The National Autistic Society has made a timely reminder that many people with autism are not working, even though many of them want a job. Could assistance dogs help people with autism get into work?
For many years I have thought that assistance dogs could have a role to play in supporting people with autism to get and sustain a job. There is no doubt that many people with autism have the talents that many employers are looking for, not least their capacity for sticking at a problem, handling detail and working with great accuracy. My good friend and autism consultant Ann Memmott tells me people with autism are significantly more accurate in their work, so they will be an asset to many businesses.
So how might a dog help? The biggest obstacles for people with autism to find and sustain a job are related to the social interaction that inevitably forms part of the recruitment process and the politics of “the office”.
Getting to work can be a major problem for people, but a dog offers a focus in negotiating what can be a traumatic part of the day. The confidence gained by having a dog at your side could be the very thing that makes the journey possible.
Many people don’t get as far as an interview because they struggle to negotiate the difficult journey required to get there in the first place. For some, an assistance dog could help by lowering anxiety when dealing with difficult situations. An assistance dog is recognition that someone needs a certain level of support with some aspect of their lives.
Once at work, not everyone wants to spend time interacting with other work colleagues. And yet, everyone has difficult times during the working day and a dog could offer a person with autism a focus for them and help cope with the pressures of office life.
Taking a dog out for a brief walk could be the thing that will help someone deal with the pressures that are an inevitable part of the working day. A lot of people who are able to take their dog to work will recognise the value of having a dog around and the issue is just magnified for people with autism.
Dogs will not be the answer for everyone, but Ann, and others I have spoken to about this over the years, believe they could offer a significant solution that will mean some people with autism get and sustain jobs. We are keen to explore this and hope to team up with some other organisations to explore whether assistance dogs could help people with autism get into work.