It’s not about changing a person with autism

Friday, 11 May 2018

There was a time not too long ago when autism diagnoses were far less common than they are today. Nowadays, almost everyone knows someone on the autism spectrum. We can’t be sure whether autism is actually on the rise, but we do know that autism diagnoses have skyrocketed, with 1 in 100 Australian children now diagnosed with autism.

1 in 5 of our job seekers at EPIC are on the autism spectrum, and that number is expected to grow. We’re opening 23 new offices around the country on 2 July, and see that as a great opportunity to provide people on the autism spectrum with the support need to find great jobs and careers.

And that support is sorely needed. While most people can say they know someone on the autism spectrum, few people understand the struggles they face in finding a job. Few people know how to equip people on the autism spectrum for success in the workplace, and support them once they are in their roles. This is something EPIC does very well, and we stay on the journey until we are no longer needed.

When it comes to employment, individuals on the autism spectrum have many unique skills and attributes, but often remain overlooked by employers. What we do at EPIC is work closely with both the job seeker and the prospective employer. We work with a person on the autism spectrum to discover their strengths and talents. And then we create an open dialogue with the employer about how they can get the best out of that employee.

It’s not about changing the person with autism. It’s about placing them in an environment where they can thrive. As Professor Stephen Shore said at APAC 2017, we don’t need to do things to autism, but rather work with it. We need to embrace the characteristics of autism, focus on what the person can do and what they contribute.

In many cases, people on the autism spectrum have been ostracised or bullied for being different throughout their lives. Oftentimes, they have dealt with a lot of rejection in trying to find a job and are feeling beaten down. To get the person ready for work, we support them to build their confidence, which allows their skills and talents to be unearthed. We set our job seekers up for success.

On the employer side, our job is to educate employers about common characteristics and traits of people on the autism spectrum, and explain how hiring and orientation practices should be adjusted to harness the attributes of autism, not fight against them. In most cases, people on the autism spectrum will require support and/or adjustments to perform at their best. We discover what those are and how best to implement them.

I think it’s important that people know they don’t have to go it alone. But the reality is, people on the autism spectrum and their families all around Australia feel they are alone in this fight. As someone with lived experience of autism, I am very conscious of this.

That’s why I’m proud to lead an organisation that helps people on the autism spectrum into meaningful work, and in doing so changes their lives and the lives of their families and loved ones. These changes may seem small, but individual change is how we build widespread social change. We look forward to continuing our work as EPIC’s footprint extends across Australia.