Autism Spectrum Disorder: Challenges and Opportunities
Qatar Career Development Center Leading Efforts Locally and Regionally
For decades, Qatar has been at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness about “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD) and has made enormous efforts at all levels to integrate people with disabilities (PWDs) into society and give them the opportunity to achieve their professional aspirations and become a fundamental component in the comprehensive development process on the path to achieving Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030.
In 2007, Qatar proposed to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that 2 April be declared World Autism Day, which was later expanded to the whole month of April being about autism awareness. This initiative has brought global attention to the challenges faced by individuals with ASD in fully integrating into society, receiving appropriate education, and entering the labor market.
Equals, but unique
Individuals with ASD exhibit various symptoms that vary in type and severity, and they often think, handle situations, and communicate differently from others. Despite these differences, many successful people from various fields have ASD, including Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk.
QCDC’s diligent efforts to integrate individuals with ASD Into the job market
When discussing the efforts being made to integrate those with autism into the Qatari workforce, it is important to take a moment to acknowledge the accomplishments of Qatar Career Development Center (QCDC), a member Qatar Foundation (QF), in integrating individuals with ASD into the Qatari workforce. QCDC’s programs and services are focused on developing the career guidance system in Qatar and enhancing the role of career development in building human capital that can sustainably achieve Qatar’s national vision.
In collaboration with Awsaj Academy, a member of QF, QCDC implemented the “Career Readiness” program in 2017, targeting students with mild to moderate learning difficulties and equipping them with key employability skills. The program included workshops, discussions, field trips, and other activities aimed at preparing them for their professional lives. Later, the program was incorporated into the academy’s curriculum.
In April of the previous year, QCDC launched the “Inclusive Internship Days” Initiative at QF, enabling students to gain practical experience and learn about the work environment while applying the skills they learned during the Career Readiness program. QCDC aims to expand this initiative on a broader scale in the coming years to develop a more inclusive employment culture and engage more individuals with disabilities in training institutions at the national level.
Career guidance stakeholders, national and regional cooperation frameworks in place
Efforts to promote inclusive employment were a major focus of the “Career Guidance Stakeholders Platform,” which was organized by QCDC in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, the International Labour Organization’s Qatar Project Office, and the Higher Education Sector at QF. This platform brought together various stakeholders involved in career guidance in Qatar to share knowledge and best practices that support career guidance as a means of achieving personal, social, educational, and economic success for Qatari youth and the broader community.
One of the platform’s primary objectives was to develop an overarching framework that involves all relevant stakeholders to enhance the transition of persons with disabilities from secondary education to the workforce.
Continuous awareness of an inclusive workplace
QCDC’s efforts to promote inclusivity in the workplace extend beyond strategic and institutional levels. They also seek to raise awareness among all sectors of society about the importance of an inclusive work environment through online and digital platforms.
Over the past two years, QCDC has organized a series of specialized webinars during Autism Awareness Month. These webinars featured inspiring international figures who have lived with autism and built successful careers, such as Dr. Temple Grandin, a University of Colorado Animal Sciences Professor, and Adelphi University Special Education Professor Dr. Stephen Shore. The webinars also featured leading experts in the field, such as Dr. Robert Naseef, a Psychologist and Autism Spectrum Expert, and provided families of people with disabilities and employers with the opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives on how to create a more inclusive work environment.
An innovative program to support the employment of PWDs
This year, QCDC collaborated with Dr. Shore, Dr. Naseef, and a team of experts in career guidance and development to launch a program supporting the employment of people with disabilities. The program aimed to train professional counselors, educators, and human resource professionals to use international best practices adapted to Qatar’s unique context in supporting individuals with mild to moderate learning difficulties and cognitive challenges. Participants in the program included school counselors, parents, community partners, professional development partners, employers, and families of neurodiverse students from across the country.
Research paper with regional acclaim
QCDC’s efforts have not only been limited to the national level, as many of the center’s programs have attracted specialists from the Gulf and Arab countries. Additionally, many of its initiatives welcome participation from people all over the Arab world and beyond. Recently, QCDC presented a research paper titled “Enhancing the Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Qatar’s Labor Market” at the first Arab Career Development Conference in Aswan, Egypt. The paper highlighted QCDC’s intensive efforts in promoting a culture of inclusive employment in Qatar, successes achieved, and challenges faced.
All these accomplishments give rise to an optimistic outlook for the future of individuals with ASD in Qatar. To overcome current challenges, stakeholders must step up their efforts to produce results that contribute to maximizing the potential of every member of society, starting with families of individuals with ASD, employers, and the broader community.