A Potential Diamond helps young adults with autism shine in employment

With the new SEND system giving help to young people, in some cases, as far as age 25, more attention is being focused on what happens to young adults with SEN and disabilities when they leave school.

This is also a political hot topic with the expected closure of the Independent Living Fund and the squeeze on disability benefits  making it ever more important for people with disabilities to be able and enabled to find useful, meaningful work or succeed in a career. For some, the DWP's Access to Work scheme can be of help as can Equalities legislation, when properly applied.

But for people with conditions such as autism spectrum disorders, the problem with work is often fitting in with other colleagues socially, leading to a series of unsuccessful short-term jobs or none at all, while possibly sliding towards depression and a need for intensive social and welfare support.

But one man has begun a brilliant initiative to make sure that young people with social difficulties can find, and importantly, keep, a paid job. Richard Lamplugh has founded "A Potential Diamond", helping young adults find employment that fits their strengths. Richard has written an article exclusively for Special Needs Jungle about his work.

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For the past 20 years or so the main focus of my career has been to support people with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or mild learning disabilities into paid employment.  Much of this activity took place in South West London where I worked for a small charity.  I managed the supported employment division of the charity until I went freelance in 2006.

The last eight years or so have been an interesting time for me; it’s given me a chance to look a little more objectively at how best people with additional needs can be supported into paid employment. Whilst I’m a keen advocate of supported employment agencies, and there are many good ones out there, my concern is we’re focusing too much on “services” rather than “community”.

Community support to help people with Asperger’s, autism or learning disabilities into work is nothing new simply because it’s the most natural method out there and for some people there’s no other alternative.  I know many of examples of people who got jobs thanks to help from a neighbour, friend or relative.  The key to success is that this neighbour, friend or relative knows the individual very well; they know about their strengths and they know about those little issues to “look out for” and, crucially, how to support the individual through these issues.

My new initiative, A Potential Diamond, is a pretty simple idea that takes the view that many people with additional needs can become potentially diamond employees providing that all-important “job fit” is right.  This concept is nothing new; if I’m adding a slight twist it’s that I believe this needs to live in harmony with community and something I’m quite handy at… creativity.

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A couple of examples.

Blake is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome.  He has masses of personality but very little in terms of qualifications or experience you could put on a traditional CV.  I decided to make a video CV with Blake and put it on YouTube.  You can see it here on YouTube 

I also got to know Blake’s family very well and a little about his community.  At the time, July 2013, B&Q were opening their new store in Burgess Hill.  Jon, Blake’s brother, popped into the B&Q recruitment centre and gave them the link to Blake’s video CV.  A few days later B&Q called me to arrange an interview.  I went along to give Blake a little low-key support but, in fact, didn’t need to say very much - he wowed them with his enthusiasm!

Blake was offered a job and, whilst there have been a few times over the last 10 months where I’ve needed to pop in to give him and his manager a little support, he’s now blossoming into their one of their star employees.

Blake on his short at B & Q
Blake on his short at B & Q

Some people with Asperger’s, autism or learning disabilities take a little longer than others to find employment.

Richard left college the same time as Blake (June 2013) but only finally had a job offer in June this year.  In the interim I met up with Richard about once every three weeks, sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with his family.  I put together what I consider was an attractive, word and photo CV and put it on my website. Each time we met, Richard, his mother and I trawled through the internet looking for vacancies. We applied for quite a few jobs together and were knocked back each time. But, in the end, our persistence paid off.

A friend of the family emailed me over a vacancy Shaw Healthcare had at a residential care home in Crawley.  I sent them Richard’s word and photo CV and on the strength of this he secured an interview – we didn’t even need to fill in an application form!

I supported Richard at the interview and he was offered the job there as a laundry assistant.  Richard has always wanted to work in the care sector so this is an ideal first step for him.  He started in early July 2014 and all’s going well.  Apart from the first day, when I needed to ensure Richard could do the journey properly I haven’t needed to pop in at all.  But I do phone the employer at the end of each week for a quick catch up.

Richard after the job offer had been made
Richard after the job offer had been made

Much of the success of the young people I support into paid jobs is built around what encouragement they get from home.  If that all important “work ethic” is there then I always believe I can get a positive result, even if it might take a while.

I spend as much time as I can networking with employers.  I’m a member of my local business chamber, a particularly good one called Gatwick Diamond Business.  On the last Friday of every month there’s a lunchtime get-together.  These are always important events for me and I always try to chat to at least five people I’ve never met before.  Not only am I heartened by people’s positive reactions to what I do, I can guarantee that at least one person I meet will have a family member or relation with Asperger’s or autism.

I have had three successful job outcomes since April 2014 and would hope to have another three or four by Christmas. I have every confidence that a couple of these will be due to contacts I’ve made at Gatwick Diamond Business.

Am I a service or am I a community connector?

I like to think I am the latter.

I face two main challenges in the future. Firstly, the more people with additional needs I get to know, the less time I have to give that truly individual, tailored, support as illustrated by the examples of Blake and Richard.  Secondly, local authorities and Jobcentre Plus find it hard to get their heads round how they can fund me; they’re used to funding services, not community connectors.

But I genuinely believe the solutions to both these challenges aren’t too difficult to find and also that my model can be replicated around the country.  So if you’re somebody that shares my vision and would like to see how we can share experiences and ideas for the future I would love to hear from you.

For more information please visit http://www.apotentialdiamond.org/ or call Richard on 077389 41415

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Special Needs Jungle was founded in 2008 as a personal SEN blog by Tania Tirraoro. It is now a multi-author, award-winning site covering special needs, disability, mental health and rare conditions in children & young people birth-25 years.
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