Report on Autism from CLAN's UN Youth Rep

Report on Autism from CLAN's UN Youth Rep

CLAN's UN Youth Rep, Ms Elena Martin, attended a briefing on Autism that was hosted by UNDPI/NGO in New York on 2 April 2015. Thank-you Elena for sharing this report!

April 2nd marks the 8th annual observance of Autism Awareness Day.

The focus of the Briefing is on equality of employment opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Moderator of morning session, Bill Blakemore: domestic and international correspondent ABC news.

Briefing held in Conference Room 4 of the United Nations

Context: Legal framework from the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities: employing persons on the spectrum

Speaker #1: Mr.Thronkil Soone

Mr. Soone is from  The Specialist People Foundation located in Denmark, founded in 2004 focusing on creating a  work environment for people with Autism and  enabling 1 million jobs for individuals.

A good match between employer and employee can be very important in determining quality of life.  

Necessary components for a successful workplace:

  • Accommodate the work zones to fit the needs of the individual
  • Clarity to set expectations
  • Guidance to provide help to individuals

Many challenges arise in the workplace because employers lack knowledge of how to approach individuals on the autism spectrum. However in the future many societies aging society in many populations will lead to need to employment. Therefore, Autism needs to be seen not as a disability but as an advantage.

Speaker #2: Professor Arlene Kanter: Director of Disability and Law policy program at Syracuse University.

There are 1 billion people living with disabilities in the world.

Most individuals with medical disabilities are living in poverty without access to resources and opportunities. But we do not need to take care of them - instead we need to change our own views and to accept people as capable for employment. We need a change in order to see people as their potential and not as statistics.

Ms. Arlene Kanter assisted in writing the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities: a new human rights model of disabilities. People living with disabilities are not just charity cases that need medical attention. 153 countries have ratified this document, however the United States has not ratified it yet.

CRPD: Article 27 guarantees the right to work that goes beyond discrimination. Access to an open market for jobs.  Accommodation is not a privilege but a right in order to enable people with disabilities.

We need to ask ourselves: How can society be changed to support those with disabilities? We need to challenge stereotypes and to emphasize the dignity and worth of people with disabilities. Maybe we should be saying "differently abled" not "disabled", because there is so much value in our differences.

Speaker #3: Merry Barua: founder and director of Action for Autism and pioneered the Autism movement in South Asia

Ms Barua started work in India. In India and many other developing countries very few adults with Autism are employed.  Persons with autism are excluded from the workforce in India due to assumptions of incapacity, and there is a fear of discrimination amongst people living with disabilities. Whereas in some countries there is first assumption of ability, in India, especially for individuals with disabilities there is constantly an assumption of inability. It is often ignored that individuals with Autism have unique abilities (focus, attention to detail, great memory etc). Due to poor awareness in India, as well as stigma and lack of education and preparation for life, the  employment arena makes a point to exclude individuals with Autism. Children with Autism need a fair chance at  success. In addition, we need to stop normalizing people with autism, and stop forcing a square peg into a round hole when what we need to be doing it making square holes. Especially in developing countries parents need to stop being ashamed of their children. If we are able to prepare parents we can make major impacts on children's lives. Parents are major mechanisms of change.  

An autism friendly workplace benefits all employees not just those directly affected by autism. In the work place examples of diversity should be celebrated. Companies take risks in new business investments. Autism is a new idea that needs to be invested in.   

Speaker #4: Ronnie Goldberg: Senior Council for the US international council on business: US employer representative at the International Labor

We need economic and social progress to ensure the health of our businesses. Also, workplace discrimination is against the law. However, if  our goal is to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, laws alone will not be enough. We want employers and employees to be creative and to think in new ways. Focusing on positive cases that are going beyond compliance. We need to demonstrate why it is advantageous for businesses to employ people with autism and other disabilities.

There is great advantage to employing  a variety of under-represented groups, and it allows companies to tap into a greater talent pool.

Speaker #5: Dr. Robert D Austin: Rethinking Human Resource Management and using work place diversity to increase (Research Creativity and Innovation)

Understanding the Business Value and Business Education

In businesses, when it comes to innovation-based value creation, it is important to not fit in. We need to transition way in which value is created. Currently we are leaving an industrial economy and transitioning into an innovation economy; it is no longer about efficiency. Now just being efficient won't do anything:  you need people who are capable of thinking differently. Outliers are important for innovation. To be successful, businesses need originality; they need people who are to be able to see and appreciate differences. Innovation comes from the edges, it comes from those with the opportunity to look at the world differently.


Speaker #6: Suzsanna Szilvasy: President of Autism Europe and the mother of teenager with Autism (European NGO)

Autism Europe  represents families and individuals with autism; they give voice to their desires and advocate for them. They help to develop good practices.  11% of European Adults are unemployed: for people with Autism 76-90% and this situation is unsustainable because Autism does not disappear at the age of 18. There is a need for adaptive training, vocational schools and social inclusion: all surrounding the idea of focusing on anti-discrimination.

Success Stories: Michael Fieldhouse and Mitch Levy 

Utilizing the Dandelion Employment Program - an Australian program employing people based on strengths not weakness: working to hire people with disabilities in IT professional jobs.

There are benefits for private enterprise, the federal government and society. For private enterprise, they have access to a vast employment pool, for the federal government, more employment means less people on benefits, and society as a whole gains empowered and capable citizens. A project such as this one takes commitment and investment, there is learning that comes with anything new. The Specialist People Foundation helped with picking the best candidates for this program. What was especially necessary was educating the staff on Autism,  helping them understand how to best support the new trainees and creating a network for the trainees once they are employed so that they can feel welcomed and connected.