SummitCare Wallsend is an aged care facility that strives to elevate the quality of life for residents in many innovative ways including supporting people who are neurodiverse in the workplace.
Being neurodiverse means having a brain that's wired differently The neurodiversity paradigm takes in those individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability, and Tourette syndrome.
General manager of SummitCare Wallsend Robyn Blackwell believes neurodiversity in her workforce can be a positive for aged-care residents.
"SummitCare Wallsend supports a number of neurodiverse individuals, including Jaye and Jack, who are both doing work experience with us as part of their NDIS funding with Ability Options," Robyn said.
Jaye, who has Down Syndrome, has been around Summitcare for many years, visiting his grandmother who is a long-term resident.
"Jaye is a force of nature and epitomises the strengths neurodiverse people bring to the work place, particularly the aged care envioronment," Robyn said.
"If you can spend just five minutes in Jaye's exuberant and completely joyous company you cannot help but feel better about the world and I have seen residents light up when Jaye is around.
"We have asked Jaye and his mum to visit one particular resident who raised her son with Down Syndrome through to adulthood until she was unable to care for him due to her frailty - when she sees Jaye she is immediately happy. When we have concerts, Jaye's lack of inhibition is a wonder to behold because he will dance and instantly creates a party atmosphere. Residents regard his exuberance with admiration. He calls me 'boss' whenever he sees me and if I'm passing through when a concert is on he tries to get me to dance with him - much to the amusement of my staff and residents."
Jack is in his 30s and on the autism spectrum.
"After completing his Certificate III in Individual Care Jack lacked a bit of confidence and chose to do work experience at SummitCare," Robyn explained. "He loves sitting and talking to residents about life histories. He also plays the ukulele, which the residents love."
Mandy Micevski is a Work Ready consultant with Ability Options who partners with SummitCare to facilitate Jaye and Jack's participation in the work experience program.
"My job is to help people like Jaye and Jack acquire the social, communication, behavioural and teamwork skills that will one day help them find a job," Mandy said.
"Both Jaye and Jack love the work they do at SummitCare, as do the residents, and both have expressed a desire to stay on. SummitCare Wallsend has been fantastic in the support they have offered and we're all very grateful."
Robyn is coached in how to support people with neurodiversity in the workplace by personal development consultant Nicci Richman, from Audir.
"All minds are deserving of respect and value and capable of contributing," Nicci said. "It's a matter of listening to the individual, determining their strengths and matching them to tasks that suit those strengths.
"Summitcare work on so many areas to elevate the life experience of residents and this is a perfect example which is beneficial to not only residents but staff and the work experience participants. Neurodiverse people like Jaye and Jack bring absolute empathy, compassion and a sense of justice to everything they do, traits which are perfectly suited to a compliance-heavy environment like aged care.
"They have a passion to care for the elderly and do everything with quality detail and a hyper focus on doing a job well. It's perfectly suited to their needs, and those of the residents and SummitCare and just shows the value of supporting neurodiversity in the workplace."
Robyn educates her staff with information about working with neurodiverse individuals and hopes staff can apply what they learn.
"I'm hopeful they can apply the same level's of compassion Jaye and Jack show residents," she said.
"Their example is not only inspiring to my staff but also to anyone who is giving this job and industry a go - including other neurodiverse people."