Well done Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, for apologising for his recent “foolish and offensive” remarks where he suggested that people with disabilities could potentially be paid less than the minimum wage.  At least he has admitted to being so wrong.  I think forcing his resignation is a bit harsh however.  It seems to me that he was, after all, as many of us still are in our modern society, simply uninterested, unknowledgeable and/or unaware of the various and steadily increasing conditions that are or can be classed as a ‘disability’ today, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome. I have a teenage son diagnosed with an ASD who is currently studying at college and the remark left me feeling, as a parent, very concerned, angry and frustrated.  Did this comment mean that my own son could potentially leave college next year to an ever lower wage than the current minimum – just because he has a diagnosis of an ASD?  Was I now to worry that these types of comments would lead to my son being either completely unable to find work in the future or paid less than the neurotypical student sitting next to him in class at college (who is not even as high an achiever as my son)?Obviously Lord Freud has never heard of the condition or bothered to look into ‘autism’, or the ‘autistic spectrum’- if he had I am sure he would never have remarked as he did.

Classed as a disability, autism spectrum disorders usually means diagnosed people will have difficulties in some areas, especially in communicating with others and social interaction, but other skills may develop typically.  Some autistic individuals have special abilities or talents – and I don’t just mean the autistic savants who can, as an example, amazingly recall a phone book from A-Z or count cards in Las Vegas (most of us have watched the fabulous movie Rain Man) – some, for example, especially enjoy and thrive in doing repetitive, or what others would describe as ‘boring’ work or tasks, and many others have amazing, advanced skills and knowledge of modern technology. An accepted fact these days andLonie_Online-Safety-f_978-1-84905-454-6_colourjpg-print a subject that I go into in more detail in my new book is that many people (both children and adults) with an ASD are extremely computer literate and some can show amazing talents in computer programming or even hacking.  I have worked directly with computers for over twenty-five years and my teenage son (with an ASD) is still able to teach me new technology related skills and frequently helps to enhance my knowledge.  In my book Online Safety for Children & Teens on the Autism Spectrum – A Parent’s and Carer’s Guide I explain why some autistic children (and again adults) can actually understand modern technology better than they can other people.

During my eleven year employment (2001-2012) with Autism Concern (a large autism charity based in Northamptonshire, UK) as their IT Specialist & Webmaster, I worked on a project in which we produced a simple interactive guide for employers or potential employers of people with an ASD.  During this research we found that in some cases hiring a person with an ASD was actually more successful than hiring a ‘neurotypical’ person.

Because of their condition, the benefits to the employer can be (but not limited to):

  • Some autistic employees exhibit extreme attention to detail – making sure the job is done right the first time!
  • Some autistic employees become very focused on a task – and enjoy repetitive jobs – meaning a high productivity rate.
  • Most autistic employees will work according to schedules and keep to them – i.e. they are typically never late and will not take more than the allowed time for lunch or breaks.
  • Because autistic people are very literal and often do not know how to ‘lie’, these employees will typically not take unnecessary or unauthorised days off absent.

So what if some need additional support or cannot answer the telephone, or prefer to sit alone during their lunch hour?  As long as the job they are doing is done well and in accordance with their contract of employment – surely we, as a society, are obligated to help these special yet disadvantaged individuals into securing employment and giving them the ‘normalcy’ that comes with working, such as commitment of hours and paying taxes, etc? It seems clear to me that some of these amazing individuals may even deserve more than the minimum wage – not less – after all they have to live with their disability on a daily basis as well as contend with the day to day struggles we all face in our modern society.  Try walking in their shoes for a day and getting £2 an hour for a hard days work while your ‘neurotypical colleague’ (who’s doing exactly the same job, and not as productive or reliable) is getting at least minimum wage. Why are we therefore not, as a society, grabbing at the chance to employ these talented individuals? Why are our computer industry giants, research and government agencies not hiring more autistic employees and developing their natural talents?

With reports worryingly showing figures as high as 1 out of every 68 boys (although not confirmed) are now thought to be on the Autism Spectrum, surely Lord Freud is also not thinking clearly about the future working population.  If we do not provide adequate education, training and work experience for the future generations of autistic children (and unless a cure is found the rate of diagnosis is only set to increase) there is a higher chance that there will be a significant rise in these ‘disabled’ yet fit for work people relying on benefits because they cannot find suitable employment, or no one has helped them to do so. In summary I feel we need to take immediate action as a society together to make sure we can employ these remarkable people in future generations to come – and not simply ignore the increase of diagnosis and hope it will go away, or think of ridiculous ways to save money – such as simply paying them less.

In my humble opinion I feel we need to:

1. Promote and support autism in the workplace – clearly explain to employers the benefits to them and reasons why they should hire that person with an ASD .  Highlight the positive not the negative and possibly initially offer financial help incentives for the employer.

2. Try to secure and offer more training facilities for ASD students, particularly those with high computer literacy levels, focusing on their individual skill set or talents and using these to secure future employment.

3. Demand that large computer companies (such as Microsoft/Apple), who make ridiculously high profits, step in and offer/provide paid (not government funded) apprenticeships/jobs for gifted young autistic individuals – and pay them at least the minimum wage!

4. Request that autism charities and other such important organisations be given more grants and/or funding to help them help people with autism secure employment and give them the financial backing to be more readily available with information/resources for parents and education professionals as well as employers.

5. Provide more free autism awareness training for ministers (before forcing them to resign), GPs, educators, social services and other such professionals.


Nicola Lonie is the author of Online Safety for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum now available through Jessica Kingsley Publishers

One thought

  1. I totally agree with you. My son is so desperate just to find an apprenticeship in Mechanics to co inside with his college days because he has a special passion for cars of all kinds, and knows a hell of a lot about cars. But no apparently there is no apprenticeships willing to take on someone who is 19 years old. All he wants to do is gain a qualification so that he can gain employment… YES HE IS DESPERATE TO FIND EMPLOYMENT and be as normal as possible…even though just going out the house and facing everyday life is a challenge on its own. Disabled people who want to work and are willing to work should be paid more as they have challenges already to face. And like you say there are neurotypical adults who don’t want to work, don’t put their all into a job, are doing it just because they have to… they are late, take time off and are what I would say have a lazy attitude to their employment and their employers.

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