Autism is a vast spectrum which is underpinned by communication and socialisation impairments. No matter where an adult with autism lies on the autistic spectrum they will have impaired communication and socialisation skills. Some adults with autism will struggle more than other to communicate effectively. One size simply does not fit all autistic adults.
While some adults with autism will understand that being sent on a ‘back to work’ scheme means, there will be many who do not fully understand what it means.
One of the biggest issues for anyone who has autism is the ability to communicate effectively. Autism impacts on both expressive and receptive language. Unless the person who is communicating has been specifically trained to communicate effectively with someone who has autism we can never be sure that the person has fully understood what we are trying to convey.
Stress and anxiety can and does impact on the functionality of someone with autism. When someone with autism is feeling extremely anxious and stressed they will try to extricate themselves from the situation that is creating their anxiety and stress as quickly as possible. That means that even if they do not understand what is being communicated to them, they will state that they do to enable them to remove themselves for that situation.
• To what extent does a claimant’s failure to meet their conditions arise from them not having a sufficient understanding of what is expected? Are there ways in which this could be made clearer to them?
Even if an adult with autism has fully understood that if they fail to comply with the ‘back to work’ scheme some adults will be totally overwhelmed by the actions that they need to carry out to stop them from being sanctioned. The fear of being sanctioned, will be for some adults, be the very reason why they fail to function effectively which will then result in them being sanctioned. Anxiety is an integral part of autism and increased levels of anxiety impacts on the functionality of the person with autism.
It is not just about making it clear to someone with autism, although that is of course important, it is about having people who understand autism assigned to that person to support them through the ‘back to work’ scheme.
Parents are telling us that they themselves are acting as the adults support structure and to ensure that they comply with the scheme, so that they are not at risk of being sanctioned. This is placing a huge amount of pressure on parents and carers who have told us that they feel that it is they who are being sanctioned because they have adult’s children with autism.
Adults with autism who do not have a parent or carer to support them are finding themselves under increasing pressure to comply with the scheme and we are being told by some adults that their mental and emotional wellbeing then suffers, with some having to seek expert help.
• Do sanctioned claimants understand why they have been sanctioned, and if not are there ways in which this could be made clearer to them?
Again it is not just to do with understanding and it is not just about making it clear to people with autism. It is about having someone who understands the condition helping and supporting them through the sequence or process to ensure that they do comply with the scheme, and do not become so anxious about not fulfilling what they have to that they then fail.
• Do sanctioned claimants feel informed throughout the sanctions process, and if not how could their awareness be improved?
The issues that adults with autism face while they are on this scheme have to be addressed before they reach a point whereby they are sanctioned. At the moment we are setting adults with autism up to fail because their condition, and how it impacts, is not being fully understood by the Department of Work and Pension. This is something that Act Now for Autism believes needs to be urgently addressed.
The whole process could be improved for adults with autism if an advocate was made available to them. That person would be able to get to know the individual communication preferences of autistic claimants, thereby perhaps reducing sanctions.
Act Now for Autism has been calling for advocates for adults with autism to enable them to access the benefits/benefit assessment system since July 2010. Without the offer of an advocate adults with autism are being put at a substantial disadvantage to adults with other disabilities because of their impaired communication and socialisation skills.
Adults with autism have problems with all forms of communication and that includes filling in the necessary forms to appeal a decision. The way in which to make the whole process accessible and clear for adults with autism is to make sure that there are autism specific advocates available to them who can support and enable them.