The Chemists’ Community Fund has a partnership with the National Autistic Society (NAS) to give RSC members access to specialist support. The NAS, a UK based charity, provide information, support and pioneering services, and campaign for a better world for autistic people. Internationally, there are other autistic support services including The Autism Society (USA), the Irish Society for Autism and Autism Society of India, and although the Fund does not collaborate with these associations, they can signpost or support members to access their services.
In January 2019, the RSC Careers Team joined the Chemists’ Community Fund Team to receive specialise training on Understanding Autism – to enhance the support they are able to directly give to RSC members. Currently only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, however, 53% of those who are unemployed would like to find work. The Careers Team can support this; please do get in touch using the contact form below.
Our Outreach Fund provides financial support to members, individuals and organisations in order to enable them to run chemistry-based public and schools engagement activities. Three projects have recently been funded which directly support those affect by autism.
Sarah Bearchell received funding to host her workshop, the Cloud Factory, in children’s centres and SEN schools, before developing teaching resources based around exploring chemistry. Without support from the Outreach Fund, Sarah would have had to charge for her resources, meaning a further barrier to those trying to access support.
“I believe employers need educating about how to make simple adjustments to help employees with autism realise their potential in the workplace. It's about getting to know the individual and how you can make things work for them,” says Sarah.
Sarah agrees that the chemical sciences community can do more to support people with autism, “Be welcoming. Ask everyone what you can do to make things work for them! There are some basic ways to help employers understand autism – see the excellent #AutismTMI campaign from autism.org.uk. However, remember that everyone is different and no-one will be offended if you ask them what you can do to help support them.”
Melissa Sheard also received funding from the Outreach Fund to enable a science club for to purchase equipment for experiments within a community special school, with some of the students affected by autism.
“Make sure you are aware of the wide variety of careers available to you, and make sure you choose a role that fits with your level of abilities for example with social interaction and sensory needs. Not all scientists work in laboratories!”
Jane Essex approached the Fund because "I had an amazing opportunity to work with a special school that wanted to introduce science into their curriculum. I needed money to fund the work and was getting nowhere with other bids I had put in, because funders don’t see the 'need' for children with severe learning difficulties to have science education…. the Outreach Fund made the work possible."
A recent paper, co-authored by Jane, saw that many people with high functioning autism have found strategies to mask their difficulties. For managers and colleagues working alongside those with autism, Jane advised, "It is worth finding out on a regular basis how they are, whether they are experiencing stress points or anxieties. Where tensions arise, look for practical solutions. For example, if a person with autism is frequently standing at a distance that is too close for comfort for the other person when conversing, arrange to have discussions seated at a table so that space is created naturally. Simple solutions can make a big difference to everyone.
"Likewise clear and calmly conveyed expectation of all parties set the tone for the team. All workplaces, scientific or otherwise, can do these things and should, if they are truly committed to a diverse workforce. What we should always do is consider the strengths that different colleagues bring and science should be mindful of how much many people with autism contribute a great deal to science."
Links have been made between people with autism and a tendency to study STEM subjects. Jane says, "My advice would be to be to pursue your goals whatever they are. If chemical science is your thing, go for it! In education and work, be honest about the adjustments that will help you. Don’t feel awkward about sharing information about your condition or requests for help, because these are also what will help you to achieve the best you can."
To celebrate World Autism Week, the Chemists' Community Fund have further titles to the 'wellbeing section' of books within the library at Burlington House. RSC members can borrow the books free of charge, and free postage is available to those in the UK. The additional titles include A Practical Guide to Happiness in Autistic Adults, Working Towards Independence, Children With Autism, An Employer’s Guide to Managing Profoundly Disabled Children.