Autism Explained Summit: Education and Employment Wrap Up

Finding a job as an autistic person, advocating for yourself at work, diversity in the workplace, are all constant challenges for people on the spectrum. Autism Explained – Education and Employment breaks down these barriers and offers sound advice on how to help autistic people thrive at work and be celebrated for the differences they can offer. 

Social Inclusion: It’s all about MATES – with Randa Habelrih

Inspired by the challenges her son experienced, Randa Habelrih is passionate about changing the standards of social inclusion for our young people on the autism spectrum.

Randa says many people with autism struggle with communication which can often lead to isolation. We all crave belonging and fulfilling friendships, and if we can create more opportunities for people with autism to have these experiences, this will have a profound positive impact. 

She thinks teaching someone social skills in a therapy setting isn’t congruent with normal life. It has its purpose but these skills need to be generalised. Randa works more around educating peers and discussing autism, giving them a glimpse of the world of autism, and having a new acceptance of difference. 

Randa runs various events to put autistic people front and centre. She helps them walk in fashion shows, perform at drama shows and speak at conferences. 

When autistic people look like they don’t want to be involved, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be there. They need to be accepted by their different communication style and for people to understand their inability to speak or express certain emotions, doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Invite them to parties, understand their differences and be a leader in acceptance. You can’t change the whole world, but you can change the world for one person. 

Informing Educational Practice with Autistic Experience – with Jacquelyn Fede, PhD & Amy Laurent, PhD, OTR/L

Before Dr Jacquelyn knew what autism was, she felt incompetent. She would either ‘meltdown or shutdown’ and felt very lost. She started working with Amy to come to an understanding of her sensory profile and understanding the strategies she needs to manage situations. She says, “Autism is the key that allows me access to an understanding of what I need to function in a workplace”. 

Jacquelyn was undiagnosed for most of her life. She didn’t have a behavioral or educational plan. She is hypersensitive to sounds and smells, but hypo sensitive to hunger. She wouldn’t sit in the cafeteria and would go speak with teachers. 

When Jacquelyn met Amy, they began uncovering her sensory profile and one day it clicked that Jacquelyn was autistic. They now work together in a partnership called ‘Autism Level Up’ to provide resources and education for people to understand the condition. 

Everyone assumes that other people are like them, so they have blind spots where they don’t understand others. Asking and communicating helps to uncover these blind spots. You can find an Autism Level Up Guide on their website which assesses which level of understanding you are at including awareness, acceptance, appreciation, empowerment and advocacy, and the steps you need to talk to move upwards to the final advocacy stage. 

You can download the guide here. 

Finding a Job as an Autistic Person – with Chris Bonnello

Chris Bonnello from Autistic Not Weird is an autistic author, speaker, and special needs tutor. Chris has a background in primary teaching and believes that autistic people need to approach success on their own terms. 

Chris got his first job as a primary school teacher on the 13th interview. He found it difficult to sit down and give the correct answers. It was often demotivating but he remained stubborn. He knew that he could teach if someone would let him pass the ‘beauty spoken word competition’ of the interview. So he didn’t give up and persistence paid off. 

Sometimes autistic people don’t understand their or what they are good at. Chris believes when you have an understanding that ‘I am not the wrong type of person’ and realise that you are (by your standards) the correct type of person, gives you greater confidence and helps you realise everyone can make mistakes.

Chris believes if you try to blend in, you will be treated as a generic candidate. It is worth taking the risk and being unique. If you find a way to stand out and show your strengths, you have a much better chance of getting the job. 

Chris calls people to “Encourage children to define themselves through their strengths. Their identity should be based around what they are good at, not what they think they are terrible at”. Help your children understand what their strengths are and that their strengths matter. 

  Advocating for yourself at work -with Michael John Carley

Michael was diagnosed at 36 years old, before his diagnosis, he recalls two types of people either thinking he was a ‘tell it like it is’ guy or an ‘a***”. After his diagnosis, instead of seeing situations through a bad character, he began to see it through different brain wiring, which was a huge relief. 

Michael sometimes finds it hard to read people, so telling people about having Asperger’s is often difficult. People will either readily accept or judge him. However, in the workplace, there are often more policies in place to protect people. He finds it better to disclose about his condition in writing, not in person. Often someone’s reaction can vary, which is difficult when you are in a vulnerable position. But if you disclose in writing to your manager or boss, they can react in private, and can afterward think thorough a strategy to help you. 

Michael encourages everyone on the spectrum to give themselves a shot to try. He believes you can manifest confidence encourage to apply for jobs that you wouldn’t imagine you could get. If you fail, you can learn from your mistakes. You don’t need to fall into perfection tendencies. Mistakes are how you grow.  

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace – with Marcelle Ciampi, M.Ed. (aka Samantha Craft)

Marcelle wants to drive inclusion and diversity in the workplace. She has a passion for neurodiversity and autism which stems from both herself and her son being on the autism spectrum. 

She discusses the way autistic people are often portrayed is through a deficit model that focuses on how to fix their weaknesses, rather than how to utilize their strengths. Autistic people don’t need to be fixed, they need to be supported. The model needs to be changed to a human-centric approach. 

Autistic people have so much to offer a workplace but on paper, they don’t have a mainstream resume. Marcelle calls for implementing ‘alternative resumes’ which highlights passions and skills differently. 

Email or face-to-face communication can often be a barrier for autistic people. Some emails can appear too frank, too short, or in some cases very verbose and descriptive. Most typical people would think ‘I’m not going to hire this person’ whereas they really should try to understand how unique and genuine the person is.