Given that educational achievements have traditionally set the benchmarks for employability, the lack of assistance and support given to young adults with high functioning autism, particularly within the later stages of schooling, forms an area of growing concern.
Research findings indicate that previously established support systems either disappear or are significantly absent during those key periods when young adults with HFA are transitioning from high school to College, TAFE or out into the broader work force.
Parents state that toward the final years of their young adult’s education they experience having to seek out other resources and support systems on their teenager’s behalf due to the lack of services made available to them within higher educational environments.
“When my son reached Year 11 Level, the college which my son attended said they no longer had a curriculum (modified) available to him”.
“When my son was in Year 11, we were told by the principal and other teachers that they could do no more for him and that he was actually a distraction to the other children in his class and were holding them back from reaching their full potential. We were told that he would not gain anything by coming back to school the following year! “
Statements such as these indicate the existence of the fundamental gap in equality experienced by young adults with high functioning autism within the current educational system.
Given that a key premise upon which governmental policy is currently based, relies on the ideal that equal educational opportunities for those with disabilities, equates to the prospect of equal employment opportunities (Oliver, 1983, 1996) evidence of this gap is worrying.
The existence of this gap in equality is further reflected in the lived experiences of adults with HFA, who indicate that the ideals of equal educational outcomes, do not match the realities of trying to attain equal opportunities both pre and post education.
At the end of their young adults education, parents expressed that their loved ones were being ‘shut out; of further educational opportunities and instead being exposed to a lack of resources within the broader community.
“As soon as he turned ’16’ – they just wanted him to leave. There was no guidance or support to transition him to TAFE. I had to do all the research on my own. When he finished at TAFE there was no support what so ever for career planning + engaging work. It was a very frustrating process. “
Parental expressions of frustration at the lack of appropriately formed educational spaces for young adults with HFA were further exacerbated by the lack of interest shown by workforce agencies in seeking to engage young adults with HFA within their specific areas of interest or talent.
“After leaving school he has, as a last resort, placed in a facility for severely mentally challenged people, where he had no direction and usually washed staff cars or windows, My son is a talented artist and musician but the talents were never explored by any professionals. “
Parents whose young adults were not employed reported that the systemic negation of their sons/daughters particular interests, needs and traits both perpetuates and reinforces the wider problems that young adults with HFA face within the workforce.
“There are just NO OPTIONS for individuals with complex needs/ASD. It is extremely frustrating that even in this environment with the profile of autism that the only comment in a supported employment IEP was “you need to improve your eye contact”. School was tough but since leaving school trying to cope and source options is mission impossible. I would urge, no make that plead Aspect ,to work with providers to source options for these young people.”
“No proper understanding of his disability by government, the employment support agencies and potential employers. He can’t do interviews. “
“Lack of true understanding from agencies of her ‘quirks’ make finding /keeping a job impossible”
Parents describe this sense of negation as further manifesting in the severe lack of understanding and support given to attaining employment opportunities which reflect the interests, qualifications, talents and needs of young adults with HFA as a whole.
“My son has to do jobs that are boring to him. He gets fired regularly because of his lack of understanding or that of his employer. He would rather be doing something graphical. “
Parental responses also indicate that there may be a considerable amount of disparity occurring between the definitions of success applied by workforce agencies and those applied by young adults and parents.
“He has a Diploma in library and Information Services which he only partly uses in his job at UWS. The employment provider found him the job at Woolies 5 years ago and has made no moves to change him to anything more challenging and has now ‘left’ him as he is so ‘successful’ “
This sense of disparity is further expressed by parents whose young adults are currently engaged with the work force in diverse areas of employment ranging from full, part-time and casual positions in sheltered work shops, supermarkets, office work, computing, IT and electrical work through to those running their own businesses.
Within this section parents note two key themes.
Firstly, that although their son/daughter may be working, often that work is acquired through a long process which neither necessarily addresses nor validates the qualifications they hold in their already established fields of interest, talent or expertise.
“It took 20 months for my son to find a job. He spent 6 years at university and has been working for 18 months in Woolies/Bunnings stacking shelves” .
“My son is not working in the area in which he gained his University qualifications but is using some of his writing and computing skills.”
Secondly, that whilst adults with HFA may hold and maintain higher degrees, skills or qualifications than those required to perform their current jobs, they are still experiencing an overall lack of responsiveness or understanding from both those working within employment agencies and employers, who refuse to appropriately acknowledge their qualifications within workforce positions.
“His qualifications are in Library and Information Science but librarians were un-supportive generally of his special though not particularly difficult to accommodate special needs.”
Parental expressions further indicate that the area of volunteer work currently offers one of the few areas in which adults with HFA are being given a way to show case, build on and explore their skills.
“He has only once been given an opportunity to use his computer skills in voluntary work that ended after eighteen months.”
The desire to activate their skills and participate in areas of interest within voluntary work is reflected in the experiences of adults with HFA within this survey who report taking part in a diverse range of positions including volunteer fire fighter, zoo keeper, computing and IT work and assisting those with disabilities.
For many, volunteer work provides a way to both access and increase their already existing skill sets, whilst demonstrating their capacity to effectively work within their fields of interest.
This significantly indicates that adults with HFA are willing and able to step into those roles which meet their skills, qualifications and interest levels.
Yet despite being able to demonstrate holding the appropriate skill sets and capacity to work this survey has indicated that adults with HFA are still facing significant hurdles when seeking paid employment.
Those hurdles centre around the lack of understanding in regards to the needs or “quirks” of individuals with HFA and are reflective of the overall lack of awareness described as existing by parents and young adults themselves, within supported workforce programs, employment agencies, employer attitudes and the broader community.
All research analysis conducted and written by seventhvoice as derived from 2011 nation wide survey.
- The Importance of Identifying Asperger’s Syndrome / High Functioning Autism in Adults (seventhvoice.wordpress.com)
- New ventures train high-functioning autistic adults for high-tech jobs (mercurynews.com)
- Young Adults With Autism Set to Beat the Odds as the First Graduating Class of Exceptional Minds (prweb.com)
- Few Young Adults With Autism Living Independently – Disability Scoop (pattidudek.typepad.com)
- ASD Diagnosis: the process for adults (seventhvoice.wordpress.com)
- The Illusion of coping…. Exploring the Impacts of Sensory issues for those with High Functioning Autism within the Workforce. (seventhvoice.wordpress.com)
- New study finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much (seventhvoice.wordpress.com)