Neurodiversity Hub: Creating Opportunities Around the Globe, with Andrew Eddy | EDB 211
Untapped co-founder and Australian advocate Andrew Eddy discusses creating the Neurodiversity Hub
(32 minutes) Andrew Eddy is the co-founder of Untapped, a social enterprise focused on developing a neurodiverse employment ecosystem to increase opportunities for autistic individuals. One of their initiatives is Neurodiversity Hub. Its mission is to: support this untapped talent to shine, through focused training programs, academic accommodations, assistive technologies and flexible study arrangements; link neurodivergent students with work experience, internships and employment opportunities; improve the employability of neurodivergent university and TAFE students, establishing a pipeline of potential candidates for employers and boosting workforce participation rates; and continue establishing the Neurodiversity Hub through a number of universities around Australia and in parts of the USA and Britain.
For more on Untapped: untapped-group.com
For more on Neurodiversity Hub: neurodiversityhub.org
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Introducing Andrew Eddy of Untapped
DR HACKIE REITMAN (HR): I am Dr. Hackie Reitman welcome to another episode of exploring different brains. And today I’m very excited because we’re going all the way to Australia, way down under, to talk to Andrew Eddy who’s going to tell us all about employment, neurodiversity, autism, and the way things work Way Down Under over there. Andrew welcome!
ANDREW EDDY (AE): Thank you Hackie good to be here. Great to meet you.
HR: You’re the co-founder of untapped why don’t you tell our audience. First of all, introduce yourself properly because I didn’t do that and tell us about untapped and your other organizations.
AE: Not a problem. Yes, so I’m actually a child account like a CPA. I’ve had a long career in finance and consulting work. But it’s in the last few years working with someone like you who had done some work in this area and came across this concept of looking to employ autistic young adults who weren’t working into software testing roles really touched my imagination. And at the time I was involved on the board of directors of one of the universities down here and I introduced that organization to the research area at Latrobe University which is one of the oldest autism research centers in Australia. And I started a connection and started a program and started getting research into that program. So, that program has been now running for five years and it employed over 110 young adults in software testing, stop security, and data analytics in various government departments and some commercial organizations. Which should be exciting but the research has continued and it’s now probably the only program in the world that has none depending from a longitudinal study and research. So and it’s a very comprehensive program cause it’s not just about finding people jobs it’s about creating a change in the organization and the set of structures and Scaffolding to support them to integrate into the workplace and also to take the company on a journey to be more Autism Aware and Autism accepting and really dispel a lot of the myths around and trying to get them to understand the opportunity and become a more inclusive organization.
And what we really find out that is really incredible flow on benefits to the culture of the organization to the employee engagement into the general inclusiveness of these companies. So just working through this with that organization and introducing them to companies it’s just something that I got closer and closer to. I was really struck by how how many people are in impacted by this whether they’re Autistic or they’re the parents of autistic kids or young adults or the uncles or aunts. It’s just amazing and how many senior Executives I went and talked to about this and I’ll tell them about the opportunity and they look at me they say thank you so much my son is autistic or my niece is autistic it’s just incredible it’s like this amazing or like an overrepresentation of these connections in the people I was talking to. So, it’s just amazing how much interest there was in this. So, I got more and more involved and eventually we’ve formed this organization called untapped couple years ago and I started partnering with DXC Technology on their program and I started talking to other companies about their program. And the whole thing about untapped is about creating, what we’re trying to do, is create a neurodiverse employment ecosystem that’s self-sustaining. And while DXC had a lot of success with IT related roles looking to expand that and we’re talking to engineering companies and accounting firms of both of police forces and all sorts if things. But it’s all very well to have a program and create this interest from these companies but you’ve then gotta find the individuals and they’re invisible. Once they get through a sudden stage in their lives they seem to almost disappear. We have a disability employment insurance scheme here in Australia and 29% of people on that scheme are autistic it’s the biggest cohort of people.
