Improved autism awareness means that more autistic people than ever are doing well in school, moving on to university, and entering the job market with university-level qualifications. Unfortunately, most are not finding jobs: in the UK and Europe, between 84% and 90% of autistic adults are not in full-time employment. Others are working well below their ability level in lower-paid roles.
The Improving Employability of Autistic Graduates in Europe (IMAGE) Project has brought together researchers from Finland, the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK to create solutions. We found similar problems in all of these countries, despite differences in culture and national employment initiatives. Some lucky graduates find the help they need, but most do not.
Now, working together with autistic students and graduates, employers, academics and careers advisors, the IMAGE Project team is developing free ‘Good Practices Guides’ that will be available in summer 2021 in five languages. There will be guides for academics who work with students, careers advisors and employers. IMAGE will also produce an online toolkit for students and graduates, packed with resources for improving their employability and developing self-advocacy skills.
Autistic students and graduates need an individual approach. Many people are in a position to help and it’s important to consider where and how employability support can be provided: making adjustments for sensory issues is one example, providing clear and unambiguous information is another. Academics can help autistic students get – and get the most out of – internships and other work experience.
Careers advisors are often not sure how to advise autistic people about sharing their diagnosis, and may not know about employment laws and practices around disability. Employers also need to make sure their recruitment and employment practices do not disadvantage qualified candidates, and prevent disability discrimination. The ‘Good Practice Guides’ suggest helpful practices and link readers with extra resources.
The IMAGE Project team found that careers advisors had limited training on (neuro)diversity and helpful strategies. Hence, the IMAGE Project is intended to make finding good jobs for university graduates with autism less a matter of pure luck than the result of smart planning and inclusive action.