Jobs chance for those with autism Yang Yao

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at yangyao@ chi­

Mi­crosoft an­nounced on April 6 that it will im­ple­ment a pi­lot pro­gram in the United States aimed at help­ing the com­put­ing gi­ant hire more autis­tic peo­ple.

The com­pany will bring more peo­ple with autism into its ranks as soft­ware testers, pro­gram­mers and data qual­ity as­sur­ance spe­cial­ists. How­ever, there is no word on it or when the pro­gram will be ex­panded to China.

Ming Cong, public re­la­tions of­fi­cer of Mi­crosoft China, told China Daily that the com­pany could not com­ment on the China sit­u­a­tion.

The pro­gram would face dif­fi­cul­ties in China as the coun­try lacks an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to train autis­tic peo­ple, ex­perts said.

“The ed­u­ca­tion for autis­tic peo­ple in China lags that of the US,” said Feng Hao, an of­fi­cer with the China Dis­abled Per­sons Fed­er­a­tion (CDPF). “We are work­ing on it now, from in­te­grated ed­u­ca­tion to em­ploy­ment pro­grams, but we need time.”

Bei­jing Daily re­ported that on April 16, the fed­er­a­tion had a new no­tice urg­ing pri­mary schools to re­cruit autis­tic chil­dren and en­cour­age spe­cially de­vel­oped cour­ses for them.

Ac­cord­ing to the sec­ond na­tional cen­sus of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in 2007, about 111,000 chil­dren up to the age of 6 have men­tal ill­nesses, ac­count­ing for 0.11 per­cent of the to­tal num­ber of chil­dren in this age group. Most of the ill­nesses are caused by autism (with no spe­cific num­ber of autis­tic chil­dren).

“Peo­ple have wrong per­cep­tions about autism,” said Zhuang Ju, tech­ni­cal co­or­di­na­tor of China In­tel­lec­tual and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties Net­work. “Un­til re­cent years, autis­tic chil­dren were sent to the same spe­cial schools as chil­dren with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, which they shouldn’t have.”

Autism is a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­der that af­fects how a per­son com­mu­ni­cates, and re­lates to, other peo­ple. It can also af­fect how they make sense of the world around them.

Peo­ple with autism typ­i­cally have trou­ble com­mu­ni­cat­ing, look­ing peo­ple in the eye, and can get up­set by loud noises or bright lights.

Autism is a spec­trum con­di­tion, which means that while all peo­ple with autism share cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ties, their con­di­tion af­fects them in dif­fer­ent ways.

Some peo­ple with autism, for ex­am­ple, are able to live rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dently but oth­ers may have ac­com­pa­ny­ing learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and need spe­cial­ist sup­port.

Asperger syn­drome is a form of autism, and peo­ple with it are of­ten of av­er­age or above av­er­age in­tel­li­gence. They have fewer prob­lems with speech but may still have dif­fi­cul­ties with un­der­stand­ing and pro­cess­ing lan­guage.

“Lack­ing tar­geted ed­u­ca­tion for autis­tic chil­dren leads to the dif­fi­cul­ties in their fu­ture devel­op­ment,” Zhuang said. “There is very lit­tle train­ing in the public school sys­tem to help them adapt to the so­ci­ety and use their brains.”

The preva­lence of autism in China is less specif­i­cally mea­sured than in many coun­tries as of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion of the dis­or­der is rel­a­tively new, only be­com­ing of­fi­cially di­ag­nosed in China in the 1980s, ver­sus the 1940s in the US. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion puts the num­ber of autis­tic chil­dren in China at be­tween 600,000 and 1.8 mil­lion, but due to un­der-re­port­ing and be­cause autism in the coun­try was only re­cently ac­knowl­edged, some ar­gue that the num­ber is more likely to be more in the range of 1.5 to 7.8 mil­lion.

“In­te­grated ed­u­ca­tion for autis­tic chil­dren, mean­ing putting them in regular pri­mary and ju­nior high schools with spe­cial fa­cil­i­ties sup­port, has only been done for about two said.

