On 24 May, Autism-Europe (AE) held a conference at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels, hosted by Member of European Parliament (MEP) Chiara Gemma. As part of AE’s #AutismDay2023 campaign, the event gave voices to autistic people, focusing on initiatives and projects fostering inclusion in education and the labour market.
Under the theme “Building inclusive education and employment for autistic people”, AE’s conference was held the day after the European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities (EPPD) 2023 . The hybrid event was attended by a range of stakeholders (business representatives, officials, autistic people, families, autism associations’ representatives, autism professionals) from across Europe and beyond.
To kick start the meeting MEP Chiara Gemma reminded the audience of the need for inclusion of autistic people into society, explaining how she raised awareness for inclusion of autistic people in education through commissioning a comic about school inclusion featuring an autistic child. MEP Gemma went on to highlight the need for quality employment for autistic people. AE’s director Aurelie Baranger then recounted the barriers to education and employment faced by autistic people in Europe and highlighted Autism-Europe’s current campaign “Building an inclusive society for autistic people”. With this campaign, AE calls for a holistic approach and coordination of policies across sectors through the active inclusion and participation of autistic people and their families, both at national and EU levels.
Adam Harris, AE’s board member from Irish autism charity AsIam, introduced the first panel by sharing his own lived experience as an autistic person trying to access education, and presented the results of the Same Chance campaign conducted by AsIam in Ireland. Adam made a compelling call for appropriate teachers training in autism.
This is the aim of the “Digital Inclusive Tool” (DiGiTool) project, presented during the first panel by Ana Albuquerque Nogueira, President of the autism association Inovar Autismo from Portugal and DiGiTool project coordinator. In Ana’s words, “with the participation of teachers, autistic students and their families, we developed a training for teachers to learn how to work with autistic students using information and communication technologies.” Angélica Gutiérrez González from Autismo Sevilla, AE’s Spanish regional member and DiGiTool project partner, recounted how they piloted the training course in their association. Jose Nogueira, from DiGiTool project partner ISCTE-IUL (University Institute Lisbon) in Portugal, closed the panel and presented the preliminary results of the evaluation, attesting its relevance and usefulness.
Vincent Grimaldi de Puget, AE’s board member and Clinical Professor at the Université Grenoble Alpes (France), started the second panel by sharing insights into the hiring practices for autistic people based on a comprehensive academic literature review. Vincent underlined that “autistic people have their own way of thinking and seeing the world around them. It is good for businesses to have people around who see new solutions to old problems.”
The need for labor market inclusion requires training. This is premise of the “Workplace Inclusion and employmeNt opportunities for youth WITH aUtism” (WIN-WITH-U) project presented by project coordinator Nunzio Casalino, Professor at the LUISS Business School (Italy). Carsten Lassen, CEO from WIN-WITH-U project partner Specialisterne Danmark (Denmark), then presented the work of his company facilitating employment for autistic people through job-coaching. Carsten is convinced that “to ensure equal opportunities everyone should be treated differently. We believe that it is not the neurodivergent individual who needs to change, but rather the way the labor market is conducted.“
The third and last panel was an all-Italian one. First, Alessandro Zanon, President of AGSAT (Italy) and seedIng competences and harvesting work inclusiveNess For adUlt autiStic people” (INFUSE) project coordinator, introduced the background and the need of the INFUSE project. Alberto Meloni, Manager at AGSAT (Italy), and Erika Comencini, Neuropsychiatrist at AGSAT (Italy), presented the work implemented by this small-scale project started in Italy in 2022 to develop an innovative best practice for a job placement path dedicated to autistic adults in the agricultural sector.
Another initiative was then presented by Stefania Grimaldi, president of Work-Aut from Italy. She explained how her social cooperative creates the conditions to support autistic people to access to employment. MEP Gemma was one of the beneficiary of the Work-Aut project, as she has welcomed several autistic trainees in her European Parliament office in Brussels since 2022. The last panel was concluded by Pietro Cirrincione, AE autistic board member from Italy, who recalled the rights of people on the autism spectrum to gain quality employment in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.