I am an autistic adult an I Have worked as a disability support worker for the last 13 years. In that time my lived experience has helped me to gain many insights that I believe could be useful for the future.
First all we are seeing a huge spike in the prevalence of autism and what we used to call Asperger’s in society. I believe there are not more autistic people being born, but rather more being diagnosed. In the case of adults, they are no and will longer flying under the radar as I did.
If teachers are saying the three are a couple of kids at least in every class at school that are either on the spectrum show some traits or are in the process of a diagnosis then. This is the perfect place to begin when thinking about and planning social policy.
Within the next one to two decades there will be many tens of thousands if not way over 100 000 young autistic folk entering adulthood. In previous generations these people would have been as a rule shut out of the workforce to certain extent. The research and statistics show this with the deplorable rate of unemployment among autistic people.
Of those with work a great many are underemployed and or working beneath their education levels. Those who are unemployed are in a very murky area where they may or may not qualify for DSP. most likely with a level 1 diagnosis or even a level 2 on new start. Many of these folk will end up DSP not through the normal channels, but because of the co morbid depression and anxiety that they develop from being on new start. New start is everything that an autistic adult does not need in an addition to a already marginalised life
So let’s call it a pending social crisis that we should clearly see on the horizon. I believe that there is one simple and effective solution that will spare the next generation of autistic children and adults a great deal of heartache frustration and ill health. It will empower them and include them in society and workplaces in ways that we have never thought of before.
The answer is in drawing on the lived experience of autistic people and students of all ages. Good social policy should be earmarking autistic adults as the mediators / translators and facilitators that will user in a wave of inclusion and social paradigm shifts that are long overdue.
Right now, governments should be engaging with autistic adults and funding peer mentoring programs to empower and unite a highly marginalised and disenfranchised group of people that will in a few short years represent several % of our population
Schools are the obvious place for peer mentoring programs as a start. Think of it like a mainstreaming of a more specialised peer support / teachers aid role.
Beyond schools we need autistic adults in the employment sector to help draw out the often hidden and neglected talents of their own tribe that allow them to flourish in work. And also, those with lived ASD experience acting as work coaches and mentors to help them succeed and stay in valued long term gainful employment.
The NDIS should have seen this all coming. The NDIS spent tens of millions of dollars on consultants that could have been spent on engaging the autistic community. A community that is already around 1/3 of the NDIS Pie and growing.
The support worker role is expanding rapidly. Let’s assume 99.9 % of the workforce are non-autistic. With close to a third of the people they support being autistic. This needs to change. How is lived experience making any impact all with this kind of model?
In relation to supported employment we need to redefine what it looks like. There are sporadic programs around that employ autistic adults and support them. They are almost always in IT and engineering. If we broadened these to include dozens of industries and institutions beyond the stereotypical jobs for autistic s, we will change and shape our workplaces for forever and for the better.