OPINION

Supporting a neurodiverse workforce

How to support a neurodiverse workforce

How well do you know the people you work with? Many of us make assumptions about how our colleagues are going in the workplace, without really understanding the challenges some can face.

Did you know the way a space is lit, the level of noise, and the way instructions are worded can all contribute to unnecessary stress and anxiety for some people? Such is the experience of many autistic people.

You may not even know one of your colleagues or staff is autistic. And it's completely up to them, of course, as to whether they disclose that information.

While 20 per cent of the general population experience mental health issues in their lifetime, studies show up to 54 per cent of autistic people experience mental health issues in their lifetime, as well as higher rates of suicide ideation.

We also know autistic people are underemployed compared to the general population - which means businesses and communities miss out on the many highly valued skills, abilities, and perspectives autistic people can offer.

So what can employers do to be more supportive and inclusive? One critical step is to arm themselves with knowledge.

Because autistic people can differ in how they communicate and experience the world around them, it's vital those they work with better understand those differences.

It might be as simple as being more specific and literal in a set of instructions, or setting up more sensory neutral workspaces.

Or simply being more aware during social interactions that autistic people don't always express themselves the way others might.

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Recently as part of my work at La Trobe University, we released a toolkit providing employers with practical, evidence-based strategies they can implement in the workplace.

Developed in partnership with DXC Technology and ANZ, the resource was co-designed with people on the autism spectrum with lived experience, and their supporters, co-workers and managers, and is currently available as in-person or online training with Untapped Holdings.

Some autistic people choose not to disclose their diagnosis. But others would like to if only they knew for sure their managers and colleagues would be supportive.

So think about whether an autistic person in your workplace would feel comfortable disclosing, or whether your workplace accommodates and values neurodiversity.

If the answer isn't a resounding yes, perhaps you need to take steps to address that.

  • Dr Simon Bury is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University.
This story How to support a neurodiverse workforce first appeared on The Canberra Times.