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NEWS | Sept. 28, 2023

New ERG to help neurodiverse employees thrive

By Aime Lykins, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

The concept of neurodiversity asserts that there is no one right type of brain. Each person has natural variances in experience, learning and information processing. These cognitive differences aren’t deficits, and aren’t inferior to neurotypical brains. While each person’s brain process information differently, some individuals processes information and stimuli through neurodivergent brains, which gives them a unique perspective on the world around them. With more awareness and information on neurodiversity, those with neurodivergent conditions are often better equipped to self-advocate and thrive — both in and out of work.

In the interest in supporting employees with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodivergent conditions, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility has established a new SOUND Employee Resource Group to create a community where topics related to neurodiversity can be shared and discussed with members of the workforce.

“The SOUND ERG was borne from a desire to help neurodiverse employees and their families thrive,” said Chis McKay, planner analyst, Code 130, Quality Assurance, and co-chair for the SOUND ERG. “I grew up with a brother who has autism, an experience that really defined how I connect with individuals with disabilities. He is non-verbal, so I was pulled to be involved with advocating for him and the bevy of special needs folks in the environment where we were raised. I feel passionate about campaigning for and am motivated by the meaning that comes from serving this community.”

The SOUND group also focuses on advocating for people with disabilities by working to address and remove barriers that stand in the way of accessibility and inclusion. A secondary goal is to advocate for equity through reasonable accommodations and knowledge sharing. This includes providing resources to employees who may be parents, siblings or children of individuals with ASD, or those who are neurodiverse themselves.

“Parents with neurodiverse children will have the opportunity to support one another, share their experiences, and learn about community resources that can help support the education and developmental needs within their families,” said McKay.

Autism is known as a ASD because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning because of these challenges varies between individuals with autism.

Symptoms can affect an individual with autism’s ability to function in school, work and other areas of life. While those living with ASD have challenges in navigating social situations, they may also have many strengths, including being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time, being strong visual and auditory learners, and excelling in math, science, music or art.

“In my 20’s, I got involved with a family providing respite care for their daughter who has autism,” said Jacquelynne Rase, operations and budget supervisor, Shop 31, Inside Machine Shop, and co-chair for the SOUND ERG. “The experience brought with it a high learning curve responding to and managing behaviors that at first were incredibly challenging. My initial reactions quickly turned over to genuine empathy and love. I developed a calling to serve and counter the stigmas that society often places on individuals with special needs — I then pursued a degree in early childhood education. I’m truly passionate about promoting the belief that every individual has value.”

SOUND will promote knowledge and support access to resources like respite care and other services provided through Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Additionally, SOUND will help connect employees to community employment services that leverage Department of Vocational Resources funding to support family members with neurodiversity and other developmental conditions.

SOUND is currently collaborating with its parent ERG (CrossAbilities) during their regular monthly meeting, which are held the third Tuesday of each month from 11 a.m. -12 p.m. in Building 435, 3rd floor, Conference Room 326. The group is preparing and looking forward to standing up an independent drumbeat of distinct meetings in 2024 that will focus on topics specific to neurodiverse populations.

To find out more about the SOUND ERG, visit the Employee Resource Group SharePoint page through the Diversity Leadership Council’s SharePoint site.