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Autism 4 -Education, Technology and Employment

This Photo is licensed under CC BY-SA
 Autism Europe which represents 90 organisations across Europe which concern themselves with the rights of ASD people and their families, estimates that autism affects one in ten people, and of these only 10% are in employment including supported and sheltered employment -far lower than for others with a disability. For this reason it is campaigning not only for more autism- friendly environments, but a change in social attitudes and public policy to end discrimination against autistic people. It is calling for “socially responsible” procurement policies to enable those with ASD to enjoy the same social rights as others in accordance with UN and European Human Rights Charters. This includes equal access to education and freedom from bullying and harassment.

The right to a quality education is seen as the key to enabling autistic people to develop their full potential and to improve their chances of obtaining higher paying employment. Similar aims with high emphasis on education and inclusion have also been espoused by Scandinavian countries. See Norway for example. 

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial. Signs of autism can now be picked up as early as one to three years of age, though it doesn't necessarily mean that just because your child shows some autistic tendencies, that they are autistic or will have difficulties for life. However, if you have a child whom you think could be autistic, the sooner they are professionally tested the better and the more targeted help there will be. It would also reveal whether the child has any other developmental conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD or speech disorders which could affect their ability to learn. It must also be remembered that no two ASD children are alike and their support needs will be very different.

If you can’t find information from your local doctor, child health services or schools, this Australian parenting site will give you some indication of what to look out for. The Spectrum's checklist (another Australian organisation) is also very good and has translation into several languages.


In Australia, ASD children may not be excluded from school - not even from normal classrooms or the mainstream curriculum, though the child’s progress may be evaluated against previous performance rather than compared to that of the rest of the class. 

Preliminary studies from Norway suggest that joining mainstream classes is beneficial for autistic children without being unduly disruptive for other students. Indeed, when social behaviours for all have been included in the curriculum, teachers have had appropriate training and there are time out options, behaviour of all students improved. Alongside these developments various alternative or autism -friendly schools have also emerged and even conventional education has been made more accessible with the help of technology.

Autism – friendly Schools

There is a long list of Autism - friendly schools in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and South Africa in Autism Parenting Magazine. Wiki also has some including Pathlight School in Singapore. There may be considerable differences between these schools - presumably most offer more understanding, trained staff and individually tailored programs, but you would need to check out their websites and talk to other parents to find out which ones would be most suited to a child's needs. 

Big Picture Schools

Big Picture Schools were originally developed in Rhode Island in 1998 for disengaged students, but  the concept has since been adopted by other countries including Israel, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, India and China. The main difference compared to conventional schools, is that instead of having a one -size -fits -all approach, classes are tailored to the individual learner and their strengths and interests. Although there are as yet only a few such schools in Australia, a large trial involving 50,000 students is set to begin in Victoria.

Instead of spending most of their time in class, students spend more time in the community, online, with mentors or face -to -face,  and simply getting more ‘real world’ experience. They retain the same teacher throughout their schooling. Though effective for children who have given up on education, such schools also benefit  those who are doing well, because they encourage all students to advance at their own pace and foster greater creativity, regardless of ability.

I can hear teachers groaning now. How will we ever be able give each child individual attention? We already have too little time to do all the things we need to do now and surely it will be very expensive. The word is that it needn’t cost more than the present system, especially if lost productivity of those presently lost to the system is taken into account. One way to do this, would be to make greater use of technology which has also made great strides.

Technology to the Rescue

Firstly there are now many types of assistive technology – for example, for students who have difficulty communicating, tablets with icons, text to speech and vice versa, offer useful alternatives. Other programs teach social skills such as helping students to recognise what others are feeling – anger, sadness, being pleased or happy and so on, which many autistic children lack. 

There are also now apparently some 20,000 educational Apps which could help students to learn online. Unfortunately, the only one I’m remotely familiar with is the Khan Academy which my son used some years ago to catch up on some advanced maths he needed for his Engineering Course.  

This has free, graded online instruction in subjects ranging from maths, finance, biology, chemistry, art,  and history right through to astronomy and medicine in line with national curriculum guidelines. Students at any level, not necessarily autistic ones, work at their own pace and in their own time and cannot progress to the next level until they have mastered the previous one. 

Teachers need not fear for their jobs. With routine work and drills out of the way, teachers would be free to do the work which humans do best, such as providing encouragement and human contact to those in their care. I'm thinking here of the new fully automated model Aged Care facility in Aalborg, Denmark.  While routine tasks have been outsourced to electronic monitors and equipment, no fewer humans are employed because they provide personal contact -touch, conversation,  physio and other services. 

