When Shekhar, an adult with autism employed as a help in the kitchen of a well-known restaurant in the city brandished a knife at his place of work, he had to be asked to leave. His mentor LV Jayashree, director, The Spastics Society of Tamilnadu, explains, “He was a good worker. But I couldn’t explain this act, though I am sure he wasn’t going to attack. He had only enacted what he had seen on TV.” Jayashree says that in many of the companies that employ people with autism, the organisation head may understand the condition, but others around him may not.
“Actually, they are an employer’s delight because they work extremely well in their niche,” she says. They are generally inclined towards exploring life along the realms of technology, art, music, cooking, animal rearing, movie making, designing, etc.
“So they can be guided to work in any area that interests them,” says Nandini Santhanam, co-founder, The Lotus Foundation that works with autistics. Rekha Supriya, a special educator says Teja, her 23-year-old son with autism, recently started working as an office assistant. She says, “I think no job is menial. They ought to be trained to be accountable and deliver like others.”
Ananya, a 22-year-old, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder, has trounced every hurdle that has come her way. But now is the most challenging part — to find the ideal workplace for her. Her mother Shanthi Krishnamoorthy, says, “People employ them for vocational purposes, but not for mainstream occupation,” she points out.
More companies are coming forward to engage people with autism, but there is also need to understand the uniqueness of the condition, says Karthik Ekambaram, Vice President – Diversity & Inclusion Practice, AVTAR Group. He says, “Awareness about their cognitive strengths, employability skills, jobs that they can do well are some of the areas where more knowledge and insights are required. This will help in the long run.”
Some names have been changed