Significant life changes such as starting a new job, leaving school, or moving home can be daunting for most people.
However, for someone with autism, who struggles with changes to routine, communication, and social skills, this can be especially challenging.
Autism affects all aspects of everyday life everything from the ability to cope with different sounds and sights, to environmental changes, and emotional reactions to difficult situations; making the transition into adulthood and achieving greater independence even more challenging
According to Ambitious About Autism’s statistics fewer than one in four school leavers with autism stay in further or higher education, resulting in 17% of 19-year-olds with autism saying they are “fairly” or “very” dissatisfied with their life.
This also translates into the working environment, with a recent survey from the National Autistic Society showing that just 16% of adults with autism across the UK are in full time, paid work, compared with 80% of other people.
However, in stark contrast to the lack of representation in the workplace, the survey of 2,000 adults with autism, revealed that 77% of respondents wanted to find employment.
So how can people with autism better prepare for the transition into adulthood to enable them to achieve greater independence and reach their goals? And how can work placements be key to unlocking future career potential?
At Beechwood College we recognize planning for the future can be especially stressful for people with autism. Specific challenges faced could include anxieties around maintaining a set routine, and anxiety connected to the other changes that the future may bring. Coupled with communication difficulties, this can make it hard for people to tell others what they want to achieve.
We recognise that this can be incredibly frustrating , it’s important that our students don’t feel unhappy and powerless as they transition towards adulthood.
As such, one of the most important things for any young adult with autism when looking ahead, is to begin transition planning as early as possible.
This is a priority for us at Beechwood College and we begin communicating with our students from their arrival to ascertain their goals and put a plan in place; it is vital to discuss what our students would like to achieve, how they’d like to achieve it, and what steps they will need to take along the way.
This form of person-centred transition planning is absolutely key to supporting them in feeling included in decisions surrounding their future, which is empowering as they move forwards.
In order to ensure the plan is effective, it is also crucial to involve parents or carers to ensure the young person’s needs are being met and any communication difficulties they may have are overcome.
By working with a student and any adults supporting them we can ensure we create an effective plan which is tailored to needs and abilities, and which is flexible and can be altered if needs change over time.
But when it comes to entering the world of work, how can the majority of people with autism, who want to find employment, get support to achieve their professional aims?
One answer is work placements. Beechwood College actively seeks out local employers, who will offer the students the invaluable work experience they need to prepare them for employment.
As part of this initiative, the college has recently collaborated with one of Cardiff’s leading employers - Admiral Insurance - to provide meaningful placements for students and prepare them for the working world.
Early in 2019, two students took part in a week-long work experience trial at the insurance provider, with Admiral staff members praising their dedication.
During the placement, students spent three days in the contact centre listening to calls, discussing how best to deal with conflict resolution and developing other customer service skills.
Admiral’s work-experience co-ordinator commented that it was a “pleasure” to work with them and develop a better understanding of autism.
He said: “This is the first time I have dealt with students from the college and the students, and support staff, were very friendly, upbeat and polite.
“It was a pleasure to meet all of them and to get a better personal understanding of autism. The students should be very proud of themselves, I know it is not easy for them to come out of their comfort zone and come into a busy working environment, but they dealt with it extremely well.
“I think they should also see themselves as an inspiration, not only to themselves and the college, but also to people like myself and the people that they interacted with who don’t have a full understanding of what people with autism must deal with in their day to day lives.”
The work placement trial with Admiral has been a resounding success and is acting as a strong case study example for us when speaking to other potential employers who are considering offering placements.
Not only did our students learn an invaluable amount about entering a real working environment and acquiring legitimate working and social skills, the placement also managed to raise a greater awareness about autism and the value that people with autism can bring to a working environment.