Supporting Employment

Strategies and Accommodation to Support Employment in People with FASD

In this section

For Employment Service Professionals

For Employers

This section outlines practical tools and specific strategies which can be adopted and implemented by employment service professionals, employers and those in the justice system workforce, supporting transition into employment.

Dr Carmela Pestell: University of Western Australia 

Work Related Supports for Employment Agency Professionals

Employment agency professionals can implement 4 work-related supports:

  1. Ensure wellbeing before and during employment
  2. Preparing for employment
  3. Identify appropriate employment
  4. Provide ongoing support to maintain long term employment
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Ensure Wellbeing Before and During Employment

Good wellbeing means being comfortable, healthy and happy. Improving someone’s wellbeing improves their chances of successful employment, just as successful employment can also contribute to positive wellbeing.

It is important to assess wellbeing before and monitor it during employment. Bear in mind that some of the factors that impact an employee’s sense of wellbeing may or may not be controllable.

The following chart can be used to assess the wellbeing of people you work with. 

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Preparing for Employment

Once a person is ready to take up employment, the next stage is to help them prepare for a successful and sustainable employment. 

There are two steps for promoting work preparedness.

Establish the individual’s employability skill    

Focus on the types of skills that are generally required to obtain and maintain a job.

These skills include: 

  • Communication and social skills
  • Stress management
  • Time management
  • Self-advocacy
  • Teamwork

One-on-one discussion or direct observation can help you assess the degree of skills obtained. 

Establish job fit

‘Job fit’ refers to the appropriate match between an employee and their work duties. It is an essential factor in fostering successful and sustainable employment.

Establishing the right fit between the employee and the work they will be engaged in includes developing an awareness of what the person is looking for in a job and career, as well as what may be best suited to them, given their interests, goals, current skillset and functioning.

Be aware of the types of job that may be appropriate, be ready to support a change of jobs or identify opportunities with employers to create jobs, that would be more suitable.

Employment service professionals should establish working relationships with potential employers that may be open to employing a person  with FASD. 

The following chart can be used to assess work preparedness. 

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Identify Appropriate Employment

Once support to prepare for employment is completed, move towards identifying a workplace that will result in the best possible outcome. 

A job with the right fit for a person with FASD may not necessarily be available. You may need to do some “work carving” with a potential employer to change or create a job based on the latter’s needs and your client’s abilities.

Assess job fit

This will entail some flexibility on the employer’s part and as the individual settles into their new role and workplace.

The following chart can be used to assess appropriate employment

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Provide ongoing support to maintain long term employment

Maintaining meaningful employment benefits not only the employer, but the health and wellbeing of the employee. Throughout the course of employment it is beneficial to monitor job fit, assess currency of skills and understand the evolving relationship between the employer, colleagues and employee. 

The following charts can be used to assess ongoing support to maintain employment. 

All charts reproduced with permission and adapted from Makela, Kapasi and Pei (2019).
Guide for employment professionals supporting employment in adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. 

Work Related Supports for Employers

Employers are in a unique position to help those with FASD to obtain and maintain  meaningful employment.  

Employers can minimise the effects of cognitive and physical challenges by recognising where they might occur and making reasonable adjustments. This includes adapting work processes and procedures and the environment itself, to emphasize strengths and minimise challenges. It is important that employers create a culturally safe and appropriate workplace for all of their employees. 

Being open to making such adjustments results in a workplace that is flexible and more likely to retain staff and skills. 

Dr Carmela Pestell: University of Western Australia 

Employers who are considering welcoming someone with a disability into their workplace have an obligation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to accommodate for persons with FASD, as long as this does not result in unjustifiable hardship to them or their organisation.

Work supports for people with disability, including FASD, exist in many forms. For more information, visit Workplace Adjustments for Employees with Disability

Depending on the employee’s needs, work supports can be incorporated into daily routines.  They can be implemented during the initial training stage or throughout the duration of the employment, and if appropriate be phased out over time.

In order to better understand the challenges that people with FASD may face and to implement tailored work support solutions to assist in the workplace, it is important that employers ask themselves the following questions:

Disability Employment Services can provide information on the right supports and accommodations to support people with FASD.

As an employer, you will benefit from these services, as they assist you in matching the individual to the right job within your organisation.

In order to receive this support ensure to:

Consult with a Disability Employment Service provider

A Disability Employment Service provider can provide advice as to the right types of jobs for people with disability. It may be the case that disability-friendly jobs exist within your own company, without you being aware of it. Consulting a DES provider who has expertise in this field,  can help you see the jobs within your company from a different perspective. Identify the strengths in the potential employee to determine a suitable position that leads to success rather than frustration.

