The Scottish Strategy for Autism was launched in 2011. Current Outcomes for the strategy include Active Citizenship, which states that “people with autism are able to participate in all aspects of community and society by successfully transitioning from school into meaningful education or employment opportunities.” Autism Network Scotland’s National Employment Network aims to improve employment opportunities for autistic people in a range of ways. The Network has developed a vast knowledge of the barriers that autistic people face in gaining employment. One of these is a lack of understanding of the impact of autism amongst employers and support services meaning that autistic people, including autistic graduates, are less likely than non-autistic people to access meaningful employment.
The student began the project by carrying out an exploratory literature review of current research related to autistic students’ experiences transitioning from university to meaningful employment, and experiences of the application process for employment. The student attended staff meetings with ANS, and the employment network, to gain an insight into previous work and the background of the project.
The student attended regular meetings with an advisor from the Strathclyde careers service, to establish their experiences supporting autistic students and what difficulties they faced. Contact was also made with careers services at a two other universities, to gain an insight into their work supporting students transitioning from university to work.
Meetings with an adviser from the disability support services at Strathclyde were also conducted, and meetings with the advisor and the careers service adviser were set up to establish a student referral system between the two services.
The research was assimilated into a resource guide covering background information on autism and how it can affect a student’s experience of transitioning from university to meaningful work, and relevant references and resources that the careers service can access.
There is a lack of current research specifically exploring autistic student’s experiences transitioning from university to meaningful employment. Research tended to focus on experiences during university, and experiences in the work place.
The disability support services at Strathclyde have contact with students up until they graduate, and the careers service has contact with student for a set number of years after they graduate. It would appear that contact between these two services would benefit students who access these services, when they are transitioning from university to meaningful employment.
The careers service at Strathclyde highlighted that they would benefit from resources or training that would increase their autism awareness and understanding. Theoretically, the increase in knowledge and understanding would benefit good practice, and ultimately improve autistic student’s experiences and positive life outcomes in relation to meaningful employment.
Recommendations from this project would be for the careers service and disability services to maintain a relationship, and implement the standard referral system that they develop, with individual students’ consent.
We would highly recommend that the careers service utilise the reference guide, and adopt the recommended examples of good practice described in the guide. For example, understanding that not all autistic students will disclose their autism, or that some student’s might not have a diagnosis. However, having a good understanding of autism will mean the careers adviser will still be able to support the student and their specific needs, in a way they is beneficial to the individual.
There needs to be understanding of how an autistic student experiences the world differently. The guide covers differences in communication and sensory processing that are associated with autism, and offers good practice examples such as whether the student has additional communication aids, or sensory preferences.
Finally, recommendations for future work would be to talk to autistic students directly about their experiences transitioning from university to meaningful work. Identifying what barriers they experience, and how systems can be adapted to be more inclusive.
Members of the Autism Network Scotland Employment Network will review the careers guide and, once the final draft has been approved, it will be adopted by the University of Strathclyde Careers service. They will use this as their point of reference when dealing with autistic students, which will result in the needs of autistic students being met with recognition and understanding, improved experiences of accessing the careers service and improved access to employment.
Through this project, the careers service has now made direct links with the disability service, which has resulted in both services developing a standard referral form, which will result in smoother transitions between services for the student.
The work that has been undertaken with the project has been very much viewed as a pilot and it is anticipated that the key findings can be disseminated to higher education institutions across Scotland, with the view to careers services adapting this guide within their own services.
One of the key pieces of feedback from members of the Autism Network Scotland Employment Network is that, whilst it is important to meet the needs of autistic individuals who are at graduate level, this only makes up a small percentage of the autistic community. Many autistic individuals will not view university as part of their career paths and may be seeking entry-level jobs or will be accessing further education. It is therefore important that, moving forward, the work be carried on, not just at university level but that we seek ways of incorporating the work from this project into services that meets the needs of the whole spectrum of autism.
The student intern who carried out the work for this project has recently graduated with a masters in autism. She was able to bring current research, knowledge and theory to the project.
Autism Network Scotland Employment Website - http://employment.autismnetworkscotland.org.uk/
The careers guide will be made available once final publication is complete.