The autism at work summits are a set of annual conferences held around the globe to celebrate and encourage a neurodiverse workforce. Neurodiversity is the collective term to indicate persons who have a neurologically divergent development, and/or a mental health disorder. According to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity (2011) held at Syracuse University,
"Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome, and others."
The purpose of recognizing neurodiversity is to note that while each of these disorders hold challenges for the affected population, they often also bring unusual abilities. For example, autistic individuals tend to have an innate ability to focus on details and see patterns; those with ADHD have a powerful ability to hone their attention; dyslexics have exemplary spatial ability and strong creative minds; depressives are also artistic and often deep thinkers—even those with mania or schizophrenia, disorders that seem severe or dysfunctional, can offer immense insight and novel ideas where the typical brain misses out.
Hiring neurodiverse is a positive choice for social welfare and a highly valuable resource to organizations. The autism at work summits aim to engage a greater audience to see the resulting benefits of better engaging the skills and interests of all employees, not just those on the autism spectrum.
Summits are only the beginning. Autism at work is a movement, which was called on from the autistic population, and heralded into the corporate eye by collection of institutions who truly believe in the talent and ability of neurodivergent populations. Thus, our goals are to:
1. Help neurodiverse populations to find meaningful work.
2. Showcase the talent of neurodiverse people as an untapped resource.
3. Educate corporations on neurodiverse hiring practices and programs.
4. Raise awareness of the benefits of a more diverse workforce.
Pioneered in 2017, by German technology giant SAP, the Autism at Work program sought to raise awareness of autism in the workplace, and both promote autistic talent and support workplace transitions. The goal set by SAP was to have 1% or more autistic workers by 2020. Since its inception and numerous promotional activities, many other corporations have taken up a similar goal, and some have become more optimistic in their estimations of an autistic workforce. The great work of SAP set to the corporate tone; a desire to hire autistics, a willingness to embrace autism.
Concurrently, ‘autism at work’ has become a conceptualization of change; a social movement, leap-frogging off the work of Judy Singer in the neurodiversity advocacy and lived-experience calls for autistic rights. As such, Australian Summits of the ‘autism at work’ movement are embracing this and trying ever more to reach out to ALL neurodiversities (not just autism). We expect others globally will also follow.
Summits themselves draw a wealth of well-known speakers on autism advocacy, workplace diversity and human resource management, and attract pro-diversity companies (such as ANZ, DXC, Google, EY, Ford, Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, SAP, SunPork Farms, and various government departments) to share their successes in hiring autistic and other neurodiverse individuals for a range of roles. The Summits are ever-growing, and we are always striving to improve, making each one more inclusive and more supportive of all.
At the summit, panel discussions and presentations cover a range of topics, including recent: ‘getting started as a neurodiverse workplace’; ‘autistic women and employment’; ‘the latest in employment research’; and ‘the apps/tools being used by employers and autistic individuals’.
Interactive sessions are also available for employers to explore neurodiversity in the workplace, along with an overview of programs providing pathways through tertiary education, and from training to employment (such as the neurodiversity hubs and collaborative networks).
While we understand we are only at the beginning of this journey, we are hopeful of social change. The Summits aim to continually strive to betterment for the neurodiverse community, supporting well being at work.
The future is neurodiverse, and we think that’s a positive step for humanity!