Part 1: ASD 101
Part 2: ASD on the job
Where can I learn more about ASD in the workplace?
Level IT Up can provide workshops to staff and community that are related to ASD and employment. In addition, there are many great resources online and in your local bookstore. Some of these are listed below, but many more are just a click away! It is important to keep in mind that every individual with ASD is unique, and their skills and abilities profile, coupled with their accommodation needs, should be reflected in any employment situation. The onboarding process may take a little longer, but clarified roles, responsibilities and communication pathways have been helpful to others in the workplace when an individual with ASD joins the team.
How has Level IT Up evolved from concept to reality?
The Level IT Up social enterprise concept came out of similar ventures already hard at work in Canada and around the world. Using and adapting business frameworks from Meticulon in Calgary, Mindshift, in Fargo, and many others, an initial business plan for Level IT Up was developed and a feasibility study completed.
With a committed board of directors and the support of many local businesses in Winnipeg’s information and communications technology sector, the model is being tested and the future looks bright.
In time, Level IT Up will further evolve to support a wider range of individuals with neurodevelopmental difference in additional business sectors including, accounting, engineering, science and technology, etc. where their unique advantages (attention to detail, intense focus, excellent rote memory, pattern recognition, etc.) can be used to their greatest advantage.
Who can I speak to to learn more about the Level IT Up business concept?
Contact President Anne Kresta or any one of our board members to learn more about our business concept and how it might benefit you or someone you know.
How does the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and fit in with Level IT Up?
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) is a landmark piece of legislation that became law in 2013. It commits to removing barriers to accessibility in the areas of customer service, employment, transportation, information and communication, and the built environment. Standards are being developed to support this legislation with increased public awareness and knowledge of how to support and encourage diversity in all aspects of community life. Level IT Up will serve as a resource for employers to learn how to better accommodate neurodiversity and will also serve as a source of new hires as these businesses diversify their workforces. Learn more +
What can I do to help my staff learn more about ASD?
Level IT Up offers workplace lunch and learn workshops for prospective employers. These workshops provide information about ASD, its many positive aspects and challenges that may be noticed on the job or in the workplace. Level IT Up is also connected to numerous local professional consultants who can offer further information and support upon request.
How does Level IT Up support consultants with ASD on the job?
Level IT Up works with both the employer and candidate to determine job expectations, processes, communication chain, point of contact, etc. Level IT Up staff are on call and may come to the worksite to provide direct support as needed by both the new hire and the employer as the consultant adjusts to the workplace and their new role. Level IT Up staff maintains an open communication portal for both as long as needed; this can last anywhere from weeks to months.
As work continues, much less support will be needed, and Level IT Up will continue to check in both in-person and remotely to make sure that our consultant performance meets business partner expectations.
What can I do to help my employee with ASD be successful at work?
A structured environment, quiet workstation and clear instructions, preferably in writing, are ideal. Specific instructions such as “be ready to start working at 8” are more meaningful than “Don’t be late.”
Some companies choose to embrace a clearer communication style as a best practice strategy. Under this ‘universal design’ model, companies ensure that communications with all employees are expressed as unambiguously as possible. A focus on clear communication encourages greater compliance with workplace policies and promotes a workforce that communicates effectively within the business as well as with customers.
What is a social enterprise?
“A social enterprise is a business owned by nonprofit organizations, that is directly involved in the production and/or selling of goods and services for the blended purpose of generating income and achieving social, cultural and/or environmental aims.”
A social enterprise is a business model that allows an organization to earn revenue for its services while maintaining its non-profit status. This revenue is used to pay our consultants competitive wages, pay our job coaches and pay other staff involved in the enterprise. Some of the revenue is also used to offset the costs of assessment and training processes when screening our consultants for their suitability in working with us. Other revenue sources used to offset these initial costs include donations, grants and fundraising.
Our social purpose is the increased independence and employment of adults with ASD in Winnipeg.
Why is the Level IT Up concept important for Winnipeg?
In a recent census, the population of the Winnipeg metropolitan area was listed as 811,900. Given that at least 1% (this may range as high as 1 in 66, according to the (Public Health Agency of Canada) of the population is affected by ASD, there would be an estimated 8,119 individuals with ASD living in this area. An estimated 27% are between ages 20 to 30 (our initial target age range), and this would yield a potential candidate pool of 2,192 people. Of these, approximately 1 in 6 will already have some kind of gainful employment, leaving 1826 unemployed. Of those, some will have severe impacts and will not be a good fit for our endeavours. Using National Survey of Child Health estimates for 2011–2012, the prevalence of severe or moderate ASD among U.S. children of ages 2–17 years was 0.8% , leaving 99.2% of those with ASD as potentially employable.
Through the chairing of a growing alliance of similar businesses around the world known as Neurowrx, Anne Kresta, Level IT Up’s inaugural President and CEO, has learned much about the many different business models, training processes, job coaching scenarios, employer outreach, retention, and support processes in an open-share format. These businesses are acting as mentors to Level IT Up, with Meticulon providing access to all of their recruitment and training materials for use in our enterprise. MindShift, in Fargo, ND, has provided additional insight more relevant to our economic landscape. At present, no such social enterprise is at work in Winnipeg, and interest and demand for this kind of service is growing. We recently completed a feasibility study that supported our concept and we are using it to inform our planning and practice.
Within Winnipeg, we have a growing ICT sector as well as larger companies who have departments dedicated to internal development and support of information technology.
How will Level IT Up measure its success?
Our success relates directly to the success of our candidates and participants as well as the experiences our employers have in contracting with our trained consultants. This will be reflected in the number of candidates applying to our service, the number of participants who successfully complete the three-week (minimum) training process, the number of employers who host presentations on ASD and the autism advantage, and the number of employers recruited to employ successful candidates. This in turn will be reflected in revenue generated from placement and support; increasing our capacity to train and place future candidates.
