I imagine everyone has heard of autism, and perhaps has a notion of what autism is. But what I’ve found very surprising in my experiences, is that as an autistic adult, there is extremely little out there that is geared towards, or designed for, autistic adults in our society.
Autistic children grow up to become autistic adults. Autism is a lifelong condition, it doesn’t ‘go away’ and you don’t ‘grow out of it’. In the past there has been a large focus on getting support for autistic children as early as possible, and that in my view is the right approach. But what happens when these kids become adults? Well, to summarise, on your 18th birthday, you are effectively told “good luck” by the Health Service and left to your own devices.
Now, the whole point of supporting autistic kids through their education is to ensure they are as well prepared and ready for the adult world, that’s what educating kids is about after all. But what’s the point in doing all this if, on their 18th birthday, you just pull the rug away from underneath them and leave them to struggle in a word that is not suitable for us at all?
Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment. Less than 1 in 5. That is a horrendous statistic. I’m one of the fortunate few who has been able to find a good employer that is supportive of me and ensure that the environment I work in is suitable for me to be able to perform my job. But this isn’t how it should be.
It shouldn’t be down to luck of the draw, or a roll of the dice when it comes to who gets supported and who gets left to fend for themselves.
The fact is, in Northern Ireland, in 2017, autistic adults are still left with next to no support from the Health Service, are left with very slim opportunities for employment, and are generally disregarded by the government here in Northern Ireland. And I can’t tolerate that.
As alluded to above, I was one of the lucky ones, who got support and was also able to find suitable employment. But I also know I got lucky, and there are people vastly more skilled than I am, vastly more capable than I am, that are unable to find a job, or live independently, because they didn’t get so lucky. As a result, that’s why I’ve been an autistic advocate since I turned 18. For the last 5 years, I’ve campaigned and argued for autistic people to be given the support and understanding we deserve and we need, in order to be fully integrated members of society. Until that day comes, I will never stop advocating for the autistic community.
In recent years we have seen improvements, with some local councils and agencies undertaking training to ensure their staff are trained in how to work with autistic people, but we need more than what is at times a simple box ticking exercise (As part of my job I had to do the mandatory autism awareness class and it was honestly just a box tick).
We need to see local facilities become more autistic-accessible, ensure that access to public services is Autistic friendly, a great example of this is the JAM (Just A Minute) Card launched by the NOW Group, which allows autistic people to explain to others that they are autistic and therefore may need a little more time. These things are possible, and easily achievable, if we work together, and that to me is the most frustrating part of this all. The answer is so easy, and so close, yet still somehow it is still so far away
Ryan Hendry is a 23 year old Civil Servant from Belfast He is the Vice Communications Officer for Autistic UK, an autism advocacy organisation, led entirely by autistic people.