by Maralyn Ellis
The theme was It's a Neurodiverse Universe, which goes beyond awareness, beyond even acceptance, to a place of understanding, as I've heard one person put it.
With too many great workshop options to choose from—some run by those on the spectrum and others by amazing service providers (like Autism Ontario, one of our sponsors)—with nail artist Robyn painting thumbnails, illustrator David Beresford cartooning, with themed tshirts and mugs, a resource table, a "Star Walk" honouring employers hiring or supporting our Job Club members... plus great food... the day only got better with the exciting premiere of our film.
Everyday Heroes: Autism + Transitioning to Employment features interviews with 6 Job Club members. It was shot and edited by filmmaker and Job Club member volunteer Colin Baxter. We laughed... and many eyes teared up at the poignant messages. The film "stars" each took a turn at the mic afterwards (which was actually my favourite part of the whole day's events!).
Between this Conference, our Pilot Research study and our Hire Autism event earlier this year (that featured round-table discussions between Job Club members, service providers and employers... plus presentations from Job Club members, a reverse job fair, and more), we have learned a whole lot this year that we are trying to put into practice!
Key learnings have come from many (who we are very grateful to) and I will share their ideas with you here—these are obvious to some, new to others:
- "We need new symbols for autism," says spectrum artist, David Beresford. He illustrated this image below for our It's a Neurodiverse Universe event. "It's not a puzzle piece, a rubik's cube or a weed/dandelion, it's a peregrine falcon on top of the world, embracing the world, wings spread and ready to take flight... with maybe a little extra support needed to leave the nest."
- The secret to a successful transition to employment after finishing school? Employment! "More Younger" is how Project Autism puts it. And we need to get high schools fully on board with this concept, with stronger community partnerships and co-ops that lead to jobs.
- Forget simple awareness or acceptance, a truly inclusive workforce is built on understanding. This means understanding the human condition in all its cultural-, religious-, socioeconomic-, political-, neuro-diversity... and more!
- The resume and job interview as tools for hiring are outdated and do not net companies the best candidate. Fit First Technologies and Acadiate are two companies Job Club is working with who are starting to change this 'archaic' process.
- Autism is characterized by differences in social interactions and communications. This makes clear unambiguous instructions on the job highly valued (preferably written) and regular feedback super important, so the employee knows when they are doing it right!
- Autism is also characterized by differences in behaviours or interests. According to Michael McCreary Aspie Comic, autism, and especially Asperger's, can be defined by those "obsessed with trains!" In the right jobs, this behaviour and interest focus can be a resounding strength.
- Autism is trending in the media, in TV shows (like Sheldon in Big Bang above) and in movies. Someone even approached me recently and said, "My boss wants to hire someone on the spectrum for our IT department." We have to be careful to avoid stereotyping based on these common portrayals and overemphasis on the differences.... "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism," Dr Stephen Shore.
- On the spectrum or not, everyone is an individual and needs to be treated as such, despite our often herd mentality. When the IEP (individualized education plan) ends after high school, we need to follow it with a better ITP (individualized transition plan) and then an IAP on the job (individualized accommodation plan), the Ministry template for which most people and companies don't even know exists!
- Many employers admit, "We don't know what we are doing." With well-meaning inclusive hiring policies, employers still need more education and support in order to actually achieve their goals and take this beyond a policy to an actual hire. Let's start with service providers hiring those on the spectrum to serve those on the spectrum... I know some great spectrum job coaches and mentors in training!
- More than accommodations on the job, we need management that is experienced, open and educated in all areas of diversity in order to reach that place of understanding.
- Until we have people with autism in positions of leadership we will never truly be able to meet the needs of this growing population, as no matter how hard an NT tries (NT, as in a neurologically typical person), an NT cannot completely share the unique perspectives of those on the spectrum.
A special thank you to all the wonderful families who made it out to It's a Neurodiverse Universe, and especially to those young adults on the spectrum who made it a resounding success... and who have insisted we make this an annual event! We will see you all again.
What knowledge and insights can you add to our key learnings at Autism Job Club? Please share your ideas in the comment section below.