As we move forward with this business concept in Winnipeg, Level IT Up will develop strong ties within the ASD and ICT community and establish a brand for excellence in personnel provision.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) describes ASD as a series of conditions characterized by “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect, to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures, to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships, ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends, to absence of interest in peers.
Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior.
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines or ritualized patterns, or verbal/nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take the same route or eat the same food everyday).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
- Hyper or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or symptoms may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder frequently occur together. To make comorbid diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
NOTE: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
How might I notice differences between those with ASD and neurotypical employees?
The autism spectrum is surprisingly broad and individual personalities vary, as they do with typical populations; however, individuals on the spectrum tend to find social interaction and social communication challenging. They may miss social cues or interpret language very literally, so clear instructions are essential.
On the positive side, the tendency to be literal thinkers translates into exceptional attention to detail and remarkable accuracy and precision on tasks. This structured way of thinking also allows some of those with ASD to excel at managing schedules and deadlines.
Where can I learn more about supports and services for people with ASD in Manitoba?
By visiting the Manitoba Autism Spectrum Disorder Portal, you can learn about supports and services for those with ASD and their families in Manitoba across the lifespan. This web portal also has a searchable database where you can look for specific programming across different ages and stages of the lifespan.
While it is not a complete list of what may be available, it does provide a good starting point.
Another useful website is the Information for Manitobans with Disabilities portal. While content is more generalized, there is a lot of information that may be of use to individuals with ASD and their families.
There are many widely held but false beliefs about people with ASD. The autism spectrum is a very wide one, encompassing thousands upon thousands of diverse individuals around the world. It crosses all geologic, race, religious and cultural barriers and both boys and girls, men and women may have it, some to a greater extent than others. One thing is certain, among such a wide range of individuals, there is no one stereotypical representation that fits – if you have met one person with ASD, their unique qualities are their own and should not be assumed as belonging to all others on the spectrum. Famous people with ASD include actors, artists, inventors, CEOs of successful tech companies, teachers, car lovers and cattle chute designers. So here are a few myths we hope to dispel for you as you grow in your awareness of ASD and what it might mean to those around you.
Myth: I have nothing in common with those with ASD.
Fact:You may be surprised when you get to know someone with ASD how much in common you do have. Likes and dislikes related to movies, books, food, weather, etc. may all be shared. You may also share an interest in a specific hockey team, style of music, game or hobby. What might surprise you is the depth of knowledge your colleague with ASD has related to that area of interest. Areas of interest often serve as the bridge for really great communication and friendship, both for and between neurotypicals and those with ASD.
Myth: Those with ASD don’t have the same feelings as others.
Fact:Although individuals with ASD are often very good at analytical problem solving and express, as well as experience, their emotions differently, it is not the case that they lack emotions altogether. In fact, a very large proportion of individuals with ASD (about half, although estimates vary) suffer from symptoms of anxiety and depression that significantly compromise their quality of life. Unfortunately, very little is known about the underlying causes of these difficulties or about how to best alleviate them.
Myth: Those with ASD are not creative.
Fact:Scientists found that people with the developmental condition were far more likely to come up with unique solutions to creative problems, despite having traits that can be socially crippling and make it difficult to find jobs. The co-author of the study, Dr Catherine Best from the University of Stirling, said that while the results, from a study of 312 people, were a measure of just one aspect of the creative process, it revealed a link between autistic traits and unusual and original ideas.
Myth: You can tell someone has ASD just by looking at them.
Fact:ASD is not characterized by differences in physical appearance. You may notice differences in how a person with ASD moves, dresses, or behaves that reflect challenges with gross and fine motor coordination, sensory sensitivity to clothing, and lack of eye contact, but in general, you cannot identify someone with ASD just by looking at them.
Myth: Children with ASD outgrow it as they age.
Fact:ASD is a neurodevelopmental “disorder” – the brain circuitry develops differently and how it processes information is also different than in a neurotypical brain. While we continue to learn about neuroplasticity and how early intervention and skill training can help many with ASD overcome some of their “signs and symptoms” of ASD, it remains a lifelong condition.
Myth: Those with ASD must have a strict routine and cannot adapt to change.
Fact:Repetitive behaviour may include arm or hand-flapping, finger-flicking, rocking, jumping, spinning or twirling, head-banging and complex body movements. You may also see the repetitive use of an object, such as flicking a rubber band or twirling a piece of string, or repetitive activities involving the senses (such as repeatedly feeling a particular texture). This is known as 'stimming' or self-stimulating behaviour. Although repetitive behaviour varies from person to person, the reasons behind it may be the same: an attempt to gain sensory input, eg rocking may be a way to stimulate the balance (vestibular) system; hand-flapping may provide visual stimulation an attempt to reduce sensory input, eg focusing on one particular sound may reduce the impact of a loud, distressing environment; this may particularly be seen in social situations to deal with stress and anxiety and to block out uncertainty to pass the time and provide enjoyment. The need for routine and repetitive behaviour may change over time as the individual becomes more confident in their surroundings, with others around them and in their inherent skills and abilities. Understanding where the behaviour comes from can go a long way to developing a plan to reduce its impact. Social skill development, providing workplace accommodations to reduce stress, and introducing alternative behaviours that may be more socially accepted are potential solutions.
Myth: Those with ASD don’t want or need friends
Fact:One of the two characteristics used to diagnose ASD is an impairment in social communication and interactions. This is often oversimplified to mean a lack of interest in others and an inability to communicate; however, this apparent social disinterest may actually be the result of a lack of skills to effectively interact with others. An apparent lack of interest may actually be a lack of skill or lack of support for their social attempts.
Part 1: ASD 101
Part 2: ASD on the job