This is a story about a company that deals in something very close to the heart of the nation: they are “Official Healthcare Advisers” to the Premier League and the England & Wales Cricket Board. Located at offices in Belmont, Surrey, their staff work in a fast-moving industry, managing the secondary healthcare needs of many of Britain’s professional sportspeople.

Among the staff is a young woman diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who has started to struggle with her work, being signed off work for anxiety for long periods of time. The managing director takes pride in the way the business has over the years helped staff with physical ailments, and wanted to go “above and beyond what you’d normal expect to see from an employer.”

Having discussed the situation with the employee and her parents, the md and the senior management team decided that group coaching for the staff could be useful, if done by a professional with experience of working with ASD individuals. “We thought it would help her colleagues, some of whom had expressed confusion as well as a desire to understand autism and what might be going through their colleague’s mind.".

At this point they came to to see what we could offer. Among our hundreds of professional members, we have a number of therapists who see clients with autism, but Paul Weeden, who has clients in London and Brighton, also has experience in training groups. After a full briefing, he put together a two-hour training session which focused on helping neurotypical people to understand how someone with ASD handles uncertainty and challenges, and also included simple mindfulness and body-based tools and techniques to reduce stress and anxiety.

Paul used techniques that put the staff into the sorts of situations their colleague was facing every day. What was it like to try to focus on one thing when there is also outside noise and visual stimuli to which someone with ASD is much more sensitive? How much do we take as read situations that are incomprehensible to someone who can’t make assumptions about the right or wrong way to do something? While seated in the office in which many have worked for years, they were suddenly taken out of their comfort zones and placed, metaphorically, into the mind of someone whose world view is very different to their own.

How was it received at HPE? “I’m ever so slightly biased as I have personal experience of how autism can manifest itself in someone young [his own son has Asperger's] - but I have no doubt that people working in the office are now better armed to cope with working with someone with ASD. This training session was a good mixture of enlightening and informative, helping to demonstrate how an anxious autistic person could see the world, that rest of us take for granted, and the feedback has been very positive.”

For information about bespoke mental health and workplace training sessions, contact [email protected]