AE: A lot of them start dropping out of school at year 8. Many of them don’t make it to the end of school. They don’t see and their parents don’t see a pathway to University or college. Even if they get to get to University they’ll dropout in the first year because it’s too much of a change. Even if I get to the end of University they’ll tend not to have work experience. They’ll have this CV it’ll just be their tests — this is the subjects I did. And when a hiring manager is looking at this autistic person with subjects even though they might be a good match and a non-autistic who has done work experience at JP Morgan, Chase or whatever it just doesn’t compare and the hiring manager will just go with the other person because they don’t understand the opportunity. So, what we saw was to make this ecosystem more complete we needed to be talking to the universities and the colleges and partnering with employers and try and create a set of things around that transition to University about getting through University and about getting work experience so that by end of university you can compare to the others. So that what they neurodiversity hub initiative is about and that’s another part of what we’re doing. So the neurodiversity hub initiative is a co-curricula program that we’ve developed in theory. We’ve been very lucky to have some funding from DXC and we have some interns from Cordelle come all the way out here to Australia for 4 months a year ago and they work with me on creating these materials which are now put up on the neurodiversityhub.org website. And now we’re encouraging universities to join this community of practice we’re encouraging employers to join this community of practice and use some of the materials we have, implement the program that we’re putting forward, and then create those opportunities for these young adults.
Untapped and the Neurodiversity Hub
HR: Tell us about the synergies between the two organizations; the Neurodiversity Hub and the Untapped.
AE: Well I guess Untapped we’re trying to do that whole ecosystem and that includes links to research, we engage with Architects on design neurodiverse friendly and place making guidelines. We engage with work designer on designing the work. We’re partnering with disability employment service providers to find help clients and then the neurodiversity hub where we’ve got one University in each state in Australia and we’re a really small country so we only have 39 universities in Australia. Though we also have the chance to link in with universities in the U.S. and England. So, we really see the neurodiversity hub as part of what we’re trying to promote as part of the ecosystem and we actually say it’s a good way to engage employers in the process because obviously companies are not probably willing to jump straight in and do an Employment Program. But we say to them is come on a journey with us. Join this is hub this community of practice. Maybe come along to the employer expos where we can give you guidelines on how to interact with neurodiverse students. Maybe come and talk at a forum that one of these universities in the hub are putting on and talk about the opportunities in your company. Maybe we can organize a field visit with some neurodiverse students to come and visit your company. Maybe we can have a job shadowing process and then trying to get them to point of maybe an internship. And once we get into that stage of internship and we all set in provide training to the organization on how to work with these individuals by using The Optimize learning platform.
Then we got the chance to look at where we can then go to employment program and the employment program we use things like washer or Optimize to help support them in their new jobs. So, they’re intertwined but neurodiversity hub is not a company that exists it’s a concept that a community practice that’s got this fantastic website with so much work’s been put together by so many people all around the world to create and set up materials and the thinking and then we just say that is a great way to help companies stop the journey by joining and for those who already well down the journey to join and provide input to the to the program with their experience with materials that they happy to share whatever it might be and where that universities, companies, or researches.
HR: How do you recruit and how do you find these “invisible” neurodivergent individuals?
AE: Great question because there’s no database. We don’t go out on one of the job sites to advertise. What we do is we go through the hub website, through our social media, through our website but the biggest are a is through the Autism Association. And they were happy to promote through their newsletters or whatever. And what we find if you sit down with some of the trainees that we’ve got on board and you ask them how’d you find out about this they say my mom told me [laughs]. We see that it’s so important because often because of executive functioning issues and other things if you’re only dealing with the autistic person, they may not get around to putting in their application. If they get their mother involved then it’s probably gonna happen.
