The Training and Employment of Autism Peer Support Workers

By Liz Walker – ImROC Senior Consultant / Autism Peer Support Programme Lead

The Context

ImROC was awarded the NHSE National Contract for training Autism Peer Support Workers and Peer Support Worker Supervisors across England in 2022 and 2023 having supported earlier work co-producing training materials and curriculum planning.

Health Education England (now NHSE) has developed an autism workforce strategy which includes the development of highly-specialist autism teams. These teams offer enhanced health services directly to autistic people in the community, providing specialist diagnostic, and focused, time limited, aftercare support services for people with autism.

The Contract

The NHSE contract requires 200 Peer Support Workers with lived experience of autism to be trained as Autism Peer Support Workers across the NHS and non NHS services. In addition 100 supervisors have been trained along with the peers themselves.

It is recognised that peer support roles can make a significant contribution to new and emerging autism services and NHSE has undertaken a substantial piece of collaborative work with ImROC in the writing of new training in context of the existing capability framework.  The new training identifies the skills and the capabilities required for a new role of Autism Peer Support Worker.

The focus of the new Autism Peer Support Worker roles is for autistic people to provide support to other autistic people, using their own lived experience to support those who are experiencing health and care challenges

ImROC celebrates that Autism Peer Support may also extend to carers and parents of autistic people. Carers may be employed to support family, friends and carers of autistic people using services. Therefore Autism Peer Support is not only being prepared for the NHS workforce but also for voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations.

The offer for Peer Support for Autism is sizeable across England and the UK. ImROC has counted many hundreds of large and small organisations that offer individual and group peer support in localities cities and regions. Many organisations are networked with the National Autistic Society.

ImROC is aware of the privileged position it is in with the unique opportunity to train Autism Peer Support Workers and Supervisors across England. We aware that across the country there are already advertisements seeking employment for trained ImROC Peer Support Workers within specialist autism teams.

Whist ImROC is excited about this work we would and will never seek to minimise the commitment that organisations already show to offering individual autism peer support whether that is offered by someone trained or not but where and when appropriate ImROC would love to engage with autism organisations across England that provide Peer Support and may be interested in more formal training.

Mid-Point Evaluation

A mid point evaluation of the training programme has been shared with NHSE in early 2023 with the following highlights

Feedback from trainers, trainees and organisations employing trainees demonstrates an early positive impact of the training. The report includes personal stories and reflections of those involved to illustrate the felt impact of engagement in this project.

Central to the design, delivery, receipt and evaluation of the training is coproduction.  Bringing together lived experience, educational experts, peer support experts and autism expertise;  acknowledging that people bring expertise from many different experiences, and  valuing everyones contribution through generative and appreciative conversations – and underpinning everything with research.

Although training is crucial it delivers greatest positive impact on peoples lives when offered in conjunction with support to the teams and organisations in which people will work. The opportunity to receive this type of support can be funded by the grant from NHSE which is allocated to each Autism Peer Support trainee.

The Autism Peer Support Worker Training Team

The ImROC autism training team predominantly comprises of people who identify as neurodiverse. Over 90% of ImROC trainers have either a formal diagnosis of autism, are family or carers of autistic children or family and carers of autistic children with a diagnosis themselves. All trainers bring experience and expertise from different aspects of their lives, as trained teachers, managers, campaigners and health professionals.

ImROC’s Autism Peer Support Worker training has been developed through co-production. The work to create contemporary training opportunities is led by the Autism Training Team with the lived experience of being autistic valued and celebrated. The Autism Peer Support Worker training programme has been produced in partnership with ImROC and is unique in its offer.

Celebrating Success and Sharing Stories

The ImROC evaluation of the delivery of the NHSE contract and establishment of the training team has brought together a wide range of life stories and lived experiences.

The delivery of ImROC Autism Peer Support Worker Training is creating new partnerships new friendships and a very real set of human connections. ImROC has invited its partners to share their stories and over the next few weeks we will add blogs to this introduction.