We are very conscious that as we cover education issues this September, that not everyone is going back to education. Some people and moving on and some people may be taking a different path to college – this can often be overlooked. Darragh Byrne of Gheel Autism Services, writes on the options for young adults with Autism who are not currently in education

So you are now 18 and have left school – what next?

Many of you will not have completed any examinations while at school, and this may not have been your choice. In a lot of cases, you may believe that the school system has failed you – maybe through a lack of understanding of autism, a lack of flexibility, an overemphasis on academic success or on the need to stick to the curriculum rather than focusing more on life skills. In addition, the continued lack of adequate transition planning or preparation for life after school prior to this already difficult period of your life, means that you have been caused a lot of unnecessary stress and frustration.

Maybe you’ll go to college, maybe you’ll get a job, maybe you just want to take some time out after so many years of school, maybe you left school a long time ago and have not been doing much at all such as staying at home or just staying in your bedroom, maybe you are going to attend a day service, residential service or outreach-based service similar to my own. Maybe you have no idea what your options are.  If so, this article may help.

Firstly, if you are going to attend an adult service for individuals with autism, I wish you happiness and success in all your endeavours. I hope that the staff support you to achieve your goals and fulfil your enormous potential. I also hope that you meet lots of new friends and enjoy the experience. Remember that this is your life and you can choose to live it however you wish. Don’t be afraid to remind the staff of that. The aims of the service should be to maximise your independence and enhance your quality of life in a supporting and stimulating environment while all the time respecting your unique individuality and your own specific needs and wishes. This is your fundamental right, so if you ever feel unhappy about anything then inform a member of the staff.

If it’s employment you are looking for then the following could be good options for you whether you are in a service or not:

  • Supported employment: The IASE promotes supported employment at a national level, to jobseekers, employers, disability and other services, policy makers and the general public. To find out more click here.
  • An apprenticeship through SOLAS: Apprenticeship is the recognised means by which people are trained to become craftspeople in Ireland. To find out more click here.
  • Work 4 U: Work4ULtd is a recruitment and employment service set up to assist people with a disability or mental health difficulties to secure and maintain a job in the open labour market. To find out more click here
  • INTREO: Intreo is a new service from the Department of Social Protection and is a single point of contact for all employment and income supports. Designed to provide a more streamlined approach, Intreo offers practical, tailored employment services and supports for jobseekers and employers alike. To find out more click here.
  • Hand On Heart: Hand on Heart is all about creating jobs for people with disabilities. Using a new ‘Social Enterprise’ model, they are developing self-sustaining enterprises that create jobs for people with various disabilities in truly inclusive work settings. To find out more click here.

Although there has been an increase in schemes and initiatives in recent years to find meaningful paid employment for individuals with autism, a desperate lack of opportunities continues to be the harsh reality. There appears to be a lack of willingness on the part of employers to take a chance on the autism population and this will only change with an increased awareness of autism in society. Once employers realise the enormous untapped resource that exists and the fantastic employees they could potentially hire, the better it will be for all. Let’s hope that day comes soon.

If it’s further education you are looking for then maybe you could explore these options:

  • A PLC Course: City of Dublin Education & Training Board CDETB have over 400 courses available, there are ETB’s right across Ireland. To find out more click here.
  • QQI/FETAC Courses: QQI provide extensive high-quality education and training opportunities with qualifications that are widely valued nationally and internationally. To find out more click here.
  • National Learning Network: NLN provides a range of flexible training courses and support services for people who need specialist support. To find out more click here.
  • EVE: EVE is a programme within the HSE, whose primary ethos is to provide community-based programmes for adults with various disabilities through a network of Vocational, Rehabilitative and Clubhouse services in 21 locations across the HSE. To find out more click here.
  • ASDAN Course: ASDAN offer programmes and qualifications that grow skills for learning, employment and for life. Every course is designed to develop the learners’ personal, transferable and employability skills through an engaging and challenging curriculum of activities, leading to a certificate of achievement. They range in duration from 10 hours to 150 hours. To find out more click here.
  • Springboard courses: Springboard+ offer a choice of 181 free, part-time and intensive conversion courses in higher education from certificate, to degree, to post-graduate level. To find out more click here.
  • Online courses that you can do from home: These is a whole range of online courses which you can take. Some are accredited, this means that they are formally recognised, while some are not, but can still teach you useful skills or can be enjoyable and provide a “taster” to things which you may like to explore further. Some courses are free, while others can cost money or be expensive so it is a good idea to think carefully about what you would like to do and get some advice on it before you pay for a course. There are many websites offering such courses but ALISON.com is a great place to find free, online courses on a huge range of subjects… its also Irish ;).

In our experience, there has been a slight improvement in support services and assistance available to individuals with a disability within further education in Ireland but we still have a long way to go. More investment is required in this area if we are to increase the completion rates of attendees, particularly those on the autism spectrum. An increased awareness of autism within these settings is absolutely imperative if students are to succeed and I would encourage all providers to invest in training.

If you would like to explore more social opportunities, then maybe you could look into these options:

  • Music Matters: Music Matters runs choirs, youth arts projects, orchestras, usic lessons, hip hop and rap workshops, for many different groups across Ireland. To find out more click here.
  • Connect People Network: The CPN support social opportunities and is led by people with extra support needs. The CPN promote rights around friendships, relationships and sexuality. To find out more click here.
  • Drama Courses: There are lots of drama courses available across the country and they are a great way to gain confidence and meet new people. There are so many different drama courses it is a good idea to ask around, look locally or do a google search to find the one most suited to you.
  • Special Olympics Ireland: For the sport lovers amongst you. To find out more click here.
  • Coding: There are a number of organisations across Ireland teaching coding to all ages, one such example is Code Institute. To find out more click here.
  • Social Groups: There are now many social groups in existence for individuals with autism spanning the country – a quick Google search should direct you to your nearest one!

Some people may perceive the area of special interests as being not very relevant however, it could be of benefit to focus on your area of special interest as a potential career option. For example, attention to detail is quite a common trait amongst individuals with autism and this can be a very valuable skill in areas such as software development and software testing in particular. Check out Specialisterne Ireland – an organisation which helps people with Autism, who are talented in areas requiring attention to detail such as computer science or data analysis access the workplace. Another example would be how Temple Grandin managed to successfully turn her special interest in animal welfare and behaviour into a very successful career (check out the movie ‘Temple Grandin’ which is the biopic of her life).

You may be asking yourself the question “what are services like Gheel doing to try to change the existing systems and improve them?” The answer is that we are constantly trying to knock on doors and create more opportunities for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. We will continue to advocate for them whenever possible and emphasise the need for society to focus on their abilities rather than on their disabilities.

For more information on Gheel Autism Services and their work click here.