Michael’s story: The right support to thrive at work

06 June 2024

Michael’s story: The right support to thrive at work

Michael moved from Murray Bridge in South Australia to Canberra in 2019. The move was to start an exciting Graduate Program with the ACT Government.

Michael was eager to build his career in public policy and excited about new ways he could improve disabled experiences in the workplace. He completed the graduate program in 2020, working in his first role for two years. In 2022 he moved across to a new role in a different department.

Challenges of a neurotypical workplace

As an autistic person, Michael often experiences sensory overload and challenges with understanding unclear instructions. He feels the exhaustion of constantly masking his autistic traits and needs.

Like most workplaces, Michael encountered neurotypical expectations, which proved incredibly challenging for him.

“It’s difficult working in environments that aren’t set up for people with different brains.”

It was frustrating. Even a few small adjustments would make a huge difference for him to be able to thrive. Things like clear communication, knowing how long to spend on a task, what to prioritise, and consideration for his sensory needs.

It wasn’t long before Michael realised he needed more support from his employer. He wondered if the job was the right fit for him.

“They thought that because I had postgraduate qualifications in public policy, I’d be able to make my way through. But I needed more support,” Michael said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t see the support I need. They would meet someone like me and think ‘oh, he looks normal on the outside’. But that’s where we need more education for people,” Michael said.

“We need to address the misconception that someone doesn’t need help if their disability isn’t visible and obvious.”

Getting the right support

Michael was receiving ongoing support from his Disability Employment Services provider CoAct/BUSY Ability. His Employment Consultant, Sam, was there every step of the way. Sam provided

Michael with practical and emotional support. They also helped Michael’s employer to create a more neurodivergent-friendly work environment for him.

“I jumped in with him and his managers with adjustments and realistic expectations for what was reasonable in his role,” Sam said.

They came up with a few solutions for Michael and his manager, like a work tracker and end-of-day check-ins. They set up meetings twice a week to clarify tasks and priorities. These all helped Michael significantly.

“The biggest challenge Michael experienced was people assuming his capabilities. Because he presents really well, people were just assuming he was okay.”
Michael would often call Sam for support, sometimes up to five times a week during this tricky time.

“A lot of what I did with Michael was helping him focus on his own skills and strengths. We worked on focusing on the controllables,” Sam said.

Consultants who care

Michael had been working closely with Sam for almost two years. Having an ongoing relationship made all the difference. Sam understood Michael’s story, and could speak up for him when needed.

“It was huge to have Sam’s support. Knowing I’ve got somebody there, someone I can go to, even to share my positives when things are going well. It’s not just all about the difficult times.”
Sam got into the disability employment space to help people.

“I really like the DES program. I’m a participant myself, so I see it both sides.”

When entering the workforce, Sam didn’t know they were eligible for support. This is something that spurs them on to help others, especially seeing the difference it’s made to people like Michael, even though Sam is now no longer Michael’s consultant.

“One of the best things about this job is seeing the growth and change Michael has gone through and seeing the effect of my support. Watching him grow and change has set the foundation for what we want with customers, but I’m devastated I won’t be working with him anymore.”

Goals for change

Michael plans to keep working hard and progressing in his career—and to help make workplaces more inclusive and accessible. He’s planning to start a network for disabled staff in his workplace.

“I’m taking every day as it comes and continuing to be grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, and then using those opportunities to hopefully help other people.”

“I want to advocate for meaningful change in the workplace. I recognise change takes a long time, but it begins with small steps—and I’m looking forward to being involved.”

Looking for support from a DES provider who cares?

CoAct is Australia’s leading network of not-for-profit community service providers. We take the time to get to know you and your unique situation to tailor a plan for your journey to employment.

Register your interest to find out how CoAct can help you find and keep a job that’s right for you.

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