Aiden is an avid video gamer who dabbles in game development and programming. He once dreamed of making games and desktop apps for a living.
However, as a non-verbal autistic teenager, living in the Blue Mountains, he rated his job prospects “somewhat low”. He was worried that his social anxiety would prevent him from ever getting a job.
“I found that people didn’t understand or appreciate me, especially at school in a mainstream environment,” he says.
His mother, Juliet, says that she found it challenging to travel and organise activities that would allow Aiden “a bigger insight into the world”.
“[We] still have to deal with sensory issues and anxiety and try to find solutions in difficult situations. It can be very stressful and it involves the whole family,” she says.
In March 2019, Juliet contacted Xceptional to find a work experience placement for Aiden’s ICT TAFE course. Several months later Aiden attended an Xceptional workshop in Sydney that involved technical assessments and desktop games in a group environment to identify problem-solving, attention to detail and reasoning skills.
Aiden was then invited to apply for a spatial data analytical software developer role with GeoSynergy, a Brisbane-based software company that provides consultancy and product development in the resources and utilities industries.
Aiden had to complete four technical challenges to be considered for the job. “For the challenges, I had to program software to manipulate and/or visualise the data provided, produce a result similar to what is described in the challenge description.”
Geoff Osborn, Director of GeoSynergy, found that Aiden stood out in a field of 30 applicants for the role. “Aiden’s responses were strong, quick and made intuitive sense to me.”
Without meeting face-to-face or exchanging any words, Geoff offered Aiden the job on a part-time basis. Aiden remembers feeling “impressed, a bit excited, nervous and anxious” when he received the job offer. He started work in January this year.
Aiden works remotely in the comfort of his bedroom. His day-to-day tasks include creating prototypes for new software and creating diagrams or apps.
“I enjoy working from home as I am relaxed in my own environment and I don’t have the stress of being around lots of people and catching public transport,” says Aiden.
“The school has helped to negotiate my attendance so I can work two days a week and complete school on the other three days.”
Aiden credits his strengths for thriving at GeoSynergy, such as learning new skills quickly from existing examples, solving problems through mental visualisation and quick pattern recognition.
“Also, prior knowledge has helped a lot. It has helped me to obtain new skills based on the software they are using and quickly creating solutions for the tasks.”
Aiden communicates at work through text messaging, emails and diagrams. Everyone has been welcoming and supportive of his presence at work and his method of communication.
“I use [diagrams] to describe networks and the structure/flow of the software when I find it hard to describe using words,” he says.
Aiden says he receives support from a job coach on learning to communicate and collaborate with co-workers to complete tasks. In addition, he has learned how to negotiate with his employer about his workload and hours for his upcoming HSC exams.
Geoff helps him with prioritising tasks and coordinating the task schedule. Two other colleagues help him on deploying software or programming in SQL.
“I feel happy that people understand who I am and what my strengths are at work,” says Aiden.
“I am less worried about school, as I only attend three days a week and that allows me to have less stress/anxiety related to the school environment.”
“I’ve realised I have the skills and ability to pursue a career with my current knowledge which has given me confidence and reduced my anxiety.”
Aiden’s mother, Juliet, says that Aiden has been much happier since he started working for GeoSynergy.
“I have to keep an eye that he has balance and he’s not too stressed out,” she says. “I have negotiated and had meetings with his high school teachers and TAFE teachers to organise a way for Aiden to complete his HSC while working with GeoSynergy.”
Juliet says that Aiden would find happiness as long as he was able to channel his talent in work.
“We are living today with much more education and awareness of people on the autism spectrum and many employers are aware of the gifts and benefits of employing such people. It makes me very happy.”
Aiden’s manager, Geoff, praises Aiden’s attention to detail and efficiency working at GeoSynergy, as well as his “strong and diverse skill set” across areas like problem-solving, software development and game engines.
“Teaching Aiden how to effectively communicate via ticketing and Skype has been my focus, however this is the same for all new staff,” says Geoff.
“The process of writing out tickets and Skype messaging lends itself to iteratively structuring questions and solutions, so often I think it is as effective as voice or face-to-face communication.”
GeoSynergy has a remote team of workers scattered across Australia and overseas. According to Geoff, this workforce structure means that challenges such as social difficulties or sensitivities to noisy environments, don’t occur at all or are not relevant.
“The advantages of being able to understand and solve complex problems, their work ethic, reliability…are all upsides that far outweigh the downsides,” says Geoff.
“If you can’t contribute to cracking an analytical problem or restating it, it doesn’t really matter how social you are.”
Aiden sees his current work becoming a full-time career one day. So what is his advice for other autistic people like him to find the work they love to do?
“Continue to build your knowledge around your special interests, think about and research what would be useful in the future (20+ years) as things are constantly changing and what is being used now could obsolete in a few years.”
Looking for a job in technology? Please visit https://xceptional.io/job-seekers/ and register today.