A mother’s encouragement helped land her autistic son a job in IT

Life doesn’t come with a manual; it comes with a mother.” – Unknown

Mother’s Day celebrates all mothers and their unconditional love. This Mother’s Day, Xceptional would also like to salute one particular mother: Libby Walton.

Libby is the mother of Tim. You might be familiar with Tim. He was a star on the first season of the Australian ABC series, Employable Me, in 2018.

During that season Tim warmed the hearts of viewers with his quiet yet persistent job search. At the climax of the episode he virtual high-fived Libby on hearing he was being offered a software testing job at Xceptional. He has been working with Xceptional ever since.

Tim is a talented software tester. He is a gamer. He is a problem solver. He is a technology whiz. He is autistic. But most importantly he is a loving son. We asked Libby to share with us her insights into helping her adult son find a job.

“When Tim left school, he did all the IT courses he could do [at TAFE]”, she explains, “but because of his anxiety he couldn’t go out and independently look for a job, someone had to be with him. He wasn’t in the right mindset, so he just sat at home. “

Libby was faced with the same harsh reality many parents face when their adult autistic children are transitioning from school to employment: how to navigate this challenging time. The Australian job market does not currently have a good record with employment for autistic people. ABS figures show the labour force participation rate in 2018 was 38.0% among the 94,600 people of working age (15-64 years), who identify as autistic.

Libby was determined to help Tim and continued to gently encourage him. “I got him to come to school [Libby is a teacher] with me and he did some volunteering in the classroom with my students with disabilities. The guys who looked after the IT at school were drowning under the workload. I asked them if they would like Tim to help out on one occasion.”

Tim’s skills were immediately recognised and he was asked to come back and help the following day. “He was basically working full time. He had meaningful work, but it was in a voluntary capacity. I thought since he was working full time and was capable, I’d take him to a job agency.”

Over a 2 year period Tim sought assistance at multiple agencies but had challenges. “There was just nothing in the Sutherland Shire area. He did go to a few interviews, but he required a driver’s licence which is something he doesn’t have; he couldn’t get to work independently. At one agency, they didn’t want to take him on because they only take people on they know they can place.”  Tim was seen as too big a challenge, but Libby knew he was extremely capable and didn’t give up.

It was around this time Tim was approached to appear in Employable Me and be assessed for a job on camera. He has never looked back. “I’m really lucky and grateful Xceptional was able to give Tim work, it has meant a huge amount to us and I wish there was more companies out there that catered to people like Tim.”

Mike Tozer, the founder/CEO of Xceptional, a company that provides skills-based employment for autistic people, was instantly impressed with Tim’s problem solving ability. Many autistic people like Tim have unique skills in attention to detail, logic, focus spatial processing, accuracy, and pattern recognition.

Mike says “When I put Tim through our assessment puzzle, I was really impressed with how well he performed. At one point he even asked if he could try one of the puzzles on me! It’s a real pleasure to have him on the team and to see the impressive attention to detail in the work he does for our clients.”

Tim works remotely 95% of the time. Being able to work from home means he can regulate his anxiety, control his sensory environment while still making a valuable contribution to Xceptional’s software testing team.

“One of the unexpected positive consequences of COVID-19 has been an increase in productivity for the autistic employees Xceptional have placed and can now work from home like Tim. 92% of Xceptional’s autistic candidates prefer to work from home at least part of the time,” explains Mike 

Libby has seen Tim grow and develop over the last few years. “He is definitely more confident and more talkative. When my mother-in-law comes over, he is more willing to sit and chat to her. He’s also more likely to go out with Nathan, his brother, to meet up with friends which is good.”

The ultimate goal for parents of adults with a disability is independence. Many parents worry about what their child’s future holds. Who will care for them when they are not around? Libby explains, “Having a job is a step towards independence for Tim, to be fully independent and to get full-time work.  It is going to be a slow process because with Tim being on the spectrum, routines are very important to him. Changing the routine, adding extra days is stressful but he is capable because he did it on a voluntary basis at school.”

Libby’s advice to parents in her situation. “Be patient and supportive. Don’t be pushy. Find out what interests your child has. Encourage them to do courses in whatever motivates them. Tim loved IT so he did all these IT courses at TAFE. The idea is to skill up as much as they can. Computers always interested him, so we had to play to his strengths.”

She adds further encouragement to “volunteer because employers will look more favourably on someone who has been doing some volunteering than just sitting at home. With volunteering, yes you don’t get paid but you are developing really important work habits in the workplace but also how to get on with your fellow employees.”

Lastly she adds “Be very supportive but allow children know matter what age to make mistakes. Remember no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes and you learn from mistakes.”

If you would like more information about employment opportunities through Xceptional head to www.xceptional.io

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