“So, do you work?”
Here’s a sobering statistic: 66% of adults with autism in Australia are unemployed, compared to 6% of the general adult population.
In other words, only one in three has a job, and we are eleven times less likely to have a job compared to our non-autistic counterparts.
People often ask me if I work, often with the thinly veiled implication of “you’re not one of those dole bludgers are you?” lurking just beneath the surface like wasabi (AKA Green Napalm) hidden under the fish in a roll of sushi.
For me, the answer is yes… and no.
I currently work as a writer, facilitator, mentor, and young adult’s group assistant for the I Can Network, as a reviewer for a cinema website, and as a deliveryman for Meals On Wheels. However, the first and third are volunteer positions, (so far anyway; the I Can Network is growing fast!) and the second won’t see me buying Wayne Manor or starting my own space program anytime soon. So, like many Australians on the autism spectrum, I rely on Centrelink to pay the rent and feed myself. There, I said it.
I actually felt quite a bit of guilt about getting paid without working while so many of my friends busted their arses in day jobs, so after finishing University I sought out volunteer work; I wanted to give something back while I searched for paid work. My three part-time gigs don’t quite add up to full time work, but they make me feel useful, which is a more potent antidepressant than any meds I’ve ever taken.
I am working towards a job that I can live on, and as soon as I can land one, I intend to get off Centrelink and never go back.
But enough about me.
What’s most disappointing about the 66% statistic is that some of the greatest writers, thinkers, and problem solvers I know have autism. Yet in spite of their remarkable skills and razor sharp intellects, many of them are unable to find work.
It’s not just a loss for them either, but also for employers and the economy; as a country, we have this enormous reservoir of talents going to waste.
A big part of the problem is the perception of people with autism as “odd”. They might be absolutely brilliant at writing, or coding, or number crunching, but lose out in a job interview because they’re seen as awkward or nervous. In other cases, the deck stacking can be more insidious; I actually know somebody who disclosed his autism in an interview and was told, “sorry, we don’t hire retards”. (Though evidently they do hire ignorant pratnozzles)
As with many a social problem, education is key part of the solution; employers need to be taught the potential benefits of having an employee on the autism spectrum, like an encyclopedic knowledge of their profession. This is one of the key long term goals of the I Can Network.
The more I work with the Network, the more I impressed I am by how much people with autism have to offer. Having two thirds of them out of work does everybody a grave disservice.
As the youth of the 70s once sang about unemployment of young people: “Come on, give us a go!”