In addition to working with a Disability Employment Service, you can also ensure your workplace is ready to support an employee with FASD by:

Providing management and staff training

Disability training can have a positive effect on your workplace and your customers, particularly if your business is oriented towards customer service and retail. 

If you have management or supervisory teams, ensure that they are trained in what FASD might look like in the workplace.  Maintain a repository of accommodations and strategies that they can readily access should they need to assist a new employee.  

Reviewing your recruitment process

Recruitment processes can often inadvertently introduce barriers for persons with disabilities. Your organisation is encouraged to make minor adjustments to the recruitment process to minimise those barriers and allow the opportunity for the individual to put their best foot forward and portray their skills and competencies fully to you. 

Doing so would also ensure that as an employer, you can make an informed choice regarding whom to recruit. 

 

Be mindful of how you describe jobs:

Job descriptions are often written in such a way that they include skills that are not critical to the job being advertised. For examples, requirements to have “excellent communication skills” or “excellent organisational skills” or to be “excellent team players” are often included but are really default skills that are specified by most employers advertising for work. Many people with disabilities such as FASD may get discouraged from applying for jobs demanding such requirements. This is particularly the case if they have spent time in the justice system and have had limited chances to really develop or demonstrate those skills. Applying such criteria can lead to you missing out on accessing candidates who may have strong skills that are directly relevant to other tasks.

Any job description should always describe skills, abilities and experiences that are genuinely essential to the conduct of the work and leave out others that are not. They should also be written concisely, in plain English and all jargon and unnecessary information should be left out. 

Tips for Interview Adjustments

People with FASD are a diverse group in terms of their cognitive skills and it would be important to adapt the interview process and questions. Asking each applicant the same questions in the interview may not necessarily be fair.  

Marisha Gerovich: Carer and Advocate

Consider Alternatives to the Traditional Interview

If you determine that the more traditional interview formats may not be the best way to gauge the individual’s suitability for the job, consider less traditional approaches such as:

Inviting a support person to accompany the individual

Some people may perform better if they are accompanied by someone they feel comfortable with. This person can provide support and ease the communication between yourself and the individual by clarifying or rewording questions. The support person’s role is not to respond on behalf of the individual but purely to facilitate the communication between yourself and the individual and help the latter more clearly articulate their knowledge and skills.

Implementing work trials

Consider that a work trial or work experience may be a more useful way of assessing work attributes, than an interview. Such an approach will give you an idea of how the individual may do in the position but also how well they will be able to cope within the work environment.

General Do’s and Don’ts for Recruiting a Person with FASD

These tips are useful in helping you shape your approach to recruitment and your general attitudes and behaviours towards a person with FASD. 

Clarify expectations of the work

Be explicit about your expectations particularly with regard to specific tasks they are required to undertake, workplace social etiquettes and unwritten rules of the workplace. Make it clear that any supports and accommodations that are being implemented are there to help them perform optimally, not because they are not good or competent enough.

Provide hands-on support and training

Clear and structured training by a manager, co-workers, a mentor or job coach is invaluable. More information about mentoring in the workplace is provided below. In addition, the following link comprises information about how to access a job coach for people with disabilities.      https://www.atworkaustralia.com.au 

Ensure instructions are concise and specific

Give clear instructions to the employee from the get-go and explain to them in exact terms how to carry out each task, from start to finish. This will provide them with a strong foundation for good work practices that they can build on. 
Do not assume that the person will be able to infer what you mean from informal and broad instructions.
For instance, instead of saying “Give everyone here a copy of this, please’, try a more specific instruction such as ‘Please make three photocopies of this handout and give them to Jim, Lily and James’. 
Ask the person to repeat back the instructions to you to check their understanding.
When possible, it may be beneficial to provide written instructions.

Maintain a well-structured work environment

Due to common difficulties with self-organisation and planning, it is important that the employee’s work environment remains fairly well-structured. This can be achieved by:

  • Providing a schedule of daily, weekly and monthly tasks, including deadlines for their completion.
  • Helping the individual prioritise their work by being clear about the order in which tasks should be completed.
  • Helping the individual break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks or steps.
  • Specifying start and finish times as well as breaks for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.

Schedule regular performance reviews

Just as with all employees, employers should ensure that they have regular one-on-one meetings and performance appraisals. These meetings should be focused on discussing and reviewing performance, providing overall comments and suggestions.

For some employees with FASD, brief but more frequent reviews may work better than longer, less frequent reviews. 

