard to find the right job that suits the right individual. There is also the issue that employers and colleagues rarely understand the condition. This was even the case for me when I did this work experience at 16. It’s said that around 15% of adults with autism in the UK are in full time paid employment. However, we know that many, many more can work and want to work. There’s just such a lack of understanding and such a lack of support out there that it’s extremely hard for these adults to find work.
I think that self employment can be one of the best options for adults with autism. If they have the necessary support, self employment can work well, because they can go into business doing something which they’re good at. Many people with autism have gifts and/or obsessive interests. They’ll likely have a really high level of knowledge in their favorite subjects that they may be able to use to their advantage. It can be a good idea to broaden out an obsessive interest or gift into something they may be able to make a career out of. If they’re obsessed with Politics, maybe they can get some form of job working in Politics. If they’re obsessed with films, film reviewing and criticism, maybe they can become a professional film-critic.
As well as having autism myself, I have an Obsessive interest in autism, and I’ve managed to use my high level of knowledge and insight into the condition to my advantage.
As a teenager, I was worried I may become one of these autistic adults who would never get a job. I remember at the age of 14, I saw men with autism in their twenties who weren’t doing much with their lives. They were maybe doing one College course after another but they were doing nothing else in life. I’ve even seen autistic adults who literally spend their whole time walking around town. I’ve even known some autistic adults who are just stuck indoors all the time. I remember thinking ‘I do not want this to become my future’.
I am now in my own business. I feel happy about this. I deliver talks around the country on the subject of autism.
It began when I was 17. I was asked to do a talk for an audience at St. John’s Ambulance and the speech went really well.
I was then trained in Public speaking by Autism Cymru. I kept on getting more and more opportunities to speak for audiences. It eventually lead to me going into business doing Public speaking on autism. I became self employed in around August 2013 at age 19.
I am very happy that I now have a job. It’s like a dream come true.
This doesn’t change the fact that at times it has been hard. I’ve found the job exhausting, and I do have a tendency to only focus one task (for my job) at a time as opposed to focusing on everything. This can be a disadvantage when there’s such a lot to do. It’s quite clear to me that there is no way I’d be able to do it if I didn’t have all the support from my family
My mother is involved with everything and will take me to do some of my talks, although when necessary there is someone who’s paid through access to work. My father manages the accounts, my sister-in-law built my website and designed all my leaflets and business cards.
I strongly believe that with the right support and the right job, individuals with autism can thrive. There are also many benefits to employing a person with autism.
I am with the support of my family and a number of organisations running an ‘autism into employment Conference’ in Wales, because of how much this struggle to find work is a growing problem for people with autism
As well as raising awareness I would like to set up a support group for adults with autism. I would like to get funding for social skills training and self employment support for this group.
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