Autism-inclusive employment resources

Autism-inclusive employment resources in Newfoundland fail to compensate for poor government intervention

By Jade Standaloft, 2015 L.L.B., University of Tasmania.

Another positive step in autism promotion has been taken recently with the introduction of  a new jobseekers’ database, aimed at connecting those on the autism spectrum with employers. The database, developed by Ready, Willing and Able and the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, works to provide those not already engaged with a formal employment service with the opportunity to find diagnosis-appropriate employment – something currently unavailable to the 1 in 4 unemployed adults with intellectual disabilities or an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis.

Autism operates within the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and is characterised by qualitative impairment in social interaction and communication. As a result, those with autism may be ill-suited to an unaccommodating workplace and therefore may struggle to find steady employment and gain self-sufficiency and independence within society. Such initiatives indicate a hopeful movement away from the medical model of disability, which by its nature discourages the necessary workplace accommodations.

Joseph Straus has defined the medical model as identifying disability as a pathological deficit, where the disability of the individual is indicative of a deviation from the norm and is therefore in need of remedying, in order for the individual to assimilate into society. By contrast, the social model has been defined by Anita Silvers as treating disability as a social construct, identifying the need for change as lying with the broader society, rather than the individual themselves. While these models are neither exclusive nor comprehensive of broader disability discourse, they do represent the most common characterisations of disability. The introduction of measures such as jobseekers’ database created by  Ready, Willing and Able  indicates a promotion of this latter model in the broader community. However, small progresses should not be misconstrued as a broader societal shift, particularly as the website was established by an autism society, and not by a broader government initiative to promote autism inclusion. Such initiatives still remain an exception to the norm, are frequently privately established, and signify that significantly more needs to be done on a government level for an autism-inclusive society to be prevalent in Canada.

For example, severe issues still exist in autistic therapy funding, particularly  in relation to early childhood support. As reported by the Parliament of Canada,  in British Columbia, families are only authorised to claim up to $20,000 a year per child under six years old for ABA/IBI programs; this amount drops to $6,000 when the child is over six. Manitoba also restricts support to $6000 per year per child for pre-school and school-aged services, while Prince Edward Island offers approximately $10,000 per child, per year for preschool children. Nunavut has no autism specific programs at all. Newfoundland and Labrador, , allocates $40,000 per year for two years during infancy, and a further $10,000 for one year for children over six years old. While these may seem like significant amounts of money, the average cost for these services run upwards of $60,000 annually, a number which does not consider other expenses that may be incurred  while raising a special needs child. Therefore, the financial pressure for families is still extraordinarily high, and may restrict the provision of support for children in need.