Many families experience difficulty at this time of year when their son or daughter has finished 13 years of schooling and they are contemplating “what’s next?” We interviewed Megan Jeffries* to gain a first-hand insight into her families’ experience when their son Sam* decided to enter the world of work.
Sam is 16 years old lives with Asperger’s Syndrome. Megan, Sam’s Mum, approached BUSY Ability Disability Employment Support Services to assist Sam to find and keep a job while he was still at school.
After completing a hospitality course with BUSY Ability, Sam was offered a job at their social enterprise café, Maggie and Mr Jones Espresso and has been working there for 4 hours a week for over a year now. He enjoys the challenge, and works under a manager he describes as ‘perfect’. The environment, his peers, and bosses are all extremely supportive. He’s out in the workplace now, with his sights set on the rest of his goals. And the BUSY Ability team are supporting Sam to achieve his goals.
Sam takes people’s orders, prepares food, and cleans dishes – “whatever needs being done,” Sam says. For him, the difficulties of the job are more about the social side of things rather than the practical aspects of working.
“I’ve always wanted to work and have my own house and have my own car and be out in the workforce…but difficulties? Maybe when people are being indecisive?” He says.
Megan’s head dips as she recalls, “Primary and High school has never worked for Sam, and to be honest, it made him sick. He disengaged from it each and every year. This was depressing for him and frightening for us as parents.”
“Sam wants to learn but in a way that he can. People with Asperger’s communicate, learn and process information differently. You can try and teach them social skills but it’s important to remember that they are always going to be on the Autism Spectrum. Manners matter but the best way to learn is when you are using your strengths to do valued work in the community while being supported to do it.”
BUSY Ability understands the important stage in a young person’s life as they prepare to leave school and enter the job market for the first time. BUSY Ability’s CEO, Lisa Smith said, “The key is to find employers who like working with people who are different or are at least willing to learn the benefits of employing them. And there are a lot of benefits. People with Autism are often very loyal, honest, and good at finding faults because of their great attention to detail.”
Megan added, “People with Asperger’s see the world differently and that is an advantage as long as you consider the things they say as being helpful. An autistic brain will often find a better way to do something. It might sound like they are being hypercritical but if you listen carefully they are probably being logical. If you want to find the flaws that are causing dollars to leak out of your business then put an Asperger on the floor for a week and you’ll be surprised what they see, how they intuitively know how to do things differently and discover patterns of inefficiency that are right under your nose. They are born detectives and getting them on side has real benefits.”
Megan believes that employment for people like her son needs to be individualised. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. “I only understand [my son’s] form of autism. Another person’s support needs could be nothing like what I’m doing to support my son.”
Many young people like Sam have just left school and while they might have the motivation to find work, they may feel they can’t do it alone. It’s not for the lack of capability that they don’t end up achieving this but a lack of opportunity and the lack of on-going support to keep that employment.
“If and when some workplace requirements aren’t being met by the person with Asperger’s, I would suggest getting one-on-one mentoring like we did through BUSY Ability. Supporting a person with Asperger’s may include writing things down so they can re-read the information over and over again to learn it in their own time. An email dealing with one subject at a time could assist a person with Asperger’s to become aware of a workplace issue. Remember it’s the disability that is causing their lack of awareness about complex workplace requirements. You would never ask a blind person to see.”
“[The most helpful thing ] in finding appropriate employment is probably having an advocate like BUSY Ability who promote Autistic abilities; BUSY Ability helped us bridge the employee-employer gap. As parents, we couldn’t do that on our own. It’s not appropriate for us to follow Sam around a workplace so we relied on the allies at BUSY Ability to spread the word about the benefits of employing someone with Autism. . People on the Autism Spectrum can and are valuable employees given the right work and a supportive environment so that they can apply their talents and join a work team.”
For Sam and Megan, the journey to employment has been difficult, formative, stressful and illuminating. “I think the best thing is to have a belief that there will be a place for him to earn a living. But finding it and keeping it will be a matter of team work.”
The message is clear –families all over Australia still need help.
“It [autism] is a different language, a different way of doing things, we need more champions of autism.”
“Sam needs job tasters and opportunities to explore his strengths in the world of work. He enjoys being a part of BUSY Ability as his employment agency because they don’t react to his defensiveness when he is confused, struggling with social rules or short term memory problems. He also benefits from working with someone who can help him keep connected to pathways of lifelong learning.”
If you or your son/daughter has recently finished school and needs help to navigate the world outside of the school gates, get in touch with BUSY Ability today to chat about how they can help you find work with an employer who is going to understand your abilities.
*names have been changed to maintain anonymity.