MARK COLVIN: It started in Denmark with the parents of one autistic boy, but it’s spreading worldwide – a program to use the skills of people on the autism spectrum rather than focus on their problems.
Now a program announced last year by the Federal Government and the tech company Hewlett-Packard is bearing fruit in Australia.
It means good jobs for people on the autism spectrum and a source of highly specialised skills for their employers.
Disability advocates are calling on businesses to take note, as Nance Haxton reports.
NANCE HAXTON: The Dandelion program aims to enable one million people with autism around the world to find jobs within 10 years, and for 12,000 of those jobs to be in Australia.
It’s kicked off with 24 jobs in this country: 11 in Adelaide and 13 in Brisbane.
They’re employed by the Federal Government working with Hewlett-Packard to help find bugs in departmental computer software.
Program founder Thorkil Sonne hopes their example will act as a role model to other employers to give people with autism a long term job.
THORKIL SONNE: Our aim is that it will be long term jobs, it will be not just jobs but the start of a career where they’ll have the opportunity to grow their talent to realise their potential.
NANCE HAXTON: Mr Sonne founded the Specialist People Foundation in 2003 after his youngest son was diagnosed with autism.
THORKIL SONNE: Very often people with autism, they have a good memory, pattern recognition skills, attention to detail, they have a high accuracy in repetitive actions, and they think kind of out-of-the box, think differently.
And these traits, you could say are very much appreciated in the business sector.
NANCE HAXTON: Jeanette Purkis has proven that people with autism can hold down jobs in the open market.
After a tough start in life, she eventually got a degree and has worked in the Australian Public Service for eight years.
JEANETTE PURKIS: I loved it because I wasn’t poor anymore, I had choice in where I lived, I had choice in where I went.
NANCE HAXTON: You were paid well.
JEANETTE PURKIS: Oh yes, I can recommend getting paid well, it makes life so much easier.
NANCE HAXTON: Not on benefits anymore.
JEANETTE PURKIS: No, I haven’t been on benefits for nearly nine years which makes me very happy and that when I was a taxpayer, you know when the first time I looked at my payslip and there was many hundreds of dollars in tax, I felt wonderful.
I know most people think that’s silly but I thought, “Oh wow, I’m actually putting back all this money and all this effort that I took out of society I can put back.”
NANCE HAXTON: What’s your message regarding employment, particularly for people on the autism spectrum?
How hard is it to get a job, how can they make that leap?
JEANETTE PURKIS: Don’t be too put off by the workplace – you know it is scary.
The first time I joined the workplace it didn’t even occur to me that there would be other people working there, just being prepared and knowing what you’re getting yourself in for – you can talk to people about it, you can work on that, I think that’s a good strategy.
And also, positivity – don’t go into interviews thinking oh, I’m autistic so everyone will think I’m weird so I won’t get the job.
Sometimes people look at an autistic person in a job interview situation and think, “Gee, they’re really keen, they seem really honest, they’re really sharp-witted, their attention to detail, this is someone we want.”
So never assume that you’re going to be discriminated against.
NANCE HAXTON: How about for employers Jeanette, how would you encourage employers to give people with autism a go?
JEANETTE PURKIS: I think the key thing is just that focussing on people’s strengths, be that your own strengths or be that your potential employee’s strengths.
Instead of thinking there’s something wrong here, this is a deficit to actually thinking how can we work with this person to tap into their very obviously evident things that they can do very well.
And there are programs, there’s been an employment program that Hewlett-Packard are doing for people on the spectrum and actually focussing on that attention to detail and hiring people, targeting people for employment who are on the spectrum because of that attention to detail.
MARK COLVIN: Jeanette Purkis ending Nance Haxton’s report.
Nota retomada de http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4310229.htm