Changing the Tune of Volunteering with Autism



Time for the Voluntary Sector to increase Neurodiversity  


To mark International Volunteer Managers Day on the 5th of November, Dublin City Volunteer Centre brought together charities and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experts for an event titled “Changing the Tune of Volunteering with Autism”.  The event celebrated the amazing work of Volunteer Managers and through a World Café  explored how volunteer programs can become more neurodiverse.  Tech giants, like Google and Microsoft, have realised the relationship between inclusion and innovation and as a result, are opening up opportunities to those who are not ‘Neurotypical’)  But can the volunteer sector similarly advance? With the guidance of experts in ASD ;from Aspire Productions, Employability Services, Specialisterne and WALK, attendees drew a map to follow in the footsteps of Tech Giants.

Dublin City Volunteer Centre created this event as a result of their own experiences of managing volunteers with extra support needs and seeing a gap in our training and supports for people with ASD.

“We meet with many people eager to volunteer that have ASD, but who are apprehensive due to fear of rejection because they have ASD, or concern that their needs would not be met/understood while volunteering. We wanted to bridge this gap in understanding (deleted of) ASD and make it easier for organisations to be (deleted both) inclusive” Lucy Ray, Outreach and Placement Officer at Dublin City Volunteer Centre.

All photos by Paul MacDonald 

Outcomes of the World Café


During the event, attendees explored key questions around how to include more people with ASD in their volunteer program. They did so using the fun and interactive method of a World Café.

Here are the outcomes!

What are the potential issues when including people with ASD in your volunteer program?

  • Although awareness is growing, there is still learning to be done
  • People may not be aware of the skills that they have and all that they can contribute
  • There is fear, on both the side of the volunteer and Volunteer Manager to discuss ASD and supports/ accommodations that might be needed for an individual. People don’t want to be labelled and so, might be reluctant to disclose that they have ASD. Volunteer Managers are unsure how to ask or how to have conversations about ASD
  • Managers often are overstretched for time
  • Volunteer Managers have little experience in managing volunteers with ASD and they have a fear of the unknown
  • The charity’s environment might not be ASD friendly, e.g. lights and amount of noise

What are the benefits of making your volunteer program more inclusive to people with ASD?

  • We are fulfilling the need for need for more volunteers
  • People with ASD  tend to be very helpful, absorb knowledge, love to learn and offer a variety of skills
  • A volunteer on the spectrum would be better able to support a service user on the spectrum
  • Having people with ASD in your volunteer program would make your team more open and diverse. It would create better ways of working and open-up the World View of other volunteers
  • Having greater diversity would bring fresh perspectives!
  • Recruiting volunteers with ASD could  improve managerial skills and knowledge
  • Increases initiative and flexibility for all team members
  • People with ASD often have a passionate interest leading to detailed knowledge of sector/ subject and an inexhaustible appetite for sharing and learning

What actions could you take to make the your volunteering program more inclusive to people with ASD?

  • Carry out training with staff to increase awareness
  • Increase patience and flexibility
  • Look for support from groups such as Apsire, WALK and Employability Services
  • Develop clear and detailed volunteer roles
  • Approach every person as an individual, each with specific needs and strengths. This would also be an excellent way to approach all volunteers
  • Change the interview process to be more relaxed, e.g. an informal 1-to-1 chat over coffee, rather than a panel interview
  • Ensure the role description on I-VOL welcomes people with ASD to apply


Panel Discussion


All photos by Paul MacDonald 

The Panel Discussion explored the how and why, of opening up your volunteer program to people with ASD. We were joined by Shaun Adams from Aspire Productions, Steven Murray also from Aspire Production and Peter Brabazon the CEO of Specialisterne Ireland.  Panel hosted by Lucy Ray, Outreach and Placement Officer and Dublin City Volunteer Centre.

Listen bellow!