Reflections On World Autism Day

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David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the 2nd of April just having gone I have been thinking how many people actually understand what autism is and know how best to help or support a colleague who has autism.

What is autism? Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a mental condition that is present from early childhood. It is characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people, and using language . ASD is often referred to as a hidden disability, this being down to the fact that people with the condition don’t appear to have any obvious differences from people without the condition.

Along the autism spectrum there are other conditions such as Asperger Syndrome and Pathological Demand Avoidance. The latter is a less well known condition in which the sufferer cannot process direct instruction normally, which causes significant problems in social and learning situations.

As these conditions are not physically noticeable, many people suffer bullying and harassment, therefore many who have the condition dislike telling people about their condition, which can result in them not accessing the support that they need. This in turn can expose them to even more bullying and harassment and can ultimately affect their health and cause them to become even more withdrawn and in many cases they can lose their job . People with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism can very often be lacking in communication and interaction skills, but they commonly have increased intelligence. Often they can become focused on a topic they find interesting; this could be something like trees, or they might like trains and will know in depth details about the subject and enthusiastically talk about them for as long as people will listen.

How does this affect people? There are three main areas where difficulties with social interaction can occur. These are difficultly with social communication, social interaction and social imagination. People along the autistic spectrum have trouble understanding empathy; they may not understand things like knowing when they have gone too far in a social situation or the effects that their behaviour is having on others’ perception of them.

Only 15% of people who have autism are in full time education even though 79% of autistic people on benefits would rather be in employment. Most of all they need the right support and the opportunity to make ambition a reality. There are companies who offer training on how best to help and support people with ASD.

For more information about autism spectrum disorder I will leave a couple of helpful links-

http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx
http://www.autismconcern.org/
http://www.autism.org.uk/

Adapting To Bipolar Disorder In The Workplace

This guest blog has been contributed by Dianna Vail, who is researching mental disabilities and conditions in the workplace.

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David Catillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the 1980’s Manic Depression was officially re-named Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a mental health illness which affects the individual’s mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks, by swinging them from one extreme to another. These extreme mood states are more intense than for someone without Bipolar and can be distressing and overwhelming as well as having a massive impact on their lives. On one extreme the individual will feel low, lethargic and depressed, then on the opposite end they will feel very high and over-active. Sometimes individuals can also experience ‘mixed states’ which are a mixture of the other two states. These mood swings can last anything from hours, days, weeks or even months.

According to the NHS one in every one hundred adults at some point in their life will be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.

People with Bipolar Disorder come under the protection of the Equality Act 2010 so therefore it is advisable for all employers to have a clear understanding of not only the Act but also of the employee in question. If the employee has disclosed that they have or think they have Bipolar, ask them to detail how it affects them and what support and treatment they are receiving. Do some research yourself and let them know you wish to understand and support them.

If the employee does not disclose yet you feel they have many traits of the condition do not approach them. All conversations regardless of them disclosing or not disclosing their illness must be done with tact as there may be stigma or concerns regarding stigma associated with the illness.

An individual with Bipolar may need to take more sick days than other employees without. An understanding environment should be established to prevent any unnecessary anxiety when phoning in sick. Allocate a supportive person for the employee to report sick days to. If possible ensure this person understands the illness. Try to establish a good rapport with the employee so that together you can look for triggers and then work towards reducing these triggers.

Treatment for Bipolar is tailored towards the individual and can be a combination of medication, counselling and lifestyle changes.

Medication can be in the form of mood stabilisers such as lithium carbonate, anticonvulsant medicines (such as valproate, carbamazepine or lamotrigine) or antipsychotic medicines (such as aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine or risperidone) and antidepressants. The side effects are varied and extensive, and include insomnia, nausea, anxiety, diarrhoea and constipation, shakiness, hair loss, weight gain or loss, muscle, joint and body pain, dizziness and headaches, blurred/double vision, tinnitus, fever, acne and skin rashes, to name a few.

Counselling could be either Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Psychoeducation or Family Therapy. All methods are designed to enable the individual to feel empowered and identify ways to change the negative patterns to positive ones.

Recommended lifestyle changes could be to do more exercise, have a healthy diet that minimizes caffeine and does not include alcohol or drugs and getting enough sleep. Reduction in anxiety levels can be helped by methods such as yoga or meditation. Regular routines are also normally recommended as well as reducing stress at home and at work.

If you have not already told your employer then that is something worth considering; if not your employer than at least tell a manager, supervisor or colleague. Having someone at work to confide in can help reduce anxiety levels and assist you in getting more support at work. The majority of companies state they have a zero tolerance to discrimination and with the protection of the Equality Act 2010 there is much support available to you. When telling someone at work be as honest as possible. Explain what side effects you might be experiencing and any triggers that you may be exposed to. By doing so the company can look at ways to work with you to limit the amount of time off you need and establish an environment that is beneficial to you.

Helpful Websites
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/bipolar-disorder/#.Vt6sv1uLTnA
http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Bipolar-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx
https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/bipolar-disorder
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsdisorders/bipolardisorder.aspx

Additionally there are also support groups on social media sites such as Facebook.

Disability – A Road Block or Just a Speed Bump?

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When most people think about disability they think about wheelchair users and usually that the person is elderly but the fact is that the word disability does not mean the the individual is going to use a wheelchair.

Having a disability does not usually mean that you have mobility issues. They can affect other areas of a person such as sensory or mentally. So what is a disability? A disability is a condition lasting 12 months or more that affect the individual’s ability to function on a day to day basis. This means that things like diabetes are classed as a disability so the chances are high that you know somebody who has a disability.

So why is it that we treat people who have a physical disability different to the way we treat other disabled people. I think this goes back to the times when we were hunter gatherers when a physical disability would have been seen as a sign of weakness. This makes individuals with disabilities feel that their condition makes them less of a person and then as such society treats them differently. This also applies to the workplace as well as some of individuals with disabilities would rather not inform the manager of their condition as they feel they could lose their job or be offered less work. They forget that the manager could help by making reasonable alterations if they require them.

What about the individuals with disabilities who don’t have a job and want to work. Society fails these individuals as even the job application process can be cumbersome and often bureaucratic and this can rule them out immediately.

I also believe that job agencies don’t help jobless individuals with disabilities. As most agencies are up a flight of stairs and don’t have a lift so individuals with mobility problems can’t give them their CV and insist on them emailing it to the agency. I think all agencies should be either down stairs or should have a lift in the building so the individuals can hand their CV to the agency in person but this is the real world and things are not always that simple. Sometimes individuals with disabilities feel like they are the bottom of society and feel like they have no rights

But individuals with disabilities do have the same rights as any other individual. They have the right to work. They also have the right to any reasonable adjustments to be made to avoid putting the individual at a disadvantage. They also can’t be chosen for redundancy just because they have a disability and the employer can’t force individuals to retire if an individual becomes disabled. A disability doesn’t have to be a road block it could just be a speed bump on the journey off life

So how can we change the way that we act towards individuals with disabilities? Well this isn’t the easiest thing to answer. Personally speaking, I treat disabled people as I treat anybody with respect and dignity. I don’t take much notice of an individual’s physical appearance, but I do notice if they require help to get something of a shelf or if they require some other type of help and this has no impact on the way that I am around a disabled person. It’s hard because people are different but I guess treating them with respect and dignity would be a good place to start.

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/6

https://www.gov.uk/rights-disabled-person

Written by Matthew Tew – A colleague and close collaborator