HR: Well very interesting because you know, I just gave a talk out with Dr. Lawrence from the Stanford neurodiversity project out there. And afterwards we got a lot of applications for a internships. We’re in Florida but out there in California it’s actually a dividend we’re finding from the coronavirus times because of the virtuality of everything it’s really opened up the gates for us because part of our whole thing was you know what these parents who have a bright person sitting alone in their room on their computer we were getting them over to our little green screen Studio, getting exposed to making media, editing getting in front of a camera, meeting other people and now the coronavirus that back in the back in their rooms and enjoying it cause we found that they’ve been much more social at our virtual meetings we just have one earlier today with about 12 of us and we’re actually thinking of doing a research study on that on how the coronavirus thing is affecting these individuals that a you know, I don’t know what your experience has been there so far in Australia if you’ve noticed any kind of difference in behavior.
AE: Oh absolutely! Yeah yeah so, there’s been some lessening of anxiety in terms of having to get to work. Not having to deal with public transport, not having to deal with the face-to-face in the office so that’s decreased. But there has been heightened anxiety about the virus itself and could they catch that and so on. So, we are seeing different things and we have been different trying ways some of the guys have still been already got the office with proper physical distancing. But many are at home in some cases we’ve tried various things. We’ve just had a Skype Channel running during the day for a few hours just not a specific meeting just having the channel running so that they can be doing their work at their desk at home but they can hear everyone else.
HR: What a great idea!
AE: So, we have just have it running it’s not a meeting it’s just an open Channel.
HR: We got to try that.
AE: And that’s been really beneficial.
Neurodivesity In The Workplace
HR: What do you see is the biggest roadblock to integrating the neurodivergent individuals into, not just the workplace, but into society?
AE: I think it’s really the narrative is the big thing and it’s about how do we change that automatic mindset that people have. That they’ve developed through their lives from what they’ve heard. It’s just such a low level and autistic organizations here in Australia have done studies on this and there is report put out recently about the kind of state of that and the high for proportion people to understand. And that’s something we have to try and shift. And we talk about the results of what we’ve noticed in these programs by picking out various stories about the level of productivity that’s been achieved, the impact it’s had on the culture of the organization. So, we tried to share those things around as a way of shifting that conversation. We’re also working with another organization called DEA dyslexic here in Melbourne and they’re focused on dyslexia and they’re very much on the same page of trying to shift the narrative around dyslexic individuals.
So, I think it’s a common thing that we have got to try and see what’s the best way in which we can impact that conversation. I spoke with an organization a few weeks ago about doing a program and they looked at me they said look don’t know if we’re ready to do that. I said what about internship and they said I am not ready for that maybe we should focus on helping the people we already employ that are autistic. I said well that’s great, fantastic not many people think about it that way a lot of people think it’s a choice they now can make about employing an autistic person and they don’t realize that 1% of their employees are probably autistic. And they said well why don’t we do that? And I said well that’s great but, guess what, you don’t know who they are and they are not just gonna put their hand up because you haven’t changed the culture. You still got this mindset and they will not they will not come out if they don’t feel safe if they don’t feel psychologically safe they won’t come out. And what we’re saying I was sharing with them I said what we’re saying is the biggest way that you pick that conversation is to actually start a program and if you start a program what we found is people put their hand up. And they go well I’m autistic what are they going to do for me or they go my son is autistic how can I help and we just get this groundswell of things happening. So, I said look I hate to say it but the best way to try and impact the organization is actually do something. I know it sounds logical [laughs] but you gotta show action. If you show action people in your company will go oh I love this company you’re actually doing something.
HR: As a corollary to that is, is that welcoming atmosphere. See we’re lucky when we get honor of the neurodivergent interns we’re different brains and it’s like how is your brain different? Well I tell them about my brain. I got expelled in the first grade in the 10th grade I don’t know how I would have been late but, I don’t I think this the so-called neurotypical you know exists not a bad thing but everybody’s brains a little different you know.
AE: I don’t know I don’t know if there is actually a neurotypical really.
