Are Employers Missing Out On Skilled Workers?

Care Appointments hears how one organisation has harnessed the benefits of employing adults with Aspergers Syndrome and/or autism…

CIC, a national social care provider, has recently set up a task force to explore service provision for adults with Aspergers Syndrome and/or autism. Many people who use CIC’s learning difficulties and mental health services are autistic or have Aspergers Syndrome. Some have been diagnosed, some have not. The task force is working with organisations such as The National Autism Society to develop services and to consider appropriate accreditation for some of the services CIC provide.

Alice Drife, CIC Assistant Director, Learning Difficulties and Mental Health Services, heads up the task force. “CIC has a person-centred approach to service delivery. Therefore we work with the individual and look at their perception of themselves before we consider their diagnosis. This approach means that we can build a menu of support around the person’s needs and ambitions, and access opportunities that may not have been available to them before.”

Vocational opportunities is an exciting area of support that CIC’s Autism Task Force are exploring. A study commissioned by the Scottish Executive to inform ‘The Same As You’ National Implementation Group in Scotland (2005), reporting the views of employers, found that “when employing people with learning difficulties (and/or autism), without exception, the impact on the company had been one of raising their profile and they had been pleasantly surprised at the response of their other staff. Employees with learning disabilities and/or autism were frequently referred to as a real asset.”

Howard Rice manages CIC’s Vocational Support Services and is a member of the Autism Task Force. He believes that too many employers are unaware of the skills that people within the autism spectrum, and specifically with Aspergers Syndrome, can offer. “Only 12% of those with Aspergers Syndrome are in full-time paid employment ( The strengths of people with Aspergers Syndrome or who have been diagnosed as autistic can be many and varied. Their meticulous attention to detail can sometimes be exactly the kind of quality required for certain job roles.

“Recently CIC’s Vocational Support Service have supported a young man who works in a kitchen preparing food and helping out with general catering duties. With the support provided from a CIC Vocational Support Facilitator, Mike (not his real name) has achieved much greater levels of independence and enjoys his work.  

“Because the kitchen team that work with Mike know him and understand how Aspergers Syndrome affects him, they are very understanding and supportive. It helps them to know they can contact us if there is anything either they or Mike need extra support with.  

“Finding the right employment environment can mean the difference between success and failure for that person. That is why it’s our responsibility to get it just right and identify any potential problems before they happen.”

In his book Aspergers Syndrome: A guide for Parents and Professionals, Tony Atwood points out that “people with Aspergers Syndrome have gone on to achieve careers in the areas of art, science, engineering and computing and have contributed to many of the great advances in these areas.”

Richard Meyer, who was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome in 1997 shares his experiences and helps others to achieve their employment ambitions. In his book, Aspergers Syndrome Employment Workbook, Meyer helps people to identify their strengths and weaknesses for work, including how to speak up for themselves and deal with disclosure.  

Supporting The Individual

Most of the challenges encountered when finding appropriate employment for someone with Aspergers Syndrome are about finding the right job for that particular person’s abilities. CIC Vocational Support Service draws upon research from The National Autistic Society’s employment service, Prospects, which recommends “concentration on vocational profiling. It is important in the early stages to get as much information as possible about the person and try to find employment opportunities that are appropriate, realistic and achievable.”

Unsuccessful work trials or placements can have a significant effect on the person with Aspergers Syndrome, adversely affecting that person’s attitude towards work and employment in general. Bad experiences without the right support can mean that the individual never wants to try working again. Many of the challenges encountered by people with Aspergers Syndrome are about being misunderstood by others.

“It is the lack of knowledge of particular impairments that can lead to misunderstandings,” says Howard Rice. “However, if we engender an environment of openness and learning about disability generally, and specifically when working with social situations, we may find that some of the difficulties encountered can be resolved relatively easily.”

Supporting The Employer CIC Vocational Support Service understands how important it is to support the employers as well as the employee. They provide specific disability awareness training to the employer including members of staff who would be working with the person with Aspergers Syndrome. This form of training helps the staff understand and better support the individual whilst at work. As in Mike’s case, staff usually respond well and make adaptations and reasonable allowances for difference.

Alice Drife explains: “Much of the research on autism and Aspergers focuses on children and their education needs, but much more research is needed relating to adults and employment. CIC aims to lead the way in providing services that support people with autism and/or Aspergers to have a full life and we believe that employment opportunities are integral to a socially inclusive approach.”

Facts and Figures

In the UK, the public sector has shown the greatest commitment to building a socially inclusive workforce with an increase in the number of disabled people employed. Data from the Labour Force Survey reports a four-fold increase in employment for disabled people between 1998 and 2004. This means that around 12 per cent of disabled people had public sector jobs compared with around 19 per cent of non-disabled people. The statistics also reveal that about 50% of disabled people of working age in the UK are in work compared with 78% of non-disabled people of working age. Employment rates vary greatly according to the type of impairment a person has. Disabled people with mental health problems have the lowest employment rates of all impairment categories at only 20%.