Autism and employment in Spain

While the joint EUCAP submission to the UN CRPD General Discussion on work and employment was prepared, some EUCAP member organisations developed statements and descriptions regarding employment issues in their respective countries. The following comments by the Spanish CEPAMA (Comité para la Promocion y apoyo de las Niñas y Mujeres Autistas) shed light on the situations of autistic people in Spain, with an emphasis on girls and women.

We must defend the right to a quality and appropriate job for our community, through the respect and values of neurodiversity, and the qualities and strengths of Autistic people. Furthermore, we call for a truly inclusive society where this collective group as citizens with full rights has an active participation to contribute successfully.

In countries such as Spain, national law allocates 2% of jobs in companies with more than 50 employees for people suffering disabilities. However, it is true to say that many companies rarely fulfil with this quota rate, as they prefer being fined for the non-compliance rather than hiring handicapped workers.

Even more, there are additional barriers for autistic people when applying for employment in public institutions since the selection procedure only recognize physical, sensory, or intellectual disabilities. Most of autistic people who wish to get access to these job positions are not recognized within these categories, so they can’t opt for any of these job offers. On the other hand, disabilities are not recognised based on a diagnosis. Instead of that, autistic people must pass a second evaluation of their disabilities and most of them don’t fit into any of the disability cases. Consequently, the autistic community must deal with their working life by themselves, without any help, support, or reasonable adjustments.

In the working environment, we have noticed that hierarchy and coworkers suffer from a general lack of knowledge about autism and work adjustments are not fully respected. The Occupational Health and Human Resources Departments do not know the features of autism and they just follow old stereotypes that should have been overcome forty years ago (autism- isolation- intellectual disability).

It’s an assault to the basic rights for autistic people to compete fairly for a job when overfitting is required in order to get it. This huge effort makes that the lives and the health of autistic workers are harmed, and it jeopardises an independent life.

We are asking for:

  • Training and acknowledge programs dealing with autistic workers should be implemented throughout business companies in such a way that rights and support aid for autistic people are respected in such working environments.
  • Assistance aid to job position and selection processes for suitable timetables, arrangements of selection procedures, job interviews and selection boards so allowing autistic people to access to quality jobs on equal terms with the rest of citizens.
  • Having protocols for welcoming and initial training in social interactions and running of tasks at workplace.
  • The existence of a mentor or working coach who can provide guiding support for different tasks, assessing their different abilities, solving situations of conflict or accomplish suitable stress management.

SPECIFIC DIFFICULTIES NUMBERED FOR AUTISTIC WOMEN,

  • Barriers to employment access. The selection processes, which they have to deal with, are not fitted properly to their necessities and handicap them sometimes with overwhelming and imperceptible disadvantages. They are not recognized as a person suffering with disabilities and elegible for support aid because of their camouflaging behavior (compensating for and masking autistic characteristics) differing from their autistic male peers.
  • Disparities between the level of skills and the professional category for which they are applying. Many of them having completed high education studies or specialized training education are unable to get a job proportionate to their skills. This has an impact on their salary income and quality of life.
  • Difficulties on job maintenance. They are used to working for several years, dealing with unsustainable levels of internal stress due to job conditions not being adapted correctly to their needs. In spite of that, they managed to camouflage their difficulties while displaying professional performance and suffering in silence the drama of misunderstanding. This kind of situations may be prolonged over time becomes many time unbearable and produce overload and exhaustion, mental blockages and collapse, somatization disorders, leading all to to job abandonment caused by anxiety or depression.
  • A halt on their professional development. Although some of them are able to hold positions of high responsibility and leadership, and others perform multifaceted technical or coordination tasks, they are dismissed by their colleagues, who do not understand their difficulties on social interaction, on their specific emotional control, on their over or under sensitive responses and excessive cognitive rigidity. In many cases, they end up at work as victims of mobbing.
  • Obstacles for promotion opportunities. Some of them are blamed for their intense dedication to their job, which distrust managers, who feeling threatened by their competency, downgrade them to other professional tasks where they are not fully able to perform their skills.
  • A hopeless feeling. The business environment is unfamiliar with the degree of difficulties overcome by autistic women to mask their condition and create compensatory strategies to disguise their disorder.

Read more about CEPAMA on their website (in Spanish)