Need a meticulous employee?

2008-02-26 00:00

As I open The Witness every morning, I search the column “General employment” for any advert requiring a computer technician.

Most read “Seeking dynamic, outgoing, energetic and highly motivated young man for position in IT business. Must be a people’s person, etc.”

So what about my reserved, intelligent, loyal and dependable son who is open and honest and has a passion for computers?

He is also unfortunate to have a condition called Asperger’s syndrome. The cause of Asperger’s is currently unknown, but it is thought that it could be genetic. It is classified as a neurobiological disorder on the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome typically have above-average IQs and mostly possess exceptional skills and abilities in one area. Social skills are particularly challenging and they find it difficult to recognise or interpret body language and non-verbal communication.

People with Asperger’s syndrome are very good at learning skills and talents when the right resources are available to them. This can provide them with good career prospects and is sometimes enough to compensate for any disabilities they may have.

People with Asperger’s are more aware of detail and most other people are more aware of the plot. They are better at logical problems, but less intuitive. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have brilliant memories as they can sometimes be quite absent-minded.

Many companies in the United Kingdom and the United States are encouraged to take on people with Asperger’s to boost their business. A company in Denmark, which checks cellphone software, reports that almost all of their employees are on the Asperger’s syndrome spectrum. The company says they are highly motivated and methodical people who will “find the bugs”.

There are thousands of people in the world today who have Asperger’s syndrome and who are struggling to find employment, like my son Scott.

Although people with Asperger’s can have above-average intelligence, their less-developed social skills can hold them back. It is believed that their “social awkwardness” means that often people with Asperger’s do not get the job their intellect deserves.

Useful talents they have may include a photographic memory, musical talents, heightened awareness of visual logic and extraordinary potential for computer programming which is a natural haven for those who are meticulously accurate and have a high standard of work.

This makes people with Asperger’s syndrome very suited to jobs as computer programmers or technicians, graphic designers, research scientists or architects.

It is, in a way, a communication disorder, so it is not a disease but a way of life and will always be there. I hope to highlight their skills for business to tap into, even though I know it could be daunting when firms are fighting to stay in business.

There are some famous people who have been diagnosed or suspected of having Asperger’s and who have achieved great success: Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Bill Gates, Nobel Prize winner economist Vernon Smith and Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of the Pokémon franchise, to name a few.

In South Africa, the most well-known person living with Asperger’s is Daantjie Badenhorst. He shot to fame after winning series 24 of South Africa’s long-running Afrikaans-language television musical quiz show, Noot vir Noot. His performance as well as his condition drew wide interest and articles about him appeared in many newspapers and magazines.

It is suggested that people who have Asperger’s may make many valuable contributions to fields and areas that benefit most from the type of thinking and attention to detail that only these individuals can provide. They can also have excellent skills when working with facts and figures.

It could be argued that it would be a loss to society if Asperger’s were cured, as many of these individuals clearly make significant contributions to society and their skills are highly prized in many specialist fields.

Scott’s diagnosis came following years of feeling he was different from others his age. He hoped a diagnosis would be useful on a personal level as it would help him pin down specifically how the condition applies to him. He also felt a diagnosis would have practical uses as it would be proof to potential employers that he has the condition.

He realises that the condition is biologically pre-determined and this helps him towards self-acceptance. He knows that his communication and social difficulties could mar a job interview.

Scott is aware that finding employment in the computer field, which is his passion, is difficult, as demands by companies are for graduates who are good all-rounders and have plenty of soft skills. He feels that he will fail a job interview, unless the interviewer understands Asperger’s syndrome and would be happy to employ someone with the condition.

People with Asperger’s have difficulties with social interactions and are often socially isolated. They have difficulty understanding unspoken social cues.

They cannot read the mood of others through facial expression, but can be taught to decode clues intellectually rather than instinctively. They may have motor clumsiness and sensitivity to the environment, loud noise, clothing, food textures, and often have a pedantic, formal way of speaking.

Scott has a computer diploma through Mega Masters and would love to be given a chance to prove his skills as a computer technician.

By telling Scott’s story, I hope that business has more insight into the strengths and weaknesses of people living with Asperger’s syndrome, and that it may help them find employment.

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