Finding employment tricky for people with autism: families

HALIFAX – Several Halifax families say it can often be tough for their children with autism to find meaningful work but they hope more education and an attitude change will help change things.

Iain Downey, 25, has autism and occupies his time building toy rollercoasters in his Dartmouth home.

But it is time Iain would rather be spending working five days a week instead of just one.

“That can be hard,” he said of his working situation. “Because you’re so looking forward to going [to work] but you can only go once.”
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It is the same story for Victoria Cutler, 26, who also has autism.

She only works twice a week and feels there is stigma when it comes to employers hiring those with disabilities.

“They don’t know enough about that person. But if they could get to know that person before the interview then I think it would go so much better,” she said.

Parents of autistic children say it’s frustrating and disheartening to watch their children flounder.

“As a parent, everyone wants the best for their children. To see someone struggling month after month, year after year, it’s really hard,” said Marianne Blair-Cutler, Victoria’s mother.

Iain’s mother Heather said that he son deserves the dignity of a job.

“We see him sitting and playing video games when he should be out working. He deserves the value of a job,” she said.

While the parents say they are not trying to place blame on anyone, they do think more education for employers and an attitude shift could go a long way in changing the status quo.

“Unless it’s something from your personal life, it’s really easy to go about your business and not think about it at all,” Marianne said about employers who may not have experience interacting with those with disabilities.

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“So when you meet someone with a disability, you don’t really know how to respond.”

Team Work Cooperative and the WorkBridge are a specialized employment centre for people with disabilities.

Assistant Services Manager Marcus Jamieson said that employers need to acknowledge this untapped labour market, which may be good for their bottom line.

“Their attention to detail, ability to focus on a task can be quite heightened. They stick to their work schedule very tightly. They utilize their work time really, really well,” Jamieson said.

Charmaine Gaudet has a 25-year-old son with autism who works part time and agrees that people with autism are more skilled than initially meets the eye.

“People with autism are often highly intelligent, highly capable and very conscientious people. But they stand out as different,” Gaudet said.

“Because they do stand out as being different and [often] have difficulty communicating, employers may not realize the potential they do have.”

But Jamieson adds resources are available for employers who hire people with autism, such as Team Work Cooperative, WorkBridge and Autism Nova Scotia, and encourages them to take the risk.

“Take the jump and look at hiring someone with autism. If you have some fears, if you have some questions, contact us,” Jamieson said.

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Parents believe that attitudinal shift will go further than giving their children more work opportunities.

“It would mean everything to us if he were able to have a job five days a week,” said Heather Downey about her son Iain.

“It would give him such self worth.”

A symposium on inclusive education and employment will take place next Monday and Tuesday.

The conference will coincide with the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities and will focus on employment, education challenges and creating opportunities for persons with disabilities.

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