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Robert Eric Martin sees his autism as an asset in his job as a software tester. With his impeccable attention to detail and drive to work, he’s succeeded at his job at a software development and IT company that he’s had for a year now — and he’s loved every moment of it.
As a software tester, it’s Martin’s job to edit coding on the back end of websites, which correlates almost perfectly with what the 21-year-old took in college, which was interactive design and development at George Brown.
“The way my family describes it is that once I get focused on something, it’s kind of hard for me to stop focusing on it,” Martin explains. “So if we’ve got a long project ahead of us, once I get into the project, I’m going to stay focused on it for a long time.”
His colleagues, Martin says, have been supportive. Describing everyone as nice, the subject of Martin being on the autism spectrum has never become an issue among his colleagues or in the workplace.
Martin scored the job last year at a job fair called Help by Helping Tomorrow, which was specifically geared toward people with autism wanting to enter the workforce. That’s where he met his future boss, Sridhar Demodaran of Test Consulting Group.
“[Robert] has a very analytical mind,” Demodaran says. “He knows what has to be done.”
This was the first time Demodaran took part in a job fair geared toward people with autism, and he says it’s taught him a lot about employees with autism in the workplace.
“It is very good if we can give more opportunities to people,” Demodaran says. “They have the capacity to perform, but each individual is different. You just have to find out how you can get that individual to perform. So it’s like a learning curve and it takes a little bit of patience. I’d say it take about six months to know how to really start working with them. You’ve just got to treat them as normally as possible.”
Demodaran’s goal is to train employees with autism and equip them with the skills they need so that they can be placed at larger companies.
And what Demodaran wants other companies to know is that they need dynamic strategies in place when it comes to supporting employees of all kinds in the workplace.
Xavier Pinto, organizer of the job fair, agrees. “The whole world is changing and it’s time that strategies change along with it,” he says. “Workplaces need to help people focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.”
Pinto’s eight-year-old son inspired him to start the job fair. His son, Pinto says, is on the autism spectrum, and as a father he’s doing everything he can to make sure his son gets the same opportunities as everyone else.
This year’s job fair, an annual event now in its second year, takes place on April 20 in Toronto.
The benefit of hiring workers on the autism spectrum, Xavier says, comes down to their fine sense of detail, which many businesses can take advantage of.
“Each case of autism is very different and unique,” Pinto explains. “For example, my son he sees the fine details that we don’t — he has a whole other different perspective that we don’t have. There are a lot of industries that need the attention to detail and different perspectives that can bring out out-of-the-box thinking.”
According to Laurier Mawlam, executive director of Autism Canada, challenges that autistic adults may face include sensory processing and executive functioning skills. Some people on the spectrum, she says, are highly sensitive to lights, noises, textures and smells. This can be overstimulating and distracting.
Despite their challenges, however, people on the spectrum offer a variety of skills that businesses can take advantage of, like being detail-oriented and offering different perspectives, Mawlam says.
“They will likely thrive in a workplace that has understanding among their employer and fellow employees, and when accommodations are made so they can feel comfortable in the work environment, with clear expectations,” Mawlam adds. “Furthermore, when people on the spectrum have a job position in which they are motivated and interested, they often have the skills to excel farther than people who are not on the spectrum.”
In fact, a report by Capgemini found that there’s an urgent growing talent gap in cybersecurity and that the best place to recruit talent is among the autism community.
“Thinking outside the box is about understanding the transferable skills,” said Mike Turner, chief operating officer at Capgemini Cybersecurity, in a statement. “For example, people on the autism spectrum are fantastic at pattern spotting and are often blessed with numerical and problem-solving skills, attention to detail and a methodical approach to work — all useful traits for cybersecurity best practice.
Based on 2015 numbers by the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in 66 Canadian children and youth have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are also about four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls.