Aspect believes that it is important to include people on the autism spectrum throughout our organisation, in governance, research, service planning and service delivery. This is the right thing to do and it will make our organisation and work more respectful and effective. The following is a summary of what Aspect is doing to engage people and the processes we have in place to ensure that this continually improves.
Employing people on the spectrum
Aspect surveys its staff every two years. In 2017 3% of staff identified as being on the autism spectrum. The type of roles filled by autistic employees varies. For example, in 2016 Aspect employed an Engagement Officer. This role educates Aspect staff and students as well as parents and professionals about autism, including Aspect and other parents and professionals through written articles, interviews, videos, presentations and workshops.
Aspect’s Engagement Officer works to make sure that Aspect communicates messages that are important to people on the spectrum and that the content is accurate and respectful. One example of these articles is the interview of autistic academic Stephen Shore on the topic of bullying.
Other people on the spectrum are employed for the skills they bring, such as data processing, video editing, administration, digitising diagnostic records, editorial & communications skills, and research, or for the special interests they have such as movie reviewing. Our target for 2019 is for 5% of Aspect’s staff to identify as autistic, and be employed across valued roles in the organisation as measured by our biennial staff survey.
The Aspect People team is working with people on the spectrum to adapt recruitment processes, developing approaches to measure employment data and working with the organisation’s employment service, Aspect Capable to ensure appropriate and successful workplace supports.
Engaging people in Aspect’s Governance: Aspect’s Board & the Advisory Council
The Aspect Advisory Council was established in 2017 and consists of a group of seven people on the autism spectrum who provide independent advice to the Board of Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) and Aspect’s Executive team on Aspect’s governance.
The Council influences Aspect’s strategic planning and the management of the company’s corporate risks.
The Council was based on a model developed by Dimensions, a disability organisation in the UK. The model seeks to facilitate meaningful representation by including a diverse group of people with a range of experiences and perspectives in the governance structure of an organisation.
The group was recruited through existing Aspect networks across Australia and first met in August 2017. The Council has input into Aspect’s strategy e.g. representation at the annual Board/Executive Strategy Workshop and the Strategic Planning Workshop of the Aspect staff leadership group.
The Council has formally agreed its role and this is summarised in Regulation 9 of the Aspect Regulations, which is available on the Aspect website. Information about the Advisory Council operations will be shared in the Annual Report and at the Annual General Meeting.
Engaging people in Research
Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice (ARCAP) recognises the importance of a participatory approach to research. Our research focus is not on finding a cure for autism, or on finding the causes of autism. Our focus is on providing the best possible treatment, services and programs for people with autism here and now; the best practice, based on evidence from around the world, to provide the best possible opportunities for the people we support. ARCAP currently employs two autistic research assistants and is developing a group of autistic reviewers for research proposals. This engagement has immediately resulted in more respectful language and researchers regularly interacting with a range of people on the spectrum and benefitting from their insights.
Aspect is an official Autism CRC Research Co-production Partner. Partners are organisations who have demonstrated a commitment to research co-production on a sustained basis. Co-production partners have demonstrated:
- Commitment to co-production: through completed, continuing and research yet to commence
- Appropriate engagement and recognition: co-producers on the spectrum and/or their families/carers have been, and will continue to be, engaged, recognised and rewarded appropriately
- Sustainability of co-production: the organisation takes a sustained approach to research co-production, including promotion of co-production internal or external to their organisation
Aspect has also been at the forefront of researching the everyday life experiences and needs of people on the autism spectrum, with studies such as the We Belong and We Belong Too. In undertaking these projects, Aspect included adults of the autism spectrum in the project team that conceptualised and designed each research project.
In a unique collaboration between Aspect researchers and adults on the autism spectrum, the results of the We Belong study have been published in the book Shining a Light on the Autism Spectrum: Experiences and Aspirations of Adults. This book illustrates the original data with personal stories and case studies written by adults on the autism spectrum to present their experiences, aspirations and needs in their own words
Engaging people in service planning & service delivery
Aspect Education engages and employs people on the spectrum in all many areas of school service provision and works with our students to ensure their voice is heard and their feedback is collected so that we can continue to develop our educational program.
Every Aspect student has a strengths-based Individual Plan that shapes their education. Students contribute to their plan as much as they are able. For example, one high school student expressed an interest and capability in the school library. This student now comes to the school library one morning per week. She has made suggestions around a new more efficient system that could be used and is developing skills for future employment.
Aspect is currently developing student representative councils that can be linked to the Aspect Advisory Council to represent the student voice at the Aspect Board level.
Increasingly our ex-students are engaged in varied roles such as contributing to parent teacher evenings or other school events with families (speaking or taking photographs), delivering a music program or presenting at education conferences.
As Aspect established the Treetop School an advisory group was established with an autistic parent and a community member on the spectrum.
Aspect’s NDIS services
Aspect has established a LGBTQIA+ Committee comprising of people on the spectrum to identify gaps in services, to promote inclusion and learn about the specific needs of people on the spectrum who identify as LGBTQIA+. This led to Aspect coordinating a group of people on the spectrum to be participants in the 2019 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Some Aspect services are inspired and led by participants, including setting up social networks based on shared passions like Pokémon.
Aspect Practice Think Tank
Aspect engages a group of people on the autism spectrum as paid consultants, to advise on our day to day practice. This group is called the Aspect Practice Think Tank. The group meets four or five times each year and reviews, content, service resources, research proposals, communication materials, language guidelines and our plain English policies. Aspect also works with this group to co-deliver presentations and workshops. Including our ‘Introduction to Autism Support’, ‘Strengths & Interests’ workshops, Autism Q&A panels, and internal staff autism training.
We feel passionately about inclusion and access for everyone. But for an individual on the spectrum, many public spaces can be challenging to access. Sometimes making really simple changes or providing an additional resource can make the world of difference to someone on the spectrum and help create a more inclusive environment. We always include a person on the autism spectrum in our work developing an autism-friendly Australia.
This includes consultations with organisations such as Taronga Zoo, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Opera Australia, Shoes & Sox and the National Library & National Museum in Canberra. Our NIDS funded Inclusive Beaches program employed two Inclusion Advisors to help assess, train and monitor the autism friendliness of Surf Life Saving Nippers programs.
Presentations and workshops
Aspect co-develops and co-delivers presentations and workshops with people on the spectrum. This includes some Aspect staff training, our ‘Introduction to autism support’ and ‘Working with Strengths & Interests’ workshops for parents and professionals and conference presentations such as the Autism West keynote on ‘Autism Friendly Environments’ in 2018.
Aspect Employment is a specialist employment service offering person-centred employment training and support to jobseekers on the spectrum and their employers through coaching, mentoring, job preparation, and training.
Aspect recently trialled a program of autism-specific mentoring. Aspect Mentoring was a pilot program for young people 12- 18 developed, designed, led and delivered by people on the autism spectrum as part of Aspect Practice.
The program worked with young autistic people struggling with difficult life circumstances - being bullied, isolated, having difficulties with family or friendships, learning and developing. These challenges can be major causes of anxiety, depression or high-stress levels and can prevent young people from engaging in positive strategies or services that might support them.
Our autistic mentors worked to develop a unique connection to their apprentices through shared interests and experiences, built on a person’s strengths and positive characteristics, to develop self-awareness and acceptance, increased a person’s motivation and capability to solve problems and engage in positive strategies and supports, and worked with families and professionals to develop a positive awareness and understanding of Autism
Aspect Fundraising is continually working towards respectful representation of people in fundraising campaigns. Aspect Fundraising employs people on the spectrum on a permanent and casual basis, collaborates with the Think Tank to develop respectful accurate messaging and encourages autistic people to engage with fundraising activities. A new fundraising activity has been designed and led by a member of the Advisory Council. More than 5% of the Walk for Autism participants have identified as being on the autism spectrum showing people’s willingness and capability to help others.
Continually improving engagement throughout Aspect
Aspect knows we can always do better. In 2019 Aspect employed an Inclusion Officer to coordinate plans that ensure continuous improvement of engagement. Aspect is working with the Australian Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) to develop and implement an organisation Disability Access & Inclusion Plan. We aim to publish this plan in 2019.
The Disability Access & Inclusion Plan will ensure Aspect’s work is in line with the six outcomes of the National Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020 a national approach to supporting people with disability to maximise their potential and participate as equal citizens in Australian society.
Aspect Comprehensive Approach
Aspect uses a comprehensive organisation-wide approach to support. Aspect's Comprehensive Approach encapsulates more than 50 years of Aspect's expertise in providing services to children, young people and adults on the autism spectrum. Based on the continuous review of the evidence-based literature, the Aspect Comprehensive Approach currently includes eight elements.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism (Autism CRC) and Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) are partnering to deliver the Future Leaders Program in 2019 and 2020. Future Leaders is Australia’s first holistic leadership capacity building program for autistic adults. First delivered in 2014, and further developed by the Autism CRC in 2018, the program is designed by and for autistic people, to learn from, empower and encourage one another to pursue their goals and positively impact their communities.
For participants, the Future Leaders program involves undertaking online modules, a residential workshop, mentoring and volunteer placements with progressive organisations.
For organisations who provide placements for Future Leaders, the program presents an opportunity to think differently about their business, broaden their accessibility objectives and better engage with their customers and employees.
The activities involved in a volunteer placement are flexible, depending on the goals of the Future Leader and the placement organisation. By offering a placement, organisations provide the Future Leader with a practical opportunity to further explore and develop their leadership skills and potential as they meet, share with and learn from others.
The aim of the new partnership between Autism CRC and Aspect is to grow and strengthen the Future Leaders Program under the banner of the Sylvia Rodger Academy, through shared values and a vision to see emerging autistic leaders empowered to achieve their goals