Onhandiscute is a new part of @talentEgal where every month we take a look at a different disability or illness. As part of our plan to raise awareness, in these articles, we’re giving you some background information on each of them.
Today, somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000 people in France are autistic. Autism is a multifactorial – clearly genetic – developmental disorder, which starts around the age of 3 and persists into adulthood. It simultaneously affects social interaction, communication, both verbal and non-verbal, as well as behavior, with repetitive movements, rituals and a very narrow field of interest. The disorder is different for every single person with autism and, unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rain Man, people with autism aren’t necessarily all exceptionally gifted intellectuals.
Autism, a PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), affects around 8,000 children every year, or 1 in 150, with a higher proportion of boys affected than girls (4 boys for every girl). It’s possible to spot the early signs of autism as early as 18 to 36 months. The average age for testing for autism in France is at 6 years old. As things stand, there is currently no cure for autism. But the benefits of early treatment are well-recognized: after the age of 4, these children’s learning chances already start to diminish. Indeed, early childhood is a period of enormous potential for learning as the development of the brain is so malleable. Early-intervention contributes the most to neural changes and therefore behavioral changes within children. It must be said, however, that a person with autism can work on their issues throughout their entire life, long into adulthood. Care plans should be sufficiently intensive and personalized, meaning care that is adapted to each person’s own personality and regularly reevaluated in line with their development. A multi-pronged approach should be implemented to provide all-round support: education for more autonomy, teaching and therapy for both good physical and mental health.
What about employment and people with autism? Autistic people represent just 1% of the workforce in France. Yet lots of companies express the need to find people who have a particular eye for detail, a real flair for repetitive tasks, zero tolerance for mistakes, true grit and perseverance along with genuine loyalty: all of these assets clearly leading to high-quality work. A written to-do list, clearly organized lists of priorities, real frameworks, accepting that their comments could be a little ‘raw’, as well as understanding that they’re not always capable of expressing their thoughts in the most nuanced way are just some of the little things to know when helping someone with autism be successful in the workplace.
The current French government, for example, with the help of Ségolène Neuville, Secretary of State for people with disabilities and the fight against exclusion, has implemented the Autism Plan 2013-2017. This plan acts on a need to reaffirm the strong political commitment to helping people with autism or other PDDs to progress within society. The emphasis is on early testing but also on support, by training caregivers for schools and in the workplace. Science is also recognized, with more support for research into autism, its origin and potential treatments.