Tuesday 6 June 2023

How will our autistic son cope when he starts work?

Job list

My 15 year old son did a practice job interview at school today. He took in a suit to wear and practiced questions with us last night. For Anthony, this type of thing is really important. He was diagnosed with autism at four years old, and ADHD when he was around seven. We've been looking at colleges and my mind already races forward to the day ... a day he's looking forward to actually... when he gets a job. And I wonder about him in a workplace.

There's been a big increase in awareness in the last ten years, since he was diagnosed, about neurodiveristy. In addition to school, Anthony has been supported by an occupational therapist and a speech and language therapist to help him gain the skills he needs to function in the world and in the world of work. But it feel like he'll be out there all to soon.

I'm guessing he'll be supported through some kind of occupational health. Occupational health is an area of work in public health to promote and maintain of physical, mental and social well-being of workers. Occupational health is an essential aspect of any workplace, yet it often falls short of being inclusive and comprehensive. According to a by People Management, over half of UK workers do not have access to occupational health services, highlighting the urgent need for change.

Yes there are the obvious things everyone thinks of. Industries that involve obvious safety needs often have dedicated OH services, such as railway medical checks for example. Even in offices we are all given forms to fill out as soaring complaint numbers are linked to back, neck, and shoulder pain.

This support for a healthy work force seems relatively obvious. But what about neurodiverse individuals like our son?

Well, I know that last year there was a a new guide about evaluating and supporting neurodifferences published by The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM). It is a product of the SOM Occupational Health Psychology Special Interest Group (SIG) and was launched during Neurodiversity Celebration Week which is how I came across it.

The guide is aimed at occupational health (OH) practitioners, Human Resources professionals and employers, who are considering referring their staff for a diagnostic assessment of or services to support ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Tourette's Syndrome and/or similar. It outlines what to look out for in staff, different options available for support and legal duties of employers. The guide presents recommendations informed by research evidence, the latest guidance from regulatory bodies, current practice, and case law.

Neurodiversity, such as autism or ADHD like Anthony has, is becoming a much-discussed topic on social media. Indeed, more and more adults are receiving a late diagnosis about their condition. A diagnosis can help to address many unanswered questions and create an empowering routine. Yet, the wait for a diagnosis, at any age, remains long. For children, this is extremely worrying for their development. For adults who have been masking and struggling with feelings of low self-esteem and not fitting in all their lives, the wait can also be difficult.

Occupational health experts available within the workplace can not only make the wait more bearable, but also address some of the needs of adults with new workplace suggestions. Indeed, individuals can struggle with the support and understanding of their employers and colleagues. OH can advocate for early diagnosis and offer tailored accommodations. Facilitating awareness and acceptance within the workplace can be life-changing for many neurodiverse adults.

Our concern, of course, is that Anthony is enabled throughout his life. He has an amazing memory, he's funny, kind, devoted and wants to do the best in his activities. He has talents he doesn't recognise and we hope that he'll be apprecaited for these and supported in the parts of a work place he may find more challenging. It's all just ahead of him but it all feels so daunting and perhaps that's part of his mental struggles. Where will he work, what will he be doing, how will he get a job? All things re regularly talks to us about. Amazing really. Let's hope he's allowed to stay that way.

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