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- Bengt Persson “Brief report: A longitudinal study of quality of life and independence among adult men with autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 30, no.1 (2000).
- Patricia Howlin, Jennifer Alcock, and Catherine Burkin, “An 8 year follow-up of a specialist supported employment service for high-ability adults with autism or Asperger syndrome” Autism 9, no.5 (2005).
- Krister Järbrink, “The economic consequences of autistic spectrum disorder among children in a Swedish municipality” Autism 11, no.5 (2007).
- Krister Järbrink and Martin Knapp, “The Economic Impact of Autism in Britain”, Autism 5, no.1 (2001).
- Paul T. Shattuck, et al., “Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth With an Autism Spectrum Disorder”, Pediatrics 129, no.6 (2012).
- Robert Evert Cimera and Richard J. Cowan, “The costs of services and employment outcomes achieved by adults with autism in the US” Autism 13, no.3 (2009)
- Dawn Hendricks, “Employment and adults with autism spectrum disorders: Challenges and strategies for success”, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 32, no.2 (2010)
- 3rd Enabling Masterplan Steering Committee, 3rd Enabling Masterplan 2017 – 2021: Caring Nation, Inclusive Society (2016), p. 54
- Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Factsheet on Enabling Employment Credit (accessed 12 March 2020).
- SG Enable website (accessed 3 March 2020)
- SG Enable website (accessed 9 March 2020)
- Goh Yan Han, “New accreditation for firms hiring people with disabilities” The Straits Times (Singapore), 9 Oct 2020.
- President’s Challenge website (accessed 9 March 2020)
Employment promotes personal dignity, improves the quality of life of adults on the autism spectrum and improves cognitive performance., When adults on the spectrum are gainfully employed, there is less reliance on government handouts and, ultimately, more contribution to taxes. Research has also shown that the cost of community supports decreases too.,,
Yet, globally, many adults on the spectrum continue to struggle to find and hold on to their jobs. Compared to adults with other disabilities, persons on the spectrum also have higher rates of unemployment. For those who manage to buck the trend, studies have found that they tend to work fewer hours and earn less in wages per week.
To address these issues, a continuum of suitable work options must be established.
This would take more than merely increasing the number of jobs available to persons on the spectrum – a reimagination of what the concept of work and employment means is necessary. This way, more opportunities are available to all persons on the spectrum, including those who are unable to be part of the traditional workforce due to their high support needs.
Many adults on the spectrum are also likely to require some form of job support – the provision of on-the-job support services has been shown to increase their employment outcomes.  The following strategies are key to successful supported employment programmes for adults on the spectrum:
- Ensure job match during placement.
- Provide employability training for both hard skills (i.e., technical know-how) and soft skills (e.g., communication) – these can be in simulated training environments or during “on-the-job” training.
- Modify the workplace, especially in terms of putting in place workplace structures, e.g., visual instructions, organisation of work materials, tasks, and schedules, etc.
- Establish long-term supports, including continued opportunities for career progression and development, upskilling or broad skilling within the company, and to prepare for jobs of the future.
- Provide continued autism awareness training to employers and co-workers.
|Summary of Current Situation|
In Singapore, persons with disabilities (PwDs) form 3.4% of the resident population, but only 0.1% of the private sector workforce. Fortunately, there are several programmes and schemes implemented by the government to increase the employment opportunities for persons with disabilities:
- Establishment of SG Enable, which acts as a central one-stop agency to enhance employability and employment options for persons with disabilities.
- Rollout of the Special Employment Credit (SEC) for employers who hire persons with disabilities – 16% of the employee’s monthly income is covered by the SEC. In March 2020, it was announced that the SEC will be replaced by the Enabling Employment Credit (EEC) from 2021 onwards. Under this new wage offset scheme, 20% of the employee’s monthly income will be covered by EEC, up to a cap of $400.
- Launch of the Open Door Programme funded by Workforce Singapore, which aims to encourage employers to hire, train and integrate persons with disabilities. Under this programme, employers can register for grants and employment support services such as:
- Job Redesign Grant to support redesigning of jobs
- Training grants for employees with disabilities and their co-workers
- Recruitment, job placement and job support services
At present, there are several job training, support and placement agencies in Singapore that serve adults on the autism spectrum. These agencies include ARC(S)’s employment unit (E2C), Trampolene, Inclus, Extra•Ordinary People and others. After receiving work training, adults in these programmes are placed in open employment settings. For a period, some may continue to receive the support of job coaches to meet the demands and expectations of their jobs.
These placements are made possible due to close partnerships between the agencies and employers (e.g., UOB, Eden+Ellie, among others). At these workplaces, autism awareness talks are conducted to educate managers and co-workers to help foster an understanding of individuals on the spectrum. Willing employers also implement workplace modifications, e.g., cooling rooms, for when employees require a quiet space to calm down; simple and clear work processes to facilitate job completion; and the use of technology (e.g., iPads) to facilitate work.
