Autistic adults influencing change

Autism CRC’s Autistic Voices - Influencing Change webinar, brought together four autistic leaders who are effecting change through their work, advocacy and personal pursuits. The discussion provided tips for finding opportunities for collaboration and great insights into how to make those collaborations successful.

Trudi-Anne Gribble, a 2019 Future Leaders graduate and Autism West Operations Manager, says “Workplaces and organisations are always a good place to start to look at to build a culture of change in collaboration. So I choose challenges I know that exist and I know others would like to make a contribution towards changing.”

Following organisations and groups you are interested in is a great way to be aware of new opportunities as they come up. But by making it known you are interested in effecting change and available to help, you may also find that opportunities are more likely to come to you.

When you're looking for opportunities to collaborate, our panelists agreed that they are more attracted to projects with specific outcomes outlined up front, rather than general callouts for help. James Cifuentes, Governance Program graduate and I CAN Network Manager for South East Queensland says “If it's a sort of vague thing about supporting and helping autistic people, then that's not really going to catch my eye… It also depends on at what stage it's at… If you're actually looking for me to put time towards it, or to advocate…then you need to have a bit of detail and a very clear set of outcomes that you want to achieve.

So what makes collaboration successful? There were a number of great tips and insights that came out of this question. These included:

  • Be specific and direct about needs so that things can move on to core business. For example, ‘Please, can we turn off the fluorescent lights? I find them distracting.’
  • Take good notes and colour code to help with organisation.
  • Get to know the people you are working with. For example, research a topic people are interested in and make notes of important things that people say to help build relationships.
  • Be aware of each person’s preferred mode of communication.
  • Understand that working with different personality types can add strengths to the team that you might not have.
  • Be mutually respectful and find common points of interest.
  • Be clear about communication challenges.

Developing a mutual respect and finding common points when you differ greatly on many things is really important” says Geraldine Robertson who is part of the Future Leaders project team and sits on the current Australian Autism Research Council (AARC). “Personally, I have to be very clear about communication challenges that I have and I expect people to listen to me and to support me. Otherwise, I can't participate fully.

No collaboration is without some challenges, so what can you do when things aren't working well? Ashton Bartz, Project Officer for the Sylvia Rodger Academy, says it depends on what it is that isn’t working.

It’s important to get to the core of the issue. Although there might be a conflict or a problem, often people are talking about the same thing, but using different language.

However, Ashton says “There's definitely been times where I've been a member or a part of something where they've made a new goal or decided to do something that doesn't align with my own personal ethics or beliefs, in which case I've said, ‘Look, I'm sorry, that's not gonna work for me. I'm gonna need to move on from this opportunity.’”

The panellists agreed that working with an all autistic team created collaborations that were often very good at thinking outside of the square, and taking on challenges with a unique and fresh perspective.

The webinar was facilitated by Autism CRC researcher Dr Jac den Houting, who is autistic and an active advocate for positive social change. The discussion was followed by a Q&A session.

Autism CRC would like to thank everyone who participated in this event.

Watch the webinar

View Autism Month 2020 webinar series