By Tamsin Jowett 13thMarch 2019 (speech given about neurodiversity)
Aspergers to me and AV is simply a different neurology, part of the autism spectrum. We see how this different mind offers so many strengths, sometimes with communication and cultural differences.
So I am the President of Aspergers Victoria (AV). This is a small volunteer run not for profit of 18 years, run by passionate people with Aspergers lived experience to empower our Aspergers community.
I believe I have grown up with Aspergers around me without realising I was within that interesting culture, so I continue to learn more as I try empower the membership community at Aspergers Victoria.
AV’s key focus now is on the growing employment issue with the majority of our Aspergers facing unemployment when they are intelligent, creative and dedicated specialist expert staff – but have struggles with the social and communication aspects of life. It is a silent crisis that's looming.
I have seen the amazing potential of Aspergers minds with many professionals such a surgeons, accountants, engineers, artists, CEOs and more having this high intellect neurology. To name a few that are mentioned online like few Bill Gates, Nicola Tesla, Jane Austen, Anthony Hopkins, Mozart, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Munroe, Einstein who all found their creative call and had differences accepted and celebrated – but not without their challenges.
In the USA they have approximately 1 in 50 or so with autism they say and Australia where we have had few autism measures we’re saying 1 in 100 but we know it’s more with many undiagnosed or not disclosing. As Amaze research says over 80% know an autistic but only 20+% understand what that means.
No serious discussion about the topic of business innovation, learning, and collaboration can afford to ignore neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is key to innovation. In particular people with Aspergers minds who think and work differently – who simply require some basic adjustments to flourish and contribute. Who after a short period can change and improve your systems, contribute ideas, and dedicate all hours to solving issues beyond others’ capacity.
Each individual is different – and this concept that there is a “normal” is misleading and a myth. My father, a GP, always told me "there is no normal!". The concept of Neurodiversity recognises this – as the term’s creator Judy Singer says 'neurodiversity relates to all beings – all humans' and how neuro-difference is part of humanity. Its part of our culture mix.
Aspergers is part of the basket of recognised neurological differences of neurodiversity which can include ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and tics. These are NOT mental health conditions but simply brain differences.
This involves a major shift away from the medical pathologising paradigm of Aspergers, autism and other neurodiverse minds as disabled with the value dismissed.
Instead of continuing to categorise our Aspergers specialists so difference is disability, Im talking about a shift in cultural values, in particular a proper appreciation of the value of human diversity in our social and employment norms.
This means a shift in our approach to valuing Aspergers' specialties in knowledge, process and innovation – and a shift to inclusive work environments. To valuing their amazing productivity, loyalty and focus at work. Not dismissing autistics due to any social quirks or differences.
This inclusive approach requires a cultural shift, moving from the unconscious bias in recruitment where you recruit “people like us” and from systems that encourage employees to be the same - to appreciating the business benefits of having different minds who can see your work, your approaches and your service in a new light. It also means changing your culture so Aspergers and other neurodiverse staff can work at their best. I am so pleased many Melbourne companies and departments are embarking on this important journey such as ANZ, NAB, PTV and DHHS. Jobs Victoria are also working hard at encouraging change.
Your work culture, environment and approaches for our diverse individuals can either facilitate or inhibit their contribution. Approaches to consider include :
- how you recruit: interviews only test how good people are at interviews, not role suitability. Aspie strengths wont show here - maybe you can walk and talk instead of sitting face to face or do a trial week?
- how you assess performance: what about dedication to results, instead of team communication style
- how you brief your team: not just verbal but clear written instructions that suits literal thinkers
- It may be letting people come to the office later so they don't have the sensory overload of public transport at peak hour, which can mean an hour recovering before they’re productive
- Realising your office environment has sensory impacts such as downlights, sounds of equipment or talking, and open plan: I know of one Asperger that built a 3 sided cubicle for themselves near a window
- Even scheduling in daily plans to allow more movement breaks such as walks outside
Aspergers Victoria now has work coaches who help companies adapt their systems, environments and manage cultural and communication adaptations that a neurodiverse individual requires so their potential is not limited by allistic systems of work.
As many diversity and inclusion teams know, this needs to extends beyond recruitment to an inclusive culture that impacts how you design, deliver and manage your products and especially services for the end user. You will have neurodiverse customers as well you should consider.
For transport, this means when an inspector checks a ticket , he knows not to make the wrong assumptions when the person can't look them in the eye. It means looking at train design for lightings, sound dampening and layouts so they can be more autistic friendly. Maybe offer one or two quiet train carriages per train with no mobile use. It means lots of warning about transport schedule changes which lead to anxiety for neurodiverse Aspies who can’t manage change. Have customer service trained to assist anxious Aspie commuters who can’t manage such change – or crowds.
I love discovering more neurodiverse people every day in my life. I am so lucky to rub shoulders with such interesting thinkers and creators with wonderful strengths to offer, and who are here to help improve our world. We all just need to accept and understand them and welcome differences into our world.