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Importance of neurodiversity in the workforce

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day

Young adults with autism are being sidestepped as employers fail to see the upside of a neurodiverse workplace new research from the University of Southern Queensland has found.

The study revealed the obstacles young adults with autism face when trying to find a job – with significant barriers leading to increased rates of unemployment.

Data shows the unemployment rate for Australian adults on the autism spectrum is more than three times the rate of people with a disability and almost six times the rate of neurotypical adults.

The research team hosted two focus groups with 14 disability service providers. They were asked what were the specific challenges and organisational influences that affect their efforts in securing employment for their clients with autism.

Lead author Dr. Yosheen Pillay, a lecturer in educational counseling at the University of Southern Queensland, said one of the key priorities for service providers was meeting government expectations and key performance indicators ahead of what was in the best interest of the client.

“Transitioning from school to employment is one of the biggest challenges for a young adult with autism and the biggest challenge support workers face is being able to match their needs and interests with specific types of employment,” she said.

“They find the processing time consuming and feel people on the autism spectrum are costly and difficult to place in employment due to individual needs and high levels of support required.”

This Friday (April 2) is World Autism Awareness Day and the start of Autism Awareness Month in Australia, which represents an opportunity to promote autism awareness and autism acceptance in schools, communities, and places of work.

Dr. Pillay said one of the biggest issues was some employers fail to see the upside of having a neurodiverse workplace.

“All the support services we interviewed agreed that the perspectives of employers were crucial to employing and supporting young adults to be successful in their job,” she said.

“Employers need to embrace a shift from a deficit and impairment lens to a strength and abilities perspective of the inclusion of young adults on the autism spectrum in the workplace.

“Some employers believe hiring a person on the autism spectrum is going to be costly to the business, but in the long-term, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

“One service provider provided an example of a client with a focused interest in working with computers that when matched with the right type of employment, this client felt secure and was able to be more productive in that workplace.”

Other issues highlighted in the study included a shortage of trained support workers and the lack of knowledge and awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The researchers recommended the need for specific services and skilled service providers who understand the differences, difficulties, and needs of people with autism during the transition from school to adulthood and the work environment.

“The transition from school to adulthood is the most vulnerable stage of life for a person on the autism spectrum,” Dr. Pillay said.

“Not only do they feel uncertain about which career would be a good fit for them, but they have lost a school support structure around them, see changes in their disability service entitlements, experience a shift in social role, and are susceptible to mental health problems and social isolation.”

The study ‘Transition Services for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum in Australia’ was published in the March edition of Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities. It can be found here.

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