Although there are schools in China that try to re­cruit autis­tic chil­dren, they don’t have teach­ers who can fa­cil­i­tate their spe­cial needs.

“It is still ex­per­i­men­tal. Hir­ing autis­tic peo­ple as pro­gram­mers in China as Mi­crosoft did in Amer­ica would not hap­pen now or soon. I reckon it will take at least 10 years,” he said.

Mi­crosoft will be work­ing with Spe­cial­is­terne, an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to find­ing jobs for peo­ple with autism, to run the pro­gram.

In May 2013, the or­ga­ni­za­tion also part­nered with SAP, a Ger­man multi­na­tional soft­ware com­pany, to help peo­ple with autism find em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in the com­pany.

years,” Zhuang

“It’s sim­ple, Mi­crosoft is stronger when we ex­pand op­por­tu­nity and we have a di­verse work­force that rep­re­sents our cus­tomers,” wrote Mary Ellen Smith, Mi­crosoft’s cor­po­rate vice-pres­i­dent of world­wide op­er­a­tions, on the com­pany’s blog.

“Peo­ple with autism bring strengths that we need at Mi­crosoft, each in­di­vid­ual is dif­fer­ent, some have amaz­ing abil­ity to re­tain in­for­ma­tion, think at a level of de­tail and depth or excel in math or code. It’s a tal­ent pool that we want to con­tinue to bring to Mi­crosoft,” Smith wrote.

Tech­nol­ogy in­dus­tries are said to be suited to peo­ple with autism be­cause of how they re­spond to gad­gets and soft­ware, said Zhou Haibin, pro­gram of­fi­cer with In­ter­na­tional La­bor Or­ga­ni­za­tion (ILO) in Bei­jing.

“At a young age, for ex­am­ple, ex­perts in the UK are find­ing that learn­ing pro­gram­ming lan­guages is en­abling af­fected chil­dren to feel safe and com­mu­ni­cate more read­ily be­cause the soft­ware is more pre­dictable and or­dered than hu­man in­ter­ac­tion,” he said.

“How­ever, our coun­try’s ed­u­ca­tion does not have this to de­velop af­fected chil­dren’s po­ten­tials.”

In ad­di­tion to ef­forts by public schools, pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­sti­tu­tions are pay­ing more at­ten­tion to help autism-af­fected chil­dren.

Stars and Rain of Bei­jing is China’s most well-known autis­tic sup­port cen­ter. It of­fers “Ap­plied Be­hav­ior Anal­y­sis” (ABA), an in­di­vid­u­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram and pre-school coach­ing for 3- to 6-year-old chil­dren with autism. The pro­gram’s teach­ers ob­serve each stu­dent with autism and do ca­pac­ity as­sess­ment to ini­ti­ate an in­di­vid­u­al­ized train­ing plan for each in the first week. In the fol­low­ing nine weeks, par­ents are guided by the teacher to learn ABA tech­niques from which they can train their chil­dren in dif­fer­ent as­pects, in­clud­ing lan­guage, cog­ni­tion and sports. In the fi­nal week, Stars and Rain con­ducts a ca­pac­ity as­sess­ment for each stu­dent and helps to de­velop a fam­ily train­ing plan.

“How­ever, th­ese pro­grams are al­ways very ex­pen­sive, mak­ing them un­af­ford­able to ev­ery autism-af­fected fam­ily,” Zhou said.

Since 2013, CDPF, ILO and dis­abled peo­ple’s rights NGOs, have been push­ing a model called “in­te­grated em­ploy­ment”, which refers to jobs held by peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in typ­i­cal work­place set­tings where the ma­jor­ity of per­sons em­ployed are not per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

“Through train­ing, peo­ple with men­tal chal­lenges gain job skill. In the in­te­grated em­ploy­ment pro­gram, we also have job coaches send them to com­pa­nies that are will­ing to ac­cept them, and visit them on a regular ba­sis,” Zhou said.

“Peo­ple with autism have the low­est rate of em­ploy­ment. To achieve the so­cial in­clu­sion of autism af­fected peo­ple, we need more aware­ness and bet­ter pol­icy fa­cil­i­ties,” he said.

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