The innovative Life Skills and Autism at Work programme

This positive programme will bring confidence to autistic people regarding their abilities and future aspirations.

Currently, only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and 40% suffer from anxiety and depression. According to the National Autistic Society the rate of employment has remained static since 2007 and is significantly lower than that for all disabled people (47%). In many cases, parents and carers continue to provide a huge amount of support as their children reach adulthood, while the autistic individual can feel powerless and directionless.

The Cambridge Autism Centre of Excellence (ACE) wants to change this desperate situation with this programme.

Creating opportunity for the autistic community to learn necessary life skills, which will help to open doors to meaningful work placements, could be one of the most transformational interventions in the field of autism.

Why work is so important

Autism is costly to the UK in lost earnings as well as care and support for autistic children and adults, but aside from the financial implications there are other crucial advantages of work:

- Improves mental health

- Creates a sense of belonging and acceptance of difference

- The routine of work and the associated achievements make a person feel valued

    

Supporting the autistic individual

Through bespoke training, group workshops and counselling the ACE will: provide wide-reaching support across all ages such as teaching necessary routine life skills; help families access the right education; provide guidance for coping with anxiety in the playground, classroom or workplace; help prepare for job interviews and work placements. Assigned specialists will help each person to develop skills ensuring they are stepping increasingly closer to feeling comfortable in the ‘real’ world based on issues relevant to them at that time.

Also being established is a national employment advice centre and, in time, an autistic training centre and social enterprise hub; all of which aim to instil confidence and independence by opening doors to a wide range of employment fields, from global companies to local artisan bakeries, yoga centres and bike repair workshops.

Empowering employers

In recent years, a number of employers have embraced and integrated autistic people in the workplace, recognising the
competitive advantage of having a diverse workforce. However, 60% of employers surveyed by the National Autistic Society in 2016 reported not knowing where to obtain information about how to support autistic employees.

The Cambridge ACE will develop and maintain relationships with local and national employers to increase the number of work experience and employment opportunities for autistic people, while mentoring those employers via supported internships and employment schemes. Training and consultancy will be available from finding and retaining autistic talent right through to issues such as how to adapt the interview process, on-board best practices (including disclosure and workplace adjustments), external funding availability for these adjustments and on-going support, as well as Autism Awareness Training for neurotypical employees.

Participation in research

At the heart of these developments will be cutting-edge research in which autistic people can actively participate, led by their own challenges and priority issues. Such research will subsequently influence policies and direct governmental funding back to services.