An innovative centre which helps people with autism find meaningful work has been shortlisted for a national award.
The Autism Centre for Employment (ACE) was founded by Dr Beatriz López at the University of Portsmouth as a partnership between the university, four local authorities (Southampton, Hampshire, Portsmouth and Isle of Wight) and Autism Hampshire. It was set up with funding from the Department of Health: Autism Innovation fund.
ACE adopts an unusual approach. Unlike other employment services for people with autism, it primarily targets employers. The centre has developed and tested an innovative and cost-effective set of employment-specific assessment tools that help in finding the right job for a person with autism and also help employers make the right adjustments to suit the needs of their employee. This ensures increased job retention by providing a satisfactory experience for both employers and employees.
According to a report by the National Autistic Society, 85 per cent of people with autism are unemployed. As a result, they face financial hardship and increased rates of mental health problems.
Dr López said: “This is surprising given the numerous examples of talented young adults with autism, especially in areas relating to high technology, data analysis and computer programming.”
Dr López, associate head for innovation in the Department of Psychology, has been researching autism since 1997 and founded the Autism Centre for Employment last January. She is also the founder of the Autism Research Network which includes researchers, health care providers and people with autism.
She said: “I’m delighted our work has been recognised as being of such value in a highly competitive national awards programme.”
ACE is in the running for an Outstanding Adult Services award from the National Autistic Society. The awards will honour the work of individuals and of teams of professionals.
The judges, who include consultants, researchers and those who work in autism in the community, are judging on the basis of how innovative and creative entries are, the impact projects have had on autistic people, and whether the work has potential to last long-term.
The winners will be announced on March 1.