Ms Louise Sheehy

There’s change in the air! Autism is being redefined and moving away from the old ‘deficit’ model towards something that’s more positive.

The merits of neurodiversity within the workplace are becoming recognised, particularly when people are paired with advocates and industry groups forging new pathways of opportunity.

The National Disability Standards focus on an individual’s right to make decisions that give a sense of ownership to the way they live their lives. It’s been a long time coming but the recognition that diversity is a good thing has resulted in more opportunities.

The Autism Centre for Research’s newly released guidelines on diagnostic assessment reaffirms that “understanding the strengths of an individual is just as important for clinical management as identifying possible challenges”.

This is good news for the Autism community and offers potential avenues of work for all concerned.

It’s interesting to look at the break-up of National Disability Scheme figures.

Mid-way through last year about 29% of NDS participants, including those under the age of 15, specified autism as their primary disability. That equates to about 138,000 people involved in some manner with the scheme.

At Autism West we support more than 150 individuals weekly across the metropolitan area and we’re committed to using a strengths-based approach that focuses on a person’s individual interests to promote engagement and opportunity.

Unsurprisingly, in this day and age, young people have a strong focus on the creative use of technology that allows participants to demonstrate what they CAN do!

Autism West has a growing workforce of facilitators with autism who are experts in their own area of interest who are also positive role models for participants in our programs. An empowering, ‘strength-based’ approach reinforces the importance of equality and showcases the sort of diversity that adds depth and value to society.

With such a strong focus on an individual’s strengths we are able to highlight the enormous potential of neurodiversity and it’s a constant reminder that one person’s reality is merely one perspective among many others. This is an approach that opens up the concept of how different the world can be.

A well-known Japanese writer on autism, Naoki Higashida, puts it rather nicely. “Although people with autism look like other people, we are often very different…we are more like travellers from a distant, distant past. And if, by being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters that would give us some quiet pleasure.”

It is vital we do not focus on those whose talents ‘fit’ with our own versions of competence. It is crucial that all individuals are encouraged to have high expectations and opportunities to excel and that offers enormous potential for societal growth.

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