The Thriving at Work program came about after discussions with Dr. Michelle Garnett, Prof. Tony Attwood and myself after working with an autistic adult suffering depression and who had not been able to work or study after finishing school for ten years. We sat down together and tried to work out what type of support program could help this individual and others on the spectrum.
The Thriving at Work program is a comprehensive one that includes materials for employers/leaders, Managers, team members, and employees with AS (Asperger’s syndrome, or ASD Level 1). It was designed for onboarding AS employees within numerous settings. The package was designed to assist the organisation to create a culture of inclusiveness, i.e. we are changing the culture of the organisation to include, enjoy and appreciate autistic employees.
The Thriving at Work program is a comprehensive one that includes materials for employers/leaders, Managers, team members, and employees with AS (Asperger’s syndrome, or ASD Level 1).
The packages include resources to de-mystify and de-bunk myths about autism, understand both the strengths and the challenges in employing, managing and working with people with AS, and provide both general ideas and strategies that work, as well as strategies individualised to each employee. Both the Management and employee component includes the follow-up support that we know from both research and our clinical experience is so important to creating success.
You were a facilitator for this, is that where your passion stems from to get involved in aiding autistic adults in getting into employment?
Yes, the program has been run with groups of autistic individuals by Tony, Michelle and I at the Minds & Hearts clinic in Brisbane and in workplaces as part of Specialisterne programs. The program has continued to evolve with feedback from autistic adults who have completed the program and have given us information about what worked and what didn’t for them. This feedback has led to a significantly better program that has a greater focus on what they felt was important to autistic people transitioning to work.
Personally, I have been working with autistic people for about 15 years now. You could say it is a strong interest of mine. We have many neuro-diverse people in my family and when I was growing up this difference was accepted and respected. I grew up in this environment and so I naturally relate to the kindness, strong sense of social justice, honesty and the sense of being a bit different that can come with people who are neuro-diverse. I am also interested in psychology and helping people is what I have chosen to do with my career. Like so many others I have been inspired by Tony Attwood and his positive approach to supporting autistic people. After working in autism and education for many years I have finally completed my psychology studies. For me to be collaborating with Tony Attwood and Michelle Garnett and Minds and Hearts is a true honour.
I naturally relate to the kindness, strong sense of social justice, honesty and the sense of being a bit different that can come with people who are neuro-diverse
Why is so difficult to get a job being an autistic adult?
There are many reasons that it can be difficult to get and keep a job for autistic adults. One of the main issues is the need to educate neuro typical people about autism and the many positives of employing autistic people. Many neuro typical people do not know much about autism apart from what they see on TV or at the movies. We find that once we can educate people about how some autistic adults may be suitable and valuable working in their organisation a greater understanding develops. When we introduce employers to autistic adults with skills in their industry that is when things really start to change. I believe that better understanding between autistic and non-autistic people is an essential part of changing things for the better.
I believe that better understanding between autistic and non-autistic people is an essential part of changing things for the better.
For autistic adults, some of the common issues in getting a job include being able to identify and communicate individual strengths such as on a cv or during an interview. It is much more effective for employers to ask autistic adults to demonstrate their skills rather than just talk about them. It turns out that this is a more effective approach for all employees. Moving away from the interview removes the disadvantage of communication for many autistic and non-autistic adults and ensures that what someone can do is fully understood. I have found this to be true in industries such as IT, agriculture and engineering.
What can autistic adults do to alleviate the stigma that employers may have from employing autistic adults?
Great question. I think that autistic adults are essential in helping to explain autism and their individual experience of autism to neuro typical people. This could be anything from a conversation at the movies to more formal workplace training. I have been very lucky recently to work with Zack Zaborny from Epic Assist who is on the spectrum to help educate neuro typical people about autism. Most recently we did this as part of the Autism and Agriculture program. We need a much larger percentage of Australians to have a good understanding of autism and what it does and doesn’t mean.
You’ve been a teacher, an education officer and a project leader when did you come into contact with disabled adults and what lead you to your current position?
I was working as a regional Autism Consultant in schools and set up eight Robotics Social Clubs in secondary schools. This idea was based on helping to bring together autistic individuals and non-autistic individuals interested in Robotics to make the transition to secondary school more successful. At this time I was also part of a group of people setting up employment related projects and I realised how significant the ‘cliff of services’ or challenges to finding employment was in Australia for autistic adults. The need for support for the transition to secondary school is important but I felt that I needed to join the movement for positive change in autism and employment. I decided that helping people secure employment would really change lives for the better and I approached Specialisterne who were just setting up in Australia.
If I came to you and I was seeking assistance in gaining employment in a certain industry how would you begin to help me?
Autistic adults wanting to connect with Specialisterne can sign up to the mailing list via our website www.au.specialisterne.com. We are constantly working with organisations to create large employment programs in a variety of industries including IT, engineering, records management and agriculture. Once a new program is ready to be advertised we send out information to all of our contacts and advertise on our website and Facebook page.
I would also recommend to autistic adults to get themselves ‘Job ready’. There are many components to this that include having as many work related experiences as possible such as work experience or volunteering and understanding your individual strengths and support needs. I would also recommend putting together a personal portfolio outlining your skills. Showcasing what you are capable of achieving can be an excellent way to communicate your skills. If you are interested in the Thriving at Work to help with work readiness visit www.mindsandhearts.net/thriving to find out more information.
Why do you want to help autistic adults in particular?
I just think that it is absurd that so many talented and skilled autistic individuals are not able to find or keep meaningful employment. On the one hand there are employers in Australia who can’t find enough people to fill particular jobs and on the other hand there are a large proportion of autistic adults who are not able to find work. Employing autistic adults is something that with some specialist help employers should be doing all over the country. This movement has certainly started but we still have a long way to go before this is no longer an issue. My advice to employers is to consider the benefits of employing autistic adults in your workplace. I have found autistic adults to have a strong work ethic, to be honest and loyal employees who can be skilled and suitable for a variety of industries.
Why do you think that autistic people struggle with finding employment?
Getting that first opportunity can be very difficult. This is something that often requires an ability to sell yourself in an interview or on a CV. The interview process is something that is not particularly effective at choosing the best employee. It is far better to identify the skills required for the job and then ask people during a recruitment process to demonstrate those skills. This approach creates a better fit and removes the challenges for many autistic adults who find interviews confronting.
In your opinion does a lot more need to happen in regards to sustainable employment for autistic adults?
Yes I do.
I think we need to help neurotypical people better understand autistic people in the context of employment in their industry. This relates to both recruiting and supporting autistic adults at work. This focus should then lead to employers considering how autistic adults may be useful within their workplace as an asset. The more we help employers understand that autistic adults can be excellent employees the more opportunities we will create in Australia and the closer we will come to changing.
Jay Hobbs will be speaking at the 2017 Autism West Symposium, to be held in Fremantle, Western Australia, on the 3rd and 4th of November 2017. Book your tickets now!
May 2020 note: The Thriving Now program written by Michelle Garnett and Tony Attwood has been renamed Autism Working, with Jay Hobbs’ new clinic being called Thriving Now.