One advantage of Khan Academy for example, is that teachers can monitor remotely how well the class is doing, which areas students are struggling with and who needs more help. This would enable teachers to concentrate on those having difficulty as well as removing other barriers to learning.

Preventing Bullying

Children who are different, including disabled and autistic children, often come in for more than their share of bullying and ostracism - 60% of disabled children in the USA according to the clip below, compared to around 25% of other children, which is bad enough in itself, so for them, their classmates, schools and communities, I’ll include this little clip.

For tips and resources on how to prevent bullying - for schools, educators, parents and students, see the excellent Aussie The Bully Project Website. It also has information on dealing with Cyberbullying which is even more prevalent than the traditional kind. 

The teenage years are difficult enough to negotiate for normal students, let alone autistic ones. Listen to these young women explain how fraught relationships are when you don't understand emotional communication and unspoken subtexts. However, this is also something which would benefit all students - i.e. going beyond the mechanics of reproduction to cover issues such as consent, how do you know if someone really loves you and so on, and where to go for help, so ASD students needn't be singled out. Similarly, though autistic people may be more prone to depression and anxiety, counselling sessions would be of benefit to all.

Peer Support, Mentoring and creating an Inclusive  School Culture

The I Can Network in Victoria (AU) currently provides 80 schools with face - to - face or online peer support and group mentoring for autistic students and works to create inclusive school cultures. Almost three quarters of the staff are on the Autism Spectrum. This is an excellent idea which could be adopted by other jurisdictions.

 For tips on how to communicate with autistic students in a school setting click here
There are also excellent children's books to explain autism to other students and siblings.

The Transition to Work and Adulthood

In addition to academic skills, communication and social skills, more emphasis is needed on preparing young ASD adults for an independent life beyond school. Autism Europe makes a number of recommendations including more training which plays to an individual’s strengths so that they can obtain higher paid employment and can participate more fully in society. Interestingly, Kahn Academy also offers some life skills such as Financial Literacy, Internet Safety and so on, but given the wide diversity of people with ASD, these must be tailor -made for each individual. More training is also needed for families and support workers.


In order to fulfill the requirements of International Conventions relating the rights of people with a disability, employers also need to be more conscientious about avoiding discrimination against autistic people and overcoming negative social attitudes and structural issues. Autistic people may need more flexibility, some accommodations or additional support, but some compensation may be made by governments to cover this inconvenience as some governments already do, without limiting the autistic person’s ability to earn equal pay. 

Getting rid of Stereotypes

One of the first things employers need to know is that there are big differences between people on the spectrum. Not every autistic person will be an IT specialist, an Elon Musk or a Rainman. While some autistic people will need support all their lives, others will be able to lead happy, successful and productive lives with just a little more understanding or with the right support at critical times.  


 Autism -friendly workplaces

Click here for how to make workplaces more autism -friendly or for how autistic people can adapt them to meet their needs, click here

Beyond Work and School

Police and First Responders

There are several online courses for Police and First Responders which will make society a safer place for autistic people. More than one tragedy could have been averted had officers or others known what to do with a person unable to communicate or acting in an unusual manner. 

Autism Europe also proposes that autistic people should be issued with a special Identity Card which lets  anyone viewing it know that the person has a hidden disability.

 Free Online Autism Training for Police is available via Dimensions in the UK

The USA has several ASD Training courses for Law Enforcement and First Responders but I don't know if these are free, online or available to others. A few examples follow:

Anderson Centre For Autism Supportive Programs

Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital has ASD Training for Law Enforcement Officers

Texas Health and Human Services has a course for First Responders

Niagara University has First Responder training including Police, Fire Fighters, Paramedics


How to make Emergency Departments more Autism -friendly

I had hoped to write more about  Autism -friendly design, but I'm still exploring that, so for now I will leave you with some suggestions regarding emergency departments put together by the Victorian Government (AU) which lay out the basic principles.

One in every Hundred

As the number of people being diagnosed with autism has increased, so too has the number of theories about possible causes, along with a great flurry of research. Unfortunately, it is still largely inconclusive, though for the most part vaccinations have been ruled out as an independent factor. The bad news is that there doesn’t appear to be a single cause but many, several of which may be inter -linked. They range from birth trauma, genetic disposition, infections, having older parents or being exposed to a range of pollutants including tobacco smoke, pesticides, chemicals and heavy metals, drugs or various combinations of same. For a quick overview of current research click here 

While more research is definitely needed, autistic people and their families can't wait until all the data is in, so let's start with things that work and make the world a more autism - friendly place.