Improving employment outcomes for autistic people should be based on an “ecosystem” of support from employers, coaches and employees and not just on individual skill development, according to a Canadian study.
Researchers from the University of Calgary conducted a case study of services offered by social enterprise Meticulon Consulting Inc, which aims to prepare autistic adults for integration into employment opportunities.
Key strengths of the employment scheme include a focus on appropriate roles and building capacity in autistic participants, as well as improving the organisational culture of prospective employers.
Three interview rounds were conducted monthly with four autistic participants, who were receiving assistance from the enterprise. In addition, the researchers interviewed nine current or recent business clients and three job coaches or employment support personnel, on a once-off basis.
Meticulon assesses autistic people who demonstrate talent and interest in IT-related tasks, for placement in jobs already vetted by the enterprise. Referred to as consultants, autistic individuals receive additional software testing and quality assurance training, before securing contract-based employment.
Job coaches provide education to business clients—typically through presentations to increase understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace—and offer on-going support through onsite meetings with consultants, and check-ins with business clients. Job coaches also monitor the stress-levels of consultants and often mentor consultants on transport planning, and on-the-job communication and management techniques.
The consultants highlight that Meticulon’s advocacy and job ‘fit’ services were integral to their current employment stability. They appreciate how the enterprise found positions which resonate with both their personal abilities and preferences.
In turn, business clients describe the consultants as proficient and a good match for the highly details-focused nature of software testing and data management. Referring to a consultant, one client commented, “he never gets bored, never runs out of gas for a particular [task], actually sees it as a challenge, seems delighted in finding the little things. So our team members have reported that when he does testing, they know he’s going to find stuff that they didn’t find so he’s given them a greater degree of confidence when we give software to customers.’’
Ready access to guidance and tangible assistance from job coaches, particularly when stressful situations arise, is identified as another key asset of Meticulon’s services by the consultants. One consultant said, “there are people … to talk to and get information and advice from … who actually care about what I am doing.”
Business clients also felt that they could consult job coaches on autism-related questions, and that this knowledgeable, intermediate party could act as ‘translator’. Having this buffer promotes transparency by the consultants and the business clients, and a pro-active approach to addressing any concerns.
Other key advantages of the program autistic participants identify include:
Job coaches fostering a positive environment by increasing managers’ and co-workers’ understanding of autism and autistic colleagues;
Decreased anxiety at times of job-related uncertainty and challenges; and
Greater confidence and satisfaction through being able to meaningful contribute to their workplaces.
Providing sustained support during periods of unemployment, and increasing management opportunities for autistic people, are put forward by participants as ways for Meticulon to continue to improve its services.
The researchers claim that Meticulon offers a model that can be expanded beyond employment in the IT sector to a range of employer and worker stakeholders. They argue that the case study emphasises “the importance of extending beyond only individual skill development and moving toward the development of an ‘‘ecosystem’’ of support with increased community resources, including supporting potential employers and reducing barriers to employment.”
Investment in the kind of services offered by Meticulon, they argue, provides a feasible way to reduce barriers imposed on autistic people in gaining fulfilling employment.