When employing someone with Autism and Intellectual disabilities, taking the pressure off everyone involved is vital.

It takes time for anyone to adjust to a new workplace.

It takes time for anyone to learn the “ropes” and the skills needed in a new job.

It almost certainly will take someone with an Intellectual disability time, maybe even a long time, to adjust and learn the skills they need to do the job needed.

If you have found a good match between the person and the position then you can be confident they will “get there”.

They just need time.

Work Experience

The biggest surprise to me about our whole experience employing Madi, has been what a CRUCIAL part work experience played.

From the outset I spoke with Madi and Janelle (Madi’s mother) about Madi being paid.

Janelle was adamant that Madi start purely on a work experience basis. Janelle’s argument was that it would put too much pressure on Madi and themselves. They would constantly worry that Madi wasn’t earning her keep and that it might all turn pear-shaped. Madi would be anxious that she might not be performing well enough to keep her job.

Work experience would take the pressure off.

I was not keen. I believe in a fair day’s work for a fair days pay. Plus, I abhor vulnerable people being taken advantage of.

Janelle “won”.

I can see now, that having Madi for work experience afforded us all the luxury of time.

Madi and her family didn’t have the pressure of worrying if she was performing to a level that justified her employment.

And, work experience meant I could afford to be patient. Madi could take as long as needed to learn the skills needed to eventually step into a paid role at Starfish.

Work experience took a little pressure off our other staff, too. They could afford to be patient with their expectations of Madi too. Work experience removes possible resentment from wage and role comparison. This was never an issue for us at Starfish, but I can see that it could potentially be an issue in other situations.

Madi’s work experience started with two hours one day a week. This gradually extended to three then four hours. And eventually to two x 4hr days. The time frame was just less than six months (noting that Madi was away for a few weeks representing our country in the Special Olympics!).

Work Skills suggest that an average of 600hrs work experience is linked to a successful transition to work for those with intellectual disabilities.

In hindsight clearly Janelle was right and I was wrong.

I am now a work experience convert.

The value of work experience should not be underestimated.

Work experience gives:

  • time and patience to learn skills
  • a seamless transition to permanent employment
  • opportunity to try different jobs and work places
  • new skills
  • valuable references and work history
Madi’s very first day of permanent employment was a natural progression from work experience and pressure-free as a result.

Main Take Home

Work experience is NOT a bad thing. It isn’t taking advantage of a vulnerable person. It actually gives opportunity and makes a successful transition to paid employment far more likely.

It is so worth it.

Want to learn more about employing someone with intellectual disabilities, the things we’ve found to be crucial (and at times surprising) to making “it” work so well for us? We’ve put together a series of posts so everyone who needs this information can easily access it.

  • The Accidental Employer: the back story of how we came to employ someone with an intellectual disability
  • Perfect Match: getting the right fit
  • Savvy Collaboration: Communication with ALL the key players
  • Eye on the road but hand on the wheel: keeping expectations and goals fluid
  • Longing to Belong: truly inclusive practice at work
  • Teach then train: best way to push beyond the present
  • Routines = Success: for independence, confidence and learning new skills
  • A moment with Emily: a sister’s perspective
  • A moment with Janelle: a family’s experience of the process
  • A moment with Julie: observations from The Disability Trust Business Development Officer