Provide sensitive but direct feedback

People with FASD can find it difficult to pick up on and interpret social cues. It is therefore important that you make sure your feedback is direct, honest, constructive and consistent. For instance, if a task is completed incorrectly, do not allude or imply that something is wrong with the task to them. Instead:

  • Explain tactfully what is wrong and why it is wrong.
  • Check their understanding of your feedback.
  • Teach them how to do the task correctly or rectify it, providing clear instructions.

Be aware that some people with FASD may experience anxiety, feel insecure, have low self-esteem or have a history of being bullied. Ensure that your feedback is constructive, with positive comments provided where appropriate.

Provide reassurance and guidance in stressful situations

People with FASD tend to experience elevated levels of anxiety and negative emotional responses when faced with stressful situations or when they feel bad about themselves and their performance.

Often, this comes from a lifetime of limited access to emotional supports. In the workplace, you can help them by:

  • Providing concrete solutions to the ongoing issues (e.g., “If this photocopier here is not working, you can use the one on the third floor”).
  • Providing reassurance. For example, an employee who arrives to work late due to transportation issues or mechanical issues may be reassured if you let them know that it is not a problem, and that you understand such things are outside of their control.
  • Assigning them with a workplace mentor or buddy whom they can go to in times of stress, anxiety and confusion.

Prepare and advise of upcoming changes

Advise them of any changes to their tasks, to the workplace or other relevant issues, as far in advance as possible. Provide them with specific information about these changes, what it means for them and advice on how they can cope with those changes.

Watch for sensory hypo- and hyper-sensitivities

Some people with FASD may become hyper-sensitive to senses such as smell, sight, sound and touch. In some instances, this may cause them to shut down or to over-react. Where possible and when specific sensitivities are identified, work with the individual to implement accommodations. For example, if an individual is sensitive to bright and coloured lights, change the configurations of the lights they work under or provide other adjustments as required.

Raise awareness of FASD in the workplace

If your employee with FASD consents to their condition being disclosed to their colleagues, it may be helpful to provide information and guidance on what FASD is. It may also be helpful to have the person with FASD write up a document briefly outlining what some of the common challenges and strengths they personally experience might be and what strategies work best for them. 

Ensure a culturally safe and appropriate workplace

Seek understanding of the importance of cultural, family and kinship obligations. All employees have responsibilities that relate to their home and community life. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have responsibilities and commitments that are more specific to their own unique culture, community life and kinship. These responsibilities are extremely important and on occasions, fulfilling these may conflict with meeting workplace responsibilities. These are serious issues to consider and employers should have sensitive and respectful discussions with Indigenous Australian employees, from the outset. 

Specific cultural issues that employers should be aware of include:

  • The importance of family and kinship ties
  • Cultural obligations
  • Any dates and cultural events that are of specific significance to the individual, including events such as NAIDOC Week, Sorry Day, National Reconciliation Week and local and regional events
  • The need to have time away from work for issues such as funerals / Sorry business.

Indigenous Australian employees may be very involved in caring for children, elderly family members and other family members outside of their immediate family. This may be in terms of providing financial assistance, attending health care needs or providing general care.

Hence, to help their employees meet their obligations (Indigenous Australians but also others), employers may consider implement flexible work arrangements.

Once you have your new Employee ensure to Monitor Health and Wellbeing: 

The following chart can be used to monitor wellbeing. 

Creating a Culturally Safe and Appropriate Workplace for Employees with FASD

Employers who demonstrate a sense of initiative towards promoting and encouraging diversity and inclusivity, create a workplace of choice.

A workplace of choice which values diversity not only attracts the best candidates for a job but are also more likely to have employees who are motivated and satisfied in the long-term. These can lead to better business outcomes overall and a better reputation within the community.

Promoting diversity and instilling a sense of inclusivity both rely on employers and their staff generally having or developing effective cultural knowledge and understandings.

FASD occurs across all ethnic and cultural groups, including non-Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Australians. This means that there will be much diversity amongst people with FASD seeking employment, following their involvement with the justice system.

Employers can consider ways to ensure a culturally safe and appropriate workplace for employees from diverse backgrounds, such as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and Indigenous Australian employees.

