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Autistic Lens

Why autistic adults are living in poverty & why it matters

March 29th, 2024

Aly Laube

For Everyone

Imagine facing a maze of obstacles just to find meaningful employment and financial stability.

For too many autistic adults in BC, that’s the reality. Getting and keeping work can be an uphill battle marked by daunting challenges. Autistic adults had the lowest rates of employment across all populations with disabilities in Canada according to StatsCan data from 2017, so it’s an issue beyond the province. Join us as we unravel the complexities behind the staggering poverty and unemployment rates within our community.

A person holds money while using a calculator. Only their torso and hands are shown. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)
A person holds money while using a calculator. Only their torso and hands are shown. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)

What are the barriers to financial stability?

When we asked autistic adults to tell us more about the barriers they face to financial stability, they brought up some insightful points:

  • Being unable to work full-time 
    • A shortage of accessible job opportunities for autistic adults is part of the problem, but conditions that commonly co-occur with autism erect additional hurdles associated with wellness, executive functioning, and sensory processing. These and other factors make it hard to hold down a steady job without being fired or needing to quit to focus on their health.
  • Inaccessible applications for government support
    • The enormous amount of paperwork, communication skills, and energy required to fill out applications is out of reach for many people who could use the help. For example, someone who struggles with handwriting or typing might need assistance with filing applications, but due to executive functioning issues, may not take initiative to connect with a support person.
  • Systemic oppression due to ableism, racism, sexism, and other harmful ideologies prevents people from getting opportunities
    • Black and Indigenous People of Colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, folks with visible disabilities, and others face disproportionate struggles that disempower them, including intergenerational poverty and trauma. These can include limited access to jobs, rejection for loans and credit cards, the inability to take time off work, facing biased and uneducated people in the healthcare system, and more.
  • Needing to pay for healthcare that isn’t covered by insurance or the government
    • Additional healthcare costs might include neuroaffirming therapy, working with a naturopath, or hiring an in-home care team. Low-income people from low-income families have no option but to lose savings or take on debt to meet urgent healthcare needs, leaving them at a further economic disadvantage. Alternatively, they may neglect their needs altogether in favour of saving money.
  • Needing to rely on families or partners to cover living expenses
    • Being in this situation leaves people without autonomy to make choices about their own living situations, income, and other regular expenses.
  • Having no family to rely on
    • People might not have an existing support system for a variety of reasons, leaving them to build their own, which for some isn’t doable.
  • Long waitlists and prohibitive costs for assessment and diagnosis
    • Many autistic adults can’t afford to get assessed or wait months or years to see a professional. If more autistic adults could receive a timely diagnosis, more people would be able to access crucial government support like income supplements, tax credits, and coverage for specific accommodations.
  • Inability to be on PWD and EI payments simultaneously and caps on amounts make it hard to make enough to afford necessities
    • Many autistic adults we surveyed told us the cost of living wasn’t keeping up with the amounts issued through PWD and EI payments, and you can only be on one or the other, creating obstacles to living comfortably. Sometimes an autistic person can’t go and work due to their medical conditions, reducing their main source of income.

These are just a few reasons why autistic adults are living in poverty across the province.

A person holding a bill that's marked past due in large red letters. (Nicola Barts/Pexels)
A person holding a bill that’s marked past due in large red letters. (Nicola Barts/Pexels)

Why does it matter that autistic adults are in poverty?

Navigating a world that was not designed for you without the ability to escape poverty is incredibly overwhelming, unhealthy, and disheartening. Nobody deserves that. AutismBC exists to empower autistic adults to live their best lives, which they can’t do without being financially secure.

Autistic adults living in poverty matter. Right now, very few people know what they’re going through outside of their small social circles. They exist on the margins of society and have very few avenues to share their experiences with the broader public, but other people who care about our wellbeing deserve to know, and the government has a responsibility to listen to us and respond.

AutismBC’s Communications team is lucky enough to have a direct connection to autistic adults in the province willing to open up about something as vulnerable as living in poverty. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who told us their story and made incredible suggestions for moving forward that we will share in a future blog post. These resources couldn’t have been created without your help!

What can we do about it?

Step one: acknowledge that poverty is a pressing issue for autistic adults. Check! But that’s not the end of the journey. Stay tuned for our next blog post to explore concrete solutions for lifting autistic adults out of poverty in BC. And don’t forget to share your own ideas with us via our Contact Us page!

A person closes the lid on a jar with tightly rolled bills inside. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)
A person closes the lid on a jar with tightly rolled bills inside. (Karolina Grabowska/Pexels)

Survey findings

Only 26 per cent of autistic adults who responded to our recent survey* reported earning enough to comfortably support themselves. Shockingly, 40 per cent expressed the inability to earn adequate income without considerable hardship, while nearly 21 per cent “sometimes” have enough to afford necessities.

The statistics paint a grim portrait: An alarming 38 per cent of autistic adults surveyed struggle to afford rent, while essentials like food (26 per cent), transportation (27 per cent), and healthcare (39 per cent) remain elusive for many.

These challenges are real, but so is hope for a better future in the province. Potential paths to financial stability range from fostering support for self-employment to training employers on how to provide an accessible, neuroaffirming workplace, and many more.

* This survey is not scientific. It is a public engagement survey based on data collected from a small pool of autistic adults within AutismBC’s membership.

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