Employment experiences of people with learning difficulties and autism in Essex

We were commissioned by Essex County Council to explore the employment experiences of young people with autism and/or learning disabilities. In Essex, most people with learning disabilities and autism are unemployed, and the council wanted to better understand the barriers these individuals faced when going through the employment process. They also wanted to identify specific practices that certain employers were enacting to improve both the application process and the job experience of people with autism/learning disabilities, so that they could better support their residents.

The challenges faced by people in employment are numerous—it’s often not clear to them what job opportunities are available to them; they, and their parents, also frequently exhibited a fear of failure in employment, leading to avoidance of trying new things; we also learned that support services are not doing enough to encourage paid employment.

Employers also often didn’t push to get the best out of employees with learning difficulties and autism, and co-workers frequently didn’t understand the support that therequired, creating work environments that made it more difficult for them to succeed.

However, our research team identified various opportunities that parents, education and support services, employers and the council can implement to improve employment experiences of people with autism and learning difficulties.

We discovered that for those with learning difficulties/autism, being in employment generally increased their sense of self-worth and identity, encouraged them to think more long-term about their aspirations, and also foster opportunities to socialise and form new connections with people.

This research highlights the important role employment plays for people with learning difficulties and autism, and the many ways that different support networks can better help these people to flourish at work; a challenge that Essex County Council is keen to support across this country. We created a short film in order to bring to life the experiences of the people we interviewed, which we delivered alongside our final presentation at an event with stakeholders across Essex and other local authorities. Families that took part in the research also attended the launch. 

We were delighted to have received the LARIA Award for most engaging communication of Local Area Research or Analysis, for this work with Essex County Council.