Why employers should hire people with autism

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Autism should be seen as an asset in the workplace, experts say, but more than half of adult sufferers are out of work.

Steve McVicar loves his job working on construction sites.

The 46-year-old is up before 4am to get on site in Melbourne and he does not get home until 16 hours later.

"It means so much to me," he said.

"It's not just making a living. It gives me motivation and confidence."

Mr McVicar has Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

He has difficulty writing, yet he has paid off his mortgage thanks to a stable job in the construction industry maintaining amenities and providing first aid on multi-million dollar building sites in Victoria.

Employers ‘missing out’

Mr McVicar hopes his 16-year-old son, who also has ASD, will be given a shot at employment as well.

With one in 100 Australians on the Autism Spectrum and the rate of detection increasing, there is a growing need for meaningful employment opportunities.

Around 58 per cent of adults with ASD are jobless, compared to 6.2 per cent of the whole population.

"Having work done very well, having a loyal work force, having people that will always turn up on time and take very little sick leave."

Without jobs they lack financial security and the ability to make decisions about their lives, with unemployment one of the reasons people with ASD are over represented in the homeless population.

People on the spectrum can show heightened abilities in pattern recognition and a greater attention to detail, but may experience difficulties communicating and socialising.

An organisation working to improve quality of life for those affected by autism in Victoria, Amaze, believes many could have productive work lives if only employers recognised their unique abilities.

CEO Fiona Sharkie said employers had a lot to gain from employing people on the Autism Spectrum.

"Having work done very well, having a loyal work force, having people that will always turn up on time and take very little sick leave,” she said.

“And do their job absolutely to their best ability because they are driven to achieve in areas that really require a lot of detail."

An Australia-first trial

The Department of Human Services in Adelaide is harnessing the abilities of people with ASD who have high intellectual capabilities through an Australia-first trial.

The Dandelion program is providing 11 trainees with skilled employment opportunities for three years, testing IT products and services.

The Department’s Adelaide IT manager Janice Silby said the trainees’ attention to detail was “a real asset”.

“They have also helped out work environment,” she said.

“The people working alongside them have improved their communication skills as well.”

After a series of failed interviews and bad experiences with employment agencies, trainee Luke Beauchamp finally feels valued.

The 27-year-old said he finally feels valued in the workplace.

"For a number of years I was in a supported wage job, but I really grew to hate it,” he said.

“They only paid me three dollars an hour. And I think I'm worth more than that.

“I couldn't ask to be part of a better team.”

Source SBS

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