Priory Group – A “woeful inadequacy” of apprenticeships, internships and jobs for adults with autism is holding back their prospects and blighting society, autism experts at the Priory Group state.
Allison Hope-West, autism director at the Priory Group, urged companies to come forward, saying many adults with autism could fulfil satisfying roles in the workplace but were never given the opportunity to make their ambitions a reality.
She said a lack of understanding among employers of autistic spectrum disorder and a dearth of specialised employment services were major hurdles to gaining employment, while more training was needed for those who supported autistic adults in jobs.
The Priory Group of Companies includes Priory Education Services, which runs 22 schools and colleges providing education for more than 1,000 pupils, of whom around 800 are on the autistic spectrum.
Former Priory student, Briony Robinson from Caldicot, Monmouthshire was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of five. Now, aged 19, she wants to be an actress.
She attended Priory Coleg Wales, which supports autistic students enrolled at Coleg Gwent, Wales’ largest further education college, where she studied for a BTEC Level 3 in art and design and received merit-merit-merit – equivalent to 3 ‘A’ levels, thus qualifying her to enter university.
Now at the University of South Wales in Newport, she is studying Performing Arts for Theatre and Film and likes “anything to do with the stage”, says her mother, Julia.
Julia says some people don’t fully understand autism and Asperger’s, but people like Briony can be the “perfect” job candidates given the opportunity.
Asperger’s is an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by difficulties in social interaction.
According to the NHS Information Centre, around one in 100 adults has autism – a lifelong condition which affects people’s understanding of the world and their communication with others. The autism spectrum includes classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.
But with the right support, those with autism can lead rewarding lives, and many can be socially and economically independent. The majority of the over 300,000 working-age adults with autism in the UK want to work.
Jim Glover is vice principal of Priory’s Strathmore College in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, which currently has 34 students on the autistic spectrum, aged 16-24.
It also has links with local employers; in 2013/4 10 students left the college to enter voluntary part-time work, and one had a paid apprenticeship. Twelve months earlier, 10 went into voluntary part-time work and one entered full-time paid work.
Mr Glover urged more employers to come forward.
“We really appreciate the support we receive from the employers we work with who offer us work placements for our learners. However, we would urge more employers to consider how they can offer work placements that lead to paid employment.
“Simulated activities are valuable to help develop learners’ work skills, but we could be wasting valuable time when we could be training the learner on the job, with the prospect of continuing with that employer.”
Sandra Morgan, principal of Priory Coleg Wales, a specialist co-educational college for students aged 16 to 25 with Asperger’s and associated conditions – which was established in partnership with Coleg Gwent, Wales’s largest further education college – added:
“Autism need not be a bar to achievement.
“Yet only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment.
“Ofsted, the education inspector, has admitted that opportunities for supported employment or other gainful and meaningful activity after the age of 19 are variable and, in some areas very limited. Supported apprenticeships may be the answer but are few and far between.”
Ms Hope-West said:
“It is really useful for employers to have positive statements about the benefits that people with autism can bring to their service – such as work ethic, reliability, thoroughness, honesty and attention to detail.
“Every person on the autistic spectrum is individual, and some will manage well in a workplace setting with little intervention. But employers do need a better awareness of the condition, because there’s a lot they can do quite easily that would help.”
The Priory Group website can be found here http://www.priorygroup.com/