Employing Autism

By Abundance College Inc

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A little bit of context

Abundance College is currently running a work ready program for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder called Steps to Success. Through volunteer efforts, we have gotten to know several young adults in the community that since leaving school have struggled with finding suitable employment.

We have been working closely with a group of them for several months now. Its been rewarding to watch them grow, not only in their employment skills but also in their closeness to one another and their desire to help others as they have been helped by Abundance College and its volunteers. Watching their increasing self-confidence has been revelational.

Since learning to match their interests to employment, our participants have been taking action, and we have seen their confidence levels build when applying for jobs, and finally having the opportunity to be interviewed. Like Georjah, who prior to starting the program lacked the confidence in applying for jobs. Georjah now has the confidence to approach businesses with her resume where she would like to work.

Carys, completed year 12. Since leaving high school 4 years ago has enrolled in different courses that in reality do not match her skills and interests. It was during her participation in Steps to Success that I found Carys can achieve more than what she has been advised by relevant organisations. After completing a course in visual arts at High School, then moving onto a pathology course, then a nursing diploma, she still struggled to find employment. In her second week at Steps to Success, Carys obtained an interview with a pathology clinic. She was given an intensive work over, leaving the interview feeling overwhelmed, and again undervalued.

I have observed Carys with other students in the class and found that although her interests are helping people, the path she has been advised to follow really hinders her strengths. Carys has been completing work experience to improve her financial literacy by serving customers in a small bistro, and she has recently completed her Responsible Services of Alcohol and worked her first shift behind the bar at a private wedding function.

Carys has shown a natural ability to help people, and after seeing her work well with other students has been offered a position with Abundance College Inc, working alongside the trainer of Steps to Success as a support worker. Carys will also be studying a qualification in Disability as she has a natural ability to help other students.

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood. It affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. People on the autism spectrum also display a tendency towards restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities

In 1994, autism was redefined as being a wide spectrum of conditions ranging from non-verbal and more significant impairment, to Asperger's Syndrome, which is considered to be a more "high functioning" version of autism. Some notable figures who are or are speculated to have Asperger's Syndrome are Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Burton, Temple Grandin, and Bill Gates.

Autism Statistics

  • In Australia, it’s estimated that one in 100 people have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – which is almost 230,000 Australians – a crazy large number for a disability that was once considered rare.
  • Between 2012 and 2015, autism prevalence increased by 42% and is deemed as one of the fastest growing developmental disorders.
  • Out of all the adults on the autism spectrum, over 55% of them are either unemployed or underemployed.
  • 81% of all high school graduates both do not continue their education or obtain a job within 2 years after their high school graduation.
  • 1 out of every 100 children born in the Australia is born with a form of autism.
  • Autism is 4 times more prevalent in boys than it is in girls.

But there’s a problem

Sadly, some employers are still not seeing the benefits autistic people can bring their business. These benefits are not just in the skill sets offered but in overall morale in the workplace.

Positive Characteristics of Autistic Employees in the Workforce

Affinity for repetitive tasks
Meticulous attention to detail
Extreme optimism
Introvert personalities
Incredibly dedicated employees (rarely late, miss work, etc.)
Operate well in structured environments

In Australia, the labour force participation rate for adults with ASD is 42 percent compared with 53 percent for all individuals with disabilities and 83 percent for individuals without disabilities.

Here’s what we’re doing about it

Despite our population becoming more autistic by the year, there are simply not enough quality programs that are designed towards training adults with autism in the real-world career skills. As a result, too many adults with autism are either unemployed or working in menial jobs below their skill levels.

Our program is currently being delivered in a few locations across East Brisbane. Autistics thrive on structure and stability, and an important part of delivering positive training to our clients requires a permanent location.

Abundance College Inc has sourced a vacant establishment that will require a substantial amount of refurbishment and fit out to build a controlled training work environment social enterprise, so we can provide autistic people with the opportunity to learn workplace skills and gain experience in real-world environments.

We plan to convert this ideal building into a combined training facility with two classrooms at the back that can be opened into a single room for larger groups, three areas at the front of the building will be open to the public - an IT/mobile store, a sensory shop and a small cafe, this will allow us to meet the needs of autistic people across three different interests after they have completed our Steps to Success program.

The sensory shop will sell sensory items including cognitive and motor skill development, weighted blankets and clothing, educational and developmental toys that have been recommended or are in demand.

The IT/mobile store will be a place where customers can bring their mobile phones or computer equipment for maintenance and repairs, and accessories will also be sold from this area.

The cafe will be selling food that accommodates for people with allergies - gluten free, lactose, vegan etc, we will also be making espresso!

There is also an existing room that will be converted into a calming room with activities for calming. This room will have a range of sensory items on the wall, seating, lighting, headphones, cushions and decor for the purpose of calming and reducing sensory overload.
Upstairs will have small single offices for professionals like Occupational therapists, speech pathologist and psychologists that work independently but share similar objectives.

All employees will be first trained through our Autism Specific Steps to Success program which prepares people with Autism for work, this course was developed by Abundance College Inc, through the course, participants will learn to identify their interests and strengths as part of the Steps to Success program, they are then employed through the social enterprise based on their strengths. This means, if we have a student that does not do well socially they will not be employed in a customer service role. All participants, once they become employees, will be trained to work in the area they will excel in. Opportunities for job rotation is also available.

This social enterprise will also give potential employers the opportunity to see our students in action undertaking daily work tasks. To achieve this outcome, we have sourced a vacant establishment that will require a substantial amount of refurbishment and fit out to develop this social enterprise and open a permanent training facility.

You can join us

By contributing towards our campaign, you are contributing to the development of our purpose-built training facility designed for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder to transition between school and adulthood. Participants will first be put through our Steps to Success program, this is a 10-week, part-time course where students will be learning the fundamental skills necessary to secure an entry-level employment. We cover both workplace demands and personal coping skills. By the end of the course, students will then move into employment in one of the three areas that have been established as retail or hospitality areas within the training facility, where they will undertake training and employment to put into experience workplace tasks learnt throughout Steps to Success.

This is a very big project, but the results will mean people with Autism have the chance to become employed and use their talents in meaningful work. The building we have envisioned has been vacant for a number of years and will require a large amount of restoration so that it is safe and functional for our prospective trainees.

The entire building will need to be refurbished and fitted with lighting, walls, carpets, electrical wiring and most importantly retail and hospitality equipment for the social enterprise. A small cafe that meets the needs customers with diet restrictions including gluten free, casein free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Yes, chicken nuggets will also be on the menu!

And here are some amazing perks for supporting us that you can’t live without

While any amount of assistance would be greatly appreciated, we have some suggested options:

Leave a lasting impression on our social enterprise! For $1,500, you can have your name and photo, or if you own a business, your logo can be displayed on our supporters wall for 12 months from the day we open. This is a great way to advertise your business to future clients, customers and the press will see your name on our wall.

Help us name items on our menu! We will be working closely with dieticians to ensure we meet the needs of our clients, however, we want originality on the food names. Also, the names do need to be appealing to the Autistic community. You can choose our menu naming option for $500 and you can be as creative as you like, the menu name you choose will be printed on our menu. We will connect with you 6 months prior to opening day to discuss the items we have on the menu, then you have 3 months to give us your chosen named food.

Want to choose what we do sell on our menu? For $250 we will let you choose one item that you would like to see on the menu, this can be your own creation too. If you have found a food that works well for your family and would like to share, you can choose this option. There are some restrictions, however, as they will need to meet the needs of our clients.

These are a few of the awards provided depending on your contribution amount.

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    Offline donation

Team Members

Kylie Dawson

Laura Lewis