Across Europe, there are not enough organisations able to provide supported employment programmes for autistic adults. The INFUSE project emerged to develop and share strategies to uplift autistic adults through specialised training and practical implementation in the agricultural sector. Within this partnership, 3 organisations came together: the Associazione Genitori Soggetti Autistici del Trentino- Parents Association of Person with Autism Trentino (AGSAT), the coordinator, from Italy; the social cooperative Tuttoverde also from Italy, and Autism-Europe, based in Belgium.
Autistic individuals frequently face a lack of accessibility and inclusion in the education system, leading to academic struggles, which not only hinder their personal development but also set them on a trajectory that can lead to school dropout and eventually a higher risk of unemployment in adulthood. Estimates suggest that only 10-15% of autistic adults are employed full or part-time, whereas 50% of disabled individuals (all types of disability included) are employed, despite a majority of autistic people expressing a willingness to work, according to the National Autistic Society. In order to tackle this issue, INFUSE has developed practical materials to promote the employment of autistic adults in an underexplored area such as the agricultural sector.
Based on an in-depth literature review and data analysis from focus groups, the Compendium of Good Practices shares best practices as well as an overview of current programmes and services that successfully promote or support the employment of autistic adults at EU level. The second output of this project is the Training Course (for both users and professionals), which dedicates its first part to fostering transversal skills essential for job placement (anxiety management, communication and social skills and preparation for work) and the second part shares competencies within agricultural activities, specifically officinal herbs farming. The third outcome is the Assessment Plan, a thorough evaluation of training activities, utilising the TEACCH Transition Assessment Profile tests and consistent monitoring through checklists. This tool assesses the level of improvement of skills of autistic people involved in the project, and, consequently, the impact of the project itself on participants.
On May 2023, AE organised a side event in the framework of the European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities (EPPD). During this conference, Alessandro Zanon, President of AGSAT (Italy) and INFUSE project coordinator, introduced the background and the relevance of the 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.