In addition, some social enterprises have also taken it upon themselves to hire persons with disabilities, e.g., Foreword Coffee, Flour Power and Crunchy Teeth, without tapping on the resources of job training and placement agencies. This is certainly a promising step towards Singapore being an inclusive society.
Despite these initiatives, there continues to be a limited range of work options for adults on the spectrum in Singapore. There remains a group of adults on the spectrum who are excluded from the traditional workforce due to their high support needs.
In addition, most of the available work options tend to be in the food & beverage and cleaning sectors, which may not always be a good fit for persons on the spectrum. Although ARC(S)’s E2C has successfully placed adults on the spectrum in jobs within the IT industry, there is still potential for more of such placements.
Feedback from job training and placement agencies indicate that potential employers tend to focus on what persons on the spectrum cannot do, instead of what they can do well. Some employers are also reluctant to redesign jobs. Persons on the spectrum also report that their conditions continue to be stigmatised in society: disclosure of their autism condition can often result in fewer callbacks for interviews. Due to the limited range of work options, underemployment continues to be an issue even for cognitively able adults on the spectrum who have low support needs.
With the rise of the gig economy, however, there is now an alternative to traditional employment, which could be beneficial for many individuals on the spectrum.
By taking on gigs, those on the spectrum may be able to earn some income from their skills and interests, potentially from the comfort of their own homes. They would also enjoy greater flexibility in terms of their time. However, the current job incentives and funding, e.g., Special Employment Credit (SEC)/Enabling Employment Credit (EEC), do not include those in this group.
Finally, resource limitations (e.g., finite pool of job coaches, funding constraints) also result in difficulties with scaling and sustaining the services provided by job training and placement agencies. The high costs associated with these programmes also limit the number of adults on the spectrum who can receive employment support as well.
The following are some recommendations for this high priority area.
To develop a continuum of work and employment options in Singapore, it is crucial that there is a critical mass of employers on board. Despite the numerous schemes and programmes that the government has put in place to incentivise business owners to hire and support persons with disabilities, employment figures remain low. The wariness of employers in hiring persons on the spectrum often stem from a lack of awareness of autism and how adults on the spectrum can potentially contribute to the workplace through their unique strengths and talents.
Hence, a toolkit of best practices to facilitate the hiring and supporting of adults on the spectrum would go a long way in terms of providing employers with clearer direction as to what supports need to be in place.
It should also contain clear pointers about what adults on the spectrum can bring to the table, which may enable employers to be more open minded about recruiting them.
Along the same lines, SG Enable has developed several resources for employers, ranging from a starter kit and a job redesign guide to a disability etiquette guide. It is recommended that these guides are expanded to drill down to the individual disability conditions; a comprehensive resource repository customised for hiring and supporting adults on the spectrum may provide employers with the confidence and encouragement to do so.
In October 2020, a national-level accreditation, known as the Enabling Mark, was launched by SG Enable to recognise employers who adopt inclusive employment practices. To obtain the Enabling Mark, an organisation’s practices and outcomes in disability inclusion will be evaluated over 6 categories:
- Leadership, Culture and Climate
- Recruitment Practices
- Workplace Accessibility and Accommodations
- Employment Practices
- Community Engagement and Promotion
- Extent of Inclusive Hiring
In March 2020, President Halimah Yacob launched the President’s Challenge Enabling Employment Pledge, in which signatories affirm their commitment to adopt an inclusive mindset towards employees with disabilities, to create barrier-free workplace environments, and to implement supportive employment policies for employees with disabilities. At its launch, 110 employers signed the pledge, who will in turn receive support in training, hiring and integrating persons with disabilities in their workplace.
While such a pledge will certainly engender more inclusive mindsets in workplace settings, a more concrete commitment to a voluntary quota for special needs hire may result in a greater and more long-term impact on the employment issue for persons on the spectrum and other persons with disabilities.
Note that this voluntary quota is different from the mandatory quotas that have been enacted into law in countries such as Japan, China, India, France, Germany etc. A mandatory quota can be considered at the next phase when our ecosystem is more ready; otherwise, it may lead to mere lip service or result in further stigmatisation and segregation of the community, as already seen in some countries.
Adults on the spectrum with high support needs are generally unable to join the “traditional” workforce. While the activities and programmes available at Day Activity Centres (DACs; see High Priority Area A – Quality Assurance) help to occupy their free and unstructured time, actual work in some shape or form would raise the quality of life for this group of adults by providing additional opportunities for meaningful engagement.
It is recommended that a continuum of solutions be developed for adults on the spectrum who are unable to work for pay.
In developing this continuum, new models of work should be explored, such as blending sheltered enterprises with Day Activity Centres, or increasing the involvement of this group of adults in community or volunteer work.