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Liv Casben reported this story on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 18:50:00

MARK COLVIN: It’s no coincidence that autistic people are often called savants. Many people with autism and Asperger’s have remarkable abilities with numbers, or technology, or even art. Some can perform extraordinary feats of memory. But their talents often go unnoticed or are wasted because they find it hard to get and keep full-time jobs.

Now three advocacy groups in Victoria have got together to try to change that.

Liv Casben has this report.

LIV CASBEN: Around 1 in 160 people live with autism in Australia. But advocacy groups say many of them are underemployed.

TRACEL DEVEREUX: Most people with Asperger’s and autism do not work full time, do not access, work at their particular skills level and many of them do not access or do not operate in the workforce at all.

LIV CASBEN: Tracel Devereux is the CEO of Alpha Autism. The not-for-profit organisation supports adults with autism and tries to find jobs for them. With 80 people on its books looking for work, it places an average of two people in a job every month. But it’s now hoping that number will increase with its sights firmly set on the IT market.

TRACEL DEVEREUX: People with Asperger’s tend to have a very strong logical framework, a capacity to think in a linear way and to focus on data and detail that leads them to be very, very good at picking up faults or aberrations in a system.

LIV CASBEN: Alpha Autism is one of three groups that have signed an agreement to get more people with autism into the workforce. The idea comes from Denmark where entrepreneur, Throkil Sonne, whose son has autism, set up a company which specialises in software testing – 90 per cent of its employees have autism and its clients include Computer Sciences Corporation and Cisco Systems.

CAROLINE CROSSE: Throkil had identified that his son was very competent in very specific fields and one of these specific fields was software testing and the skills required for that. So on the basis of that, he set up specialist firm in Denmark and now has a very successful social enterprise.

LIV CASBEN: Caroline Crosse heads up Social Firms Australia which aims to create accessible employment for those people with a disability or mental illness. Her group will work with Alpha Autism to introduce the scheme here.

CAROLINE CROSSE: There’s a high unemployment rate for people with a mental illness and disability and people with autism spectrum disorders are no exception. It’s very difficult for people who have a range of barriers to employment to be able to advocate for themselves.

LIV CASBEN: The project’s already won plenty of support from autism advocacy groups. Nicole Rogerson is the CEO of Autism Awareness which is Australia’s largest advocacy group of parents who have children with autism.

NICOLE ROGERSON: A lot of employers would look with people with autism and they wouldn’t necessarily be able to look through what they see on the surface through to the skill set that might actually be there.

So, it’s difficult, so people with autism spectrum disorder often aren’t great team players, they may not be fabulous with social communication, they might seem to be a little off putting or they might ignore you or they might not give you great eye contacts. All those sorts of things in a corporate environment are a little bit difficult to be without.

LIV CASBEN: Nicole Rogerson is also hoping it works for a more personal reason. She has a 14-year-old son with autism and says she, like other parents, is worried what opportunities will be available for him once his formal schooling ends.

NICOLE ROGERSON: There is an army out there of young adults and that are unemployed and who really have above-average IQs and who could contribute a lot to this country but they aren’t.

MARK COLVIN: Nicole Rogerson from Autism Awareness finishing that report from Liv Casben. 

Source:  http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2010/s2865546.htm

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