Resources for Autistic Employees and their Employers: Workplace Assessments
7th August 2020
Recently, a high-performing autistic employee contacted me in desperate need of workplace support that catered specifically for her autism.
She was one of (if not the) most profitable salesperson in her organisation. But she had recently been diagnosed with autism after a mental breakdown. The new knowledge that her difficulties in life were because she was autistic had completely shaken her world.
With her consent (let’s call her Sam), I contacted Sam’s manager and HR Department on her behalf to try and organise her an autism specific Workplace Assessment.
The response I got back from HR was: “I would like to let you know that if we do decide to organize a workplace assessment for Sam, we will likely instruct an occupational health expert to carry out this step.”.
OK, fine. It was not my call. But is Occupational Health the right approach for autism?
Occupational Health Assessments Vs Autism Workplace Assessments
If you have spent time in any reasonably sized organisation, you will have likely heard of Occupation Health. This is a service that can assess the health and wellbeing of an employee, and make recommendations regarding whether an employee is well enough to undertake their job role.
If a disabled or chronically unwell employee can, with reasonable adjustments, undertake their role, Occupation Health Professionals can suggest adjustments that might help them to do this.
But I knew in my heart of hearts that in her case, Sam needed a vastly different approach than what she would have got with an Occupation Health Assessment.
It could be the difference between Sam losing her job & the company losing a valuable employee, and Sam becoming an even more profitable employee than she already was.
I am not suggesting that Occupational Health experts are not any good, nor that Occupational Health Assessments should be made redundant and cannot help autistic employees. But in some circumstances, it would be far more cost effective and helpful for an autistic person to have an Autism specific Workplace Assessment.
I have lost count of number of times we have been called into workplaces as a last resort to do an Autism Workplace Assessment for an autistic employee, when the initial Occupational Health Assessment (which the company would be also paying for), was not useful. What a waste of precious time and money!
Why is it a waste of money? Well, let us look at some differences between Occupation Health Assessments and for example, an Aspiedent Autism Workplace Assessment
Occupational Health Assessments
A standard Occupational Health Assessment is mainly centred around an employee’s capacity to work. It is about finding what reasonable adjustments can be made for a disabled or unwell employee from the medical model perspective (the idea that a disabled person is disabled solely because of their disability), and not because ‘society’ cannot cater for differences.
I still struggle to understand who exactly ‘society’ is. But perhaps that is for a different blog.
An Occupation Health Assessment does not traditionally take into account that the employee may be working towards promotion and what this would mean for them, going forwards. And usually, there is little if any real understanding of autism/neurodiversity.
Autism/Neurodiversity Workplace Assessment
In comparison, an Autism Workplace Assessment enables the employee and their managers to understand the particular manifestation of the autism/neurodiversity in the individual in question.
It is about identifying strengths and weaknesses, and then finding ways to use strengths to overcome weaknesses. In terms of suggested reasonable adjustments and aids, this is approached from a combination of the medical and social model perspectives.
It can account for promotion requirements and help the individual and managers to develop a plan to achieve promotion.
But how do you know you are choosing the right specialist company that offers autism and neurodiversity specific Workplace Assessments for employers and employees?
This is difficult, because how is a manager who is looking for help and support with an autistic employee, because they are brave enough to admit they do not understand autism, know whether the organisation they choose really understands autism?!
As the saying goes you don’t know what you don’t know!
Below are some hints and tips that will potentially save time, money and having to pay for a service twice because it did not help the first time.
Choosing a provider: What to look out for
There are many disability generalists and even specialist autism or neurodiversity companies who will come in and do a Workplace Assessment for an autistic employee. You would have thought that these all provided a service that can confidently resolve and improve the situation. Alas, this is not always the case.
For example, Mind mapping (or spider diagram) software is often recommended for autism. But this is not always appropriate. Mind mapping software is useful for those who start with the bigger picture and need help drilling down to the detail.
We once did a Workplace Assessment for an autistic employee for whom this had been recommended to help with his writing. But this was completely inappropriate for him, because he started with the detail and worked up to the bigger picture.
Aspiedent were instead able to recommend alternative software that was suitable for him, but which is not known to most organisations who do Workplace Assessments, because it is not marketed as disability support software.
Essentially, support software for neurodiverse employees is not a panacea: we often recommend other simpler solutions, depending on the situation. Sometimes these solutions are then rolled out across the organisation and they help everybody!
So to conclude, what should you consider when choosing which organisation to choose to do a Workplace Assessment that will be of value? What questions should you be asking? Well, here are three.
- Does the assessor first establish the particular underlying autistic or neurodiverse difficulties of the particular employee?
- Is there a problem-solving process in order to find the best solutions for the employee and the employer that are tailored to the actual workplace?
- Do software solutions come from a wide list of software and not just recognised support software?
For Aspiedent, the answer to all these questions is a resounding YES!