The UN recognises the 2nd April each year as World Autism Awareness Day, in order to raise awareness of the challenges that persons with autism face. This year, the UN is focusing particularly on how autism affects inclusion in the workplace.
What is autism?
Autism is a neurological condition that is often first recognised in early childhood. It can be characterised by a wide range of different behaviours, such as unique social interaction, acute interests in specific subjects, learning differences and sensory sensitivities.
When discussing the condition, reference is often made to the “autism spectrum”. This is a scale used in attempts to classify the extent of a person’s autism, since the condition can exhibit itself in many different ways.
How widespread is autism?
The UN chose to designate a day to raising awareness of autism because, although it is not often spoken about and many remain underinformed about the condition, it is relatively common.
The autism spectrum is broad and this, paired with a lack of understanding of the condition, means there are no concrete figures on the number of people with the condition. The World Health Organization suggests one in every 160 children likely has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A study conducted in the US and published on the CDC’s website put this number higher, finding one in 54 children exhibited signs of an ASD.
Why the focus on the workplace?
World Autism Day is intended to “improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society” (UN). This means addressing various aspects of day-to-day life that can present challenges to persons with an ASD.
Discriminatory hiring practices, such as extended interviews with more than one member of staff, spoken tests and occasionally the need to interact with members of the public on the shop floor, make it more difficult for persons with certain characteristics associated with autism to gain a position. This is irrespective of how qualified they may be for the job.
The continuing prejudices and stigma attached to all neurological conditions, including autism, contributes further to the underemployment of persons with autism.
It’s not all bad news
Despite the very real and continuing inhibitive hiring processes and lack of understanding surrounding autism, some employers are making real and conscious change to ensure they are offering persons with an ASD every opportunity to gain employment with them.
As data is showing, companies that encourage and facilitate applications from those with conditions like autism are reaping the rewards by benefitting from a more diverse skillset. As more companies follow suit, we move closer to wider societal recognition of persons with autism for the value and abilities they possess as individuals.
Spotlight on: Grace House
Grace House in County Durham offers a huge amount of amazing services to children living with a range of disabilities and conditions. One of these is their #skills@Grace House initiative, which supports disabled young people between the ages of 16 and 25 with job opportunities. They offer work from admin and reception duties to gardening and fundraising, offering a supportive environment in which young people can gain experience, confidence and independence.
Spotlight on: AP Cymru
AP Cymru is a Welsh autism charity that works to support young people and their families before, during and after the diagnosis process. The team is uniquely placed to provide this support, as the vast majority of their team have autism and/or family members on the spectrum.
You can support this project, and many other charities that work with people with ASD, with Pledjar. By rounding up your daily digital purchases, you can make real change to a person living with ASD’s quality of life and employment prospects.