Kymberly Martin

New toolkit supporting a neurodiverse workforce

In what is said to be a world-first, a toolkit to assist workplaces support the mental health of autistic employees has been launched. The toolkit is a collaboration between DXC Technology, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) and the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) at La Trobe University.

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An interactive online personal training course that can be accessed for organisations and individuals is in the final stages of development, and will be available within a month, university project lead, Dr Simon Bury, told F2L.

There is a cost involved, however a free PDF version of the training manual is available.

He said the university has also received a grant for a pilot program with selected organisations and businesses that will undertake testing in workplace environments.  “It includes general mental health content but also specific information about common ways about how mental health is exhibited in people with autism with resources targeted towards supervisors, colleagues and mentors, as well employees on the autism spectrum.”

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Dr Bury said that in-person training based on the package has been rolled out in some government departments with positive feedback.

“It has been created with advisory groups including autistic employees and managers, as well as experts, to ensure that what we developed is relevant and useful,” he said. “In the future we are also looking towards broadening the scope of the program for the mental health profession.”

The toolkit provides practical, evidence-based strategies that can be implemented in the workplace, leading to improved well-being, improved performance, and sustainability. It provides an overview of autism and autism-friendly work environments, and evidence-based strategies to promote mental health and well-being, particularly for people on the autism spectrum.

According to Dr Bury employers often lack specific knowledge and targeted strategies to support the mental health of autistic workers. “Some studies show up to 54 per cent of autistic people experience mental health issues in their lifetime and are up to nine times more likely to have suicidal ideation than the general population. Because autistic people differ in how they communicate and relate to others, it’s vital their managers, colleagues and support workers better understand these differences and some of the specific mental health challenges they can face,” he said.

OTARC director Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, said the toolkit builds on a range of successful employment initiatives to support autistic people that included DXC Technology’s Dandelion Program and ANZ’s Spectrum Program that have been successful in helping more autistic people find work.

“OTARC is pleased to be partnering with these two large organisations to develop this toolkit, ensuring that, after finding a job, autistic people are more likely to feel supported and sustain long-term employment,” she said.

ANZ Spectrum program manager Andrew Baird, said the Spectrum Program has enabled autistic individuals to build careers at ANZ with program participants and employees contributing their time and knowledge to the research.  “We believe this important mental health and well-being research and associated training package will help the autistic community to thrive and provide much-needed support for parents, carers, support workers and employers.”

DXC Dandelion Program executive Michael Fieldhouse said the toolkit was co-designed with people on the autism spectrum with lived experience and their support workers, co-workers and managers, as well as leading academics from Stanford University, amongst others.

OTARC has worked with DXC strategic partner Untapped, to develop a face-to-face workplace training package and an online executive education course based on the training package. 

Nearly two per cent of Australians are on the autism spectrum.

To access the final report for the Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce: A Mental Health and Well-Being Resource and Training Package project, click here.

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