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Tackling the autism employment gap

Last Friday, I was pleased to host representatives from major employers in Bristol West for a roundtable discussion on barriers to employment for those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

The National Autistic Society’s recent research into autistic people’s experiences of work highlights some stark inequalities. Just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time employment. Furthermore, those with ASDs often experience negative treatment at work: 48 per cent of respondents reported that they’d been bullied or harassed at work.

There has been an increased awareness of the needs of those who have an autistic spectrum disorder. Yet the National Autistic Society has shown that many employers feel under-equipped to support staff, with 60 per cent of employers stating they didn’t know where to go for support and advice about employing an autistic person.

I was pleased so many large employers were able to join the discussion – many of whom had already taken great steps to recruit and support workers with ASDs. Representatives from Rolls Royce, Airbus, Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol, Network Rail, North Bristol NHS trust, Avon Fire and Rescue and Lloyds Banking Group all attended and spoke about what support their organisations put in place for autistic staff.

I was particularly pleased to work with the National Autistic Society’s Henry Barnes for the event, and to hear from a local worker on the autistic spectrum. Henry particularly emphasised that individual needs should be attended to, and that even positive myths surrounding ASDs can have the unintended effect of stereotyping and glossing over needs.

Autistic people have important skills they can contribute to a workplace, and many of the employers present shared great success stories from the processes they have put in place.

Conversations about autism and supporting autistic adults need to include employment. It was great to hear so many local employers keen to learn more about autism and how to support workers with ASDs in the workplace.

I’ll continue to campaign for Bristol to become a truly autism-friendly city, and I’m delighted that so many of Bristol’s employers are so keen to join me in achieving this goal.

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