Supporting a neurodiverse workforce

La Trobe University researchers and partners have developed a world-first toolkit to assist workplaces to better support the mental health of autistic employees.

Supporting a Neurodiverse Workforce: A Mental Health and Well-Being Resource and Training Package is the result of 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.

Project Lead and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at La Trobe University, Dr Simon Bury, said 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 individuals experience mental health issues in their lifetime. They are also up to nine times more likely to have suicidal ideation than the general population,” Dr Bury said.

“Because autistic people differ in how they communicate and relate to other people, it’s vital that their managers, colleagues and support workers better understand these differences, and some of the specific mental health challenges they can face.”

Dr Bury said the toolkit provides practical, evidence-based strategies that can be implemented in the workplace.

“This should lead to improved wellbeing, and, as a consequence, improved performance and sustainability in the workplace – a win for everyone,” Dr Bury said.

OTARC Director and Chair, Professor Cheryl Dissanayake, said the toolkit builds on a range of successful employment initiatives to support autistic people.

“Initiatives such as DXC Technology’s Dandelion Program and ANZ’s Spectrum Program have been highly successful in helping more autistic people find work,” Professor Dissanayake said.

“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.”

The toolkit provides an overview of autism and autism-friendly work environments, and evidence-based strategies to promote mental health and wellbeing, particularly for people on the autism spectrum.

DXC Dandelion Program Executive Michael Fieldhouse said the toolkit is a world-leading resource that the project partners are committed to deploying in the workplace.

“It 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,” Mr Fieldhouse said.

ANZ Spectrum Program Manager Andrew Baird said the Spectrum Program has enabled autistic individuals to build careers at ANZ.

“We’re proud that many of our program participants and employees have contributed their time and knowledge to this research,” Mr Baird said.

“ANZ’s purpose is to shape a world where people and communities thrive. 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.”

OTARC have been working with DXC’s strategic partner Untapped, to create a face-to-face workplace training package and develop an online executive education course based on the Training Package.

Nearly two percent of Australians are on the autism spectrum, representing a diverse group of people who differ in how they communicate and relate to other people, as well as interact and make sense of the world around them.

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

Media Contact: Kate O’Connor | k.o’ | 0436 189 629