HR: Let’s talk about how you can increase the comfort level of your neurodivergent individuals to further feel comfortable coming out, so to speak.
AE: Yeah, yeah so we’ve actually put together some thought pieces on this which are on the hub and we’ve done one for universities when you’re starting University and one for the workplace. And so, we’ve had in one case was written by an autistic young lady in Bath University in England. The other case was written by one of the Cornell interns but with heavy input from a number of autistic people who had actually had the lived experience in university and then coming out. I guess what we’re suggesting, and what we’re not advocating either way, to disclose or not disclose. We’re trying to share people’s experiences and we’re trying to make it clear that it’s not something you should go and tell everyone you should be very strategic in how you use that information. And if you can see that there is that benefit from doing that so, if it’s getting out of the combinations or whatever, then that’s the instance where you might think about it. And needing to remember that this is all the privacy and confidentiality things around that so if you’re talking to the right people in the right way you’ll be protected by that and you just got to be very clear about when and when you don’t talk about the information. So, we got these two thought pieces in these two different environments that includes some research reviews and so on of looking at the impact it can have of not disclosing or not disclosing in the workplace. So, it’s some interesting reading there so I encourage people to look at those.
Neurodiversity in Australia vs the USA
HR: I wonder what the biggest differences are between Australia and the United States in regard to the neurodiversity issues.
AE: I think you’ve got a number of college programs that are much more developed than we have. So, academically there is a lot more programs that you can go to, Rochester Institute, Landmark College, West Chester University, University of Maryland, Drexel starting something Drexel’s got something, Emory University, Georgia Tech. So, these are all organizations that we’re talking to and many of them are in the hub already. Stanford as well have got a great program as you know. So, I think there’s some great program say it but when we started talking to those organizations a couple of years ago to try to test out his curriculum program has been here to go see hub, we got some great feedback on what we were doing and some addition some useful additions to the program. But then when they asked us what we actually doing and we told them about the whole thing and I said well can we join. And they said well why you been doing this for 10 years and I said yeah but because some great academic programs, but we need to work out this employment piece and can we join and work with you around that. And they said great. So, that’s being really interesting just to see how we can try and help that last piece which I say is almost the most important piece.
Gender Differences in Autism
HR: The females seems in all things they kind of get the short end of the stick if you will, and I think with autism as well being diagnosed later on and so on and so forth. What have you noticed about the differences between males and females in your population?
AE: So, obviously a lot lower prevalence in terms of diagnosis and so on and then with the employment process we run because they focus more on IT related, we tend to get more males putting a hand up than females, but we are trying to encourage that change. The other thing is part of the hub program we sorta need to develop some life skills and work skills training. And so I’ve engaged an autistic female who has designed a whole curriculum around law schools and she’s working with a team of writers in Australia and USA and Canada. Many of whom are female and they’re actually writing these materials and that’s now been launched on a website called Be Your Best Academy and we’ve got some chills the first courses around organizational skills. Because what she believes is that if we if we can get that Foundation of organizational skills than a lot of other things can be built on that. But she’s designed the whole course curriculum, she’s engaged the writers, she’s engaged an autistic illustrator to do the illustrations for the materials. It’s untouched by neurotypicals so it’s been written by neurodiverse for neurodiverse. And she’s also done a covid-19 lockdown pack as well so that’s up there and she’s just putting up some short courses on what is neurodiversity because she’s done some training in that respect as well. So, I agree with you there’s not a lot of prevalence of females that are coming forward but I just don’t think that the original diagnosis was perhaps accommodating enough for that.
HR: I think there’s a much higher prevalence than we think and they’re able to cover for it and again it’s just like everything else you know like the anatomy books were all drawn by men you know, going back.
