Jobs chance for those with autism Yang Yao
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.
“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.