People on the autism spectrum can make a big impact in tech, from software development to cybersecurity.
While most kids grew up using their computer to play games, Tim was busy fixing them with his father. “We used to salvage old computers and get them working again,” he says. “Since then, I have been interested in figuring out how software and hardware works.”
Tim is among the 164,000 Australians who have autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong developmental condition that is characterised by repetitive behaviour, challenges in social communication, speech and non-verbal communication, such as reading body language.
But with these challenges comes a unique way of seeing the world and a formidable skill set, and companies are beginning to recognise this untapped potential, including tech giants IBM and DXC Technology.
“I have a sharp attention to detail and a greater level of patience when doing repetitive tasks, which are a natural fit for software testing,” says Tim, who works at Xceptional, a technology service company that employs people with autism based on their technical skills.
Skills going to waste
The unemployment rate for people on the autism spectrum is about 32%, six times higher than the rate for those without a disability. Although workplaces are becoming more diverse, making it past the job interview is often a major hurdle for people with autism, despite their strong technical capabilities.
Darren Hedley, an autism researcher at La Trobe University, says using different approaches to assess autistic candidates is a step in the right direction. Xceptional, for example, uses online questionnaires and logic-based games to recruit candidates instead of interviews.
“They can be very conscientious and thorough workers, and they don’t like little errors,” says Darren. “If they’re unemployed or stuck in a job where they aren’t using these skills, that’s a big waste.”
Employment and education initiatives
In 2014, Hedley and his colleagues teamed up with DXC Technology to establish the DXC Dandelion Program, which matches people on the autism spectrum with tech jobs, from cybersecurity to software development. Since its launch, 105 people with autism have been employed in the Federal Government Departments of Defence, Human Services, Home Affairs, and Social Services as well as ANZ and National Australia Bank.
The initiative also offers a paid work experience program for tertiary students, which includes a three-week robotics software development course for primary schools that work with autistic children.
When it comes to starting a career in computer science, Tim says it’s important for autistic students to explore how they can grow and best use their skills. “It’s helpful to understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and consider ways you can develop the skills you may have difficulty with,” he says. – Gemma Conroy
New insights released for Autistic Pride Day 2020
auticon, a social enterprise that employs over 200 adults on the autism spectrum as technology consultants and IT service professionals, is celebrating Autistic Pride Day this year by releasing its 2020 Global Impact Report, which outlines key findings from a survey of its autistic employees.
auticon Australia CEO Bodo Mann commented on the results of the survey, “It’s great to see that auticon’s consultants are thriving in their roles and working with our job coaches to deliver superior value to our clients. Their unique skills and talents help to deliver truly extraordinary outcomes and they’re game changing solutions offer our customers unmatched results.”
The auticon consultants surveyed reported their confidence (70%), autonomy (64%), and wellbeing (74%) increase as a result of working at auticon.
The organisation’s autistic professionals agree their skills and abiiltes (80%), understanding of their skills and abilities (74%), opportunities for professional development (70%) and reaching their full potential (56%) has also increased since starting work with the inclusive employer.
The job coach has also proved to be critical to the success of our consultants, 83% of consultants agree the support offered by their job coach helped their transition to a client’s workplace.
Part of this article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Code 2019.
Author: Gemma Conroy
Gemma is a freelance journalist with a passion for making science accessible to everyone. Gemma has a degree in biology from Macquarie University and loves sharing amazing discoveries with the world.