Accommodating for cultural and linguistic differences in the workplaces can be achieved by:

  • Committing to and implementing diversity and inclusivity policies that are endorsed by senior management and have clear, measurable and transparent outcomes.
  • Committing to boosting your own and your team’s cultural competency through training on cross-cultural issues, such as cultural knowledge and understandings, and differences in language and communication.
  • Acknowledging holidays, celebrating significant events of all cultures represented within your team and ensuring flexible arrangements (e.g., giving employees time off to observe their religions and cultural holidays and events, not scheduling important work activities such as meetings on those days, asking people how they intend to celebrate their cultural holidays and significant events, etc).
  • Using inclusive language to negate discrimination in the workplace.
  • Mixing up teams to foster a sharing of learning and understandings from different voices, experiences, values and cultures.

For more information, please visit: Flexible Working Arrangements – Fair work Australia

Welcoming Indigenous Australians in your Workplace

Employers who seek to welcome Indigenous Australians in their workplace should consider how to create and maintain a culturally safe and appropriate work environment.

This can be achieved by:

  1. Improving your understanding of Indigenous Australian peoples’ culture and language including customs, modes of communication and historical factors such as colonisation that have shaped the lives of Indigenous Australians.
  2. Preparing the workplace by implementing practices that show a commitment to welcoming and supporting Indigenous Australian employees.
  3. Adopting selection processes and procedures that are flexible and inclusive.
  4. Implementing processes and procedures to improve the retention of Indigenous Australian employees and ensuring their wellbeing throughout the entirety of their employment. 

The Western Australian Department of Training and Workforce Development provides a very useful resource detailing simple ways in which employers can achieve the abovementioned steps.

The resource can be accessed here:
Information for employers of Aboriginal people .pdf (jobsandskills.wa.gov.au)

For useful and important tips on how to communicate with Indigenous Australians in a culturally appropriate manner, please visit:
Communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Audiences | Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (pmc.gov.au)

Hands-on Supports for Employees with FASD

Natural workplace supports occur routinely in the workplace or, in other words, are already provided by employers, to all employees.

A natural support person in the workplace such as a supervisor or a mentor can offer guidance on appropriate work behaviours and interpersonal skills, provide one-on-one job skills training in the workplace, provide support with problem-solving and help the individual adjust to the work environment.

The guidance of a natural support person can be reduced over time, once the employee develops their skills and independence.

There are many methods an employer can adopt to help their staff acquire new skills and settle in the workplace, regardless of whether they have FASD or not.

These methods come at minimal or no cost to employers and are often already implemented in some form in the workplace.

How can employers optimise natural supports to help people with FASD within the workplace?  

We will cover 4 types of hands-on supports for employees with FASD and justice system involvement:

  1. Workplace Mentoring
  2. Coaching
  3. Job Shadowing
  4. Job Carving
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Workplace Mentoring

A mentor is an individual who can provide support, guidance, constructive feedback, encouragement and role modelling. Mentoring helps another individual achieve their personal and professional goals.

There are multiple forms of mentoring that can take place both within and outside the workplace, as well as during and outside of work hours. 

Peer mentoring

This involves allocating a co-worker who is close in age, who can act as a sounding board for ideas and plans and offer guidance in an informal manner.

Disability mentoring

This involves allocating another person, usually with a similar disability, such as FASD. 

Group mentoring

This involves allocating a mentor to a group of employees that have shared interests and needs.

E-mentoring

This involves providing mentorship via e-mail or other online platforms.

Jack Nagle: Experience Matters Collective / Real Drug Talk 

Tips to create successful mentoring relationships

Each mentor-mentee relationship is unique; however, all effective mentoring relationships share common elements.

The longer a mentoring relationship lasts the better outcome it can have. The duration of the relationship itself depends on the quality of the relationship between the mentor and the mentee.

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Job Coaching

Job coaching is an effective tool which is typically supplied by an outside agency rather than by the employer.

The main goal is to help a person with FASD transition into employment and identify solutions to any of the challenges they may encounter. The role of the job coach is to provide specialised on-site training to the employee. 

Training may include helping them to integrate into the workplace and supporting them to perform their job accurately, efficiently and safely.

The level and degree of involvement of the job coach should be reduced over time, particularly as the employee starts to master the requirements of their job and the skills they have been taught.

Eventually, it should get to the point where the job coach may only need to contact the employee and the employer/supervisor when needed. 

Jack Nagle: Experience Matters Collective / Real Drug Talk

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Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is a form of on-the-job learning strategy.

It involves a less experienced employee following, observing and interacting with a more experienced employee throughout their workday.

Job shadowing is a short-term strategy and may last anywhere from a few hours up to a full working week.

Benefits of Job Shadowing:

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Job Carving

Job carving involves creating a new position that suits the individual by combining two or more components from other jobs.

Job carving may be done prior to employment. It can also be done after a role has started. A new position can be carved out of duties they can perform.

Benefits of Job Carving: