Autism — many of us have heard of it but may not know whether it is being fully recognized in government policy. There are 700,000 people living in the UK that are on the autistic spectrum and statistics show that autistic young people are less likely to be employed, be in training or attend higher education.
The facts show that 17 per cent of young people aged nineteen with a disability reported that they were ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ dissatisfied with their life thus far. In comparison, 7 per cent of young people that don’t have a disability feel this way. It is therefore clear that not enough is being done for these individuals even though they wish to contribute in society like anyone else.
As a volunteer for the National Autistic Society charity, I have been trying to educate myself to get a better understanding of how autism has an effect on people and their families. And this is why I attended the Autism Show on June 17, a yearly event aimed at professionals, families or anyone else that wants to know more.
Ambitious About Autism
One particular talk I thought would be helpful to attend was ‘Employment Barriers’, presented by the charity Ambitious About Autism. Their primary aim is to ‘make the ordinary’ possible by providing facilitating work experience placements for young people living with autism — as current statistics show as little as 15 per cent of young people are in paid employment, and only 19 per cent of them felt that they ever had any proper careers advice. This often leaves those struggling prone to depression or other mental health illnesses, so it is questionable as to why the government isn’t doing more to address the crux of the problem, especially given that £32 billion a year is already spent as a result of the inadequate support sufferers of autism receive.
Ambitious About Autism partners with companies and institutions such as Talk Talk, Santander, Deutsche Bank, UCL and the Association of Colleges. Gaining work experience at such places can help autistic young people break through the barriers, such as having to pass assessment tests during the interviewing process. The organisation has the overarching aim of having their model replicated in all workplaces, and runs two schools and a college where they equip young people with theoretical and practical skills through the use of a specialist curriculum — including sensory learning. It is not surprising that the organisation has had a number of success stories, including a student who now sells his own artwork and another who has benefited from the use of technology for speech and language needs.
To date, many consultation papers have been published around how to better support individuals with learning needs. ‘The Support and Aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability’ (2011) included various policy approaches, such as equipping parents with personal budgets to support the needs of their child. This paper was followed by ‘No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored’, which articulated how the Mental Health Act should include autistic people and a regulation to ensure community support is provided to these individuals.
To further my research into this topic, I decided to conduct a few short interviews with people directly working with young autistic individuals to explore how these government policies have worked practically. The following comments are from teachers at specialist schools (all comments are anonymous).
Headteacher who created a varied curriculum for his student:
‘Even though the EHC (education, health and care plan) had brought together all the agencies, the trouble is that some local authorities now do not have the funds to support it so parents begin to have battles with them‘
‘Those with Asperger’s Syndrome find it really hard. People need to also realize that boys and girls will have different behaviours too when it comes to Asperger’s Syndrome‘.
I then asked her whether governmental policies have affected services for young people on the autistic spectrum. She stated:
‘the recession had definitely caused families with autistic family members to break down due to financial difficulties‘.
I questioned the teacher on the support available:
‘Students have support but with diminishing schools. And even though new technologies are available, they don’t work for some and when they do, children and young people can become over-reliant on them‘.
Through my experience at this event and by spending time with practitioners, it became clear to me that young autistic individuals may not be supported enough within the education system. Despite the introduction of governmental policies in this area, there is still some way to go before we can ensure that every young person who requires specialist support is not left behind.
If you want to see the talent that autistic people have despite their issues, then ‘We Got Wood for Autism’ is a show where autistic comedians make us laugh! Here is their Facebook link for more information — https://www.facebook.com/events/1893816994169554/