AE: Yes. But we also work with an autistic Phd student at Latrobe, Beth Radulski, who is the first, she didn’t disclose when she was undergrad and now she’s come out and she’s doing her Phd and she teaches. So, she did a blog last year at Latrobe and it was the most downloaded blog in the whole university for the whole year. We’ve now been working with her and she’s now been engaged by universities for the University Hub initiative and she’s been creating guidelines and looking at all the events that university runs to make them more neurodiverse friendly. Creating this idea of a hate map or events like career space so that neurodiverse people can see where all the loud places, where are the quiet places, where are the washrooms that don’t have air dryers, you know have paper towels because air dryers are too loud. So, you know all these sorts of things. How do we make accommodations more normal so, I don’t know if you know those plaque cleaners so they be great stimming toys just to play with. So, what she’s done given those to everybody so all the students or just helping out there was playing with them so just normal. So, if you need to stim and using that you’re not going to stand out because everyone’s doing it. Just trying to create this normality of this. So, that’s where she’s trying to take them and she’s also running training courses for the academics then we want to try and then bring that back onto the hub as a set of materials that others could use.
HR: Andrew what advice would you have for the neurodivergent individual to do to untap their true potential?
AE: I think it’s important they really go out for what they’re passionate about and this is what they should focus on. One of the things that they do and are really interested in and Kane about and know everything about. Cause that’s the value that they can bring to any organization by focusing on the areas they’re interested in.
HR: Why do you think retention is higher in the neurodivergent population?
AE: So, I think part of it is that if you create the right environment then they like that routine and they get used to that routine. And it almost creates a disincentive to go to another place. So provided they can see that there is that acceptance, that understanding and there is the accommodations for things like you know maybe some leeway on arrival times and maybe an opportunity to work from home at times. So I think once that’s there and they feel like their valued in the work then it’s almost creates a barrier to go somewhere else because they’re more focused on being able to do the work they’re not necessarily attracted to money. And so, while you see others who are looking for the next big job and they’re going up a few months particularly in sequence obscurity, tend not to see that as much in this population, I think.
HR: Is there anything we have not discussed that you’d like to discuss today?
AE: I think we’ve pretty much covered it. We’re very grateful for all the partners we work with we optimize on the training we wash up around the executive functioning smart app with parmetrics so we use in the some of our screening processes in terms of neuroscience games to identify traits. We’ve also, working DXC has been amazing just to help them part on their program. They’ve had weeks with Israel Defense Forces who have whole autism squadron and we’ve been able to take some of the tools that’s been developed there for many years and bring them into the program in Australia which has been awesome. That’s around selection and also around workplace performance assessment because there’s a difference approach we think is needed of how you assess the autistic trainees as they go through versus neurotypical so that’s important as well.
But I think the big thing for us is about having a sustainment program of employment not just an employment program so it’s not just about finding someone and putting them in a job and hoping for the best it’s about having a set of processing scaffolding program that helps for the organization to come up the curve, come on this journey you become more inclusive and really create a program that supports the autistic person integrate workplace, identify their strengths develop their efficacy and then hopefully go on and get a job in another part of the organization. With the program we run we tend to have this structure where they coming to one area, a landing area and they start in a particular area and work and we it’s that’s a great opportunity to then integrate into the workplace and for others understand how to work with them but then is the opportunities to calling them out to different other the parts of the business and that has a two-fold benefit one, is that the individuals start to see other areas in an area that also helps creates awareness in that area about how it is to work with an autistic person and it’s starts spreading the knowledge further in the organization. So, we’re very much have a program that anyone can implement in a very quick time. But the whole point of the program is to take business as usual in the organization and help the organization change around that. So, I guess that’s the difference in the program we’re promoting versus some other program where it’s just about finding a job.
HR: Well, Andrew Eddy thank you so much for being with us today, and keep up all the great work you are doing down there in Australia with Untapped and all the other work you’re doing. I can’t tell you how impressive all of this is. You’re changing cultures, you’re changing employment, and it’s – to me it’s just been an amazing journey with you today. So thank you so much for being here.
AE: Thank you Hackie, it’s been great meeting you.