She got a job. It was no small feat. Foster, who has autism and dyslexia, interviewed for six jobs since december, with no luck. Gene juarez, qfc, microsoft, a coffee shop, seattle center and Nordstrom Rack, she lists. But the winner is Inglewood Golf Club, where foster will work in the newly renovated restaurant, helping set tables and making sure everything stays in order. Shell have a job coach with her, at least at the beginning, and already has figured out how to take the Access bus from her home in North seattle to the kenmore club. I cant wait to tell my sister, foster says, grinning.
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Eisner, who has autism and tourettes, knows he hidden reacts less emotionally to many things than a lot of people. When I see how other people think and behave, i see myself as more of a systematic thinker about things, he says. Sometimes people give traditionally normal responses to my questions, but it still surprises. It hasnt been an issue on his team, where he mostly chats about their work and video games. But its been helpful to have a built-in mentor that Microsoft connected him with when he started. His mentor reminded his boss to give eisner specific steps within tasks — such as testing a piece of code after he writes. Over time, it sticks, he says. You just have to hit me with it a few times. Kendall foster came employment to meisters class at uw beaming. The cheerful 21-year-old has good news, delivered to her via a phone call just 16 hours ago.
Interviewing can be intimidating, and the consequences of misunderstanding someone or getting off on the wrong foot can mean not getting a job. What weve learned is, youve kind of got to ditch the interview, lay-flurrie says. And go with an academy. Microsofts weeklong program is held each quarter and has so far resulted in hiring 50 people with autism. The week yardage includes classes and tips on how to communicate in teams, tests of technical prowess and group games — the most well-known: building a bridge with sticks and marshmallows. David Eisners favorite part of the week was the chance to build a robot from Legos, but he thinks what ultimately got him hired were his web-design skills. Eisner is a software engineer for Microsoft and works with a team in the companys Sammamish office. His office is decked out with cozy stuffed animals — soft things help him think.
We dont lower the bar; we havent changed the rules, he says. Its just a different-shaped door. It started with résumés. Jenny lay-flurrie, microsofts chief accessibility officer, knows software jobs appeal to literature some people with autism — coding is logic- and rule-based, and it requires a lot of legs attention to detail. But she had heard about people struggling to find jobs, and she looked into why. It was the résumés. A résumé would list maybe one internship, a few months at a grocery store, a huge gap in time and then, at the bottom a double major in computer science and data science. Lay-flurrie and her team at Microsoft reasoned the candidates must be getting hung up somewhere in the interview process, because it seemed pretty clear that the technical skills were there.
Top-notch recruits can be hard to reel in, and besides, kings team was starting to feel a bit too uniform. The population starts to look the same after a while, he says. Given the diversity of our community, when we all start looking and sounding the same, its nice to bring in something different. King, a british native who started working for Microsoft in the. Nearly 26 years ago, has made a couple of hires from the program, which began at Microsoft four years ago. He has coached a few of his team members through road bumps in working with their new colleagues, he says, though really the net has been a positive impact for everyone. Communication as a whole across the team has improved, he says. People no longer assume their co-workers know what theyre thinking, and they take more time to explain things. And once the hires from the autism program are in, there are no accommodations as far as what King expects from the quality of work.
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Instead of just asking the same question and thinking, maybe they didnt hear me correctly, you have to present it in a different way. Thats reasonable for meister and yi to do while the students are practicing. But out in the wild of the job market, its tough to count on hiring managers understanding the intricacies of autism — note even if they know the interviewee has it — and knowing how to best communicate. Thats why microsoft has taken a two-sided approach to hiring people with autism. The redmond tech giant not only brings candidates with autism into the office for at least a week to walk them through a specialized interview process; it also trains hiring managers and future co-workers on how to best interact with their new colleagues. Anyone with autism can apply for Microsofts hiring academy, and the company often gets recent college grads applying from all over the country.
Russ King, an engineering manager at Microsoft, fully embraced that challenge. King dumps a thick book — 542 pages, to be exact — on the table of a conference room in Microsofts sprawling headquarters. Have you read this? He asks the room, pointing to neuroTribes: The legacy of Autism and the future of neurodiversity, a book by Steve silberman that traces the history of autism. He devoured it, and several other books and articles about autism, after first taking the company-offered training about a year and a half ago. King stumbled upon Microsofts hiring program in the way you might expect a hiring manager to: he needed more engineers.
The end of the quarter was nearing in March, and the students were about to finish their second internship of the year. A suit, and a towel if we want to swim, skelly answered. And which jobs are you going to apply to before next week? The answers came out slowly, as prompted: Pemco. Meister, a seattle public Schools teacher, works with students with disabilities who are in the three transition years that can be taken from the age of 18. Students stay enrolled in high school and participate in programs formed to help them find work after school.
Along with job coach Cassondra yi from Provail, a seattle company that works with people with disabilities, meister helps students do mock job interviews and videotapes them to review. One student was having trouble understanding the question, how long have you been working at this worksite? The obvious answer, it seemed to him, was five hours, the length of time he had been at his internship that day. People with autism often understand the most literal interpretation of language. So meister explained that although that is what she asked, what she meant was: How many months have you been working at this particular job? So often when we ask students questions and they dont understand, we just ask the same question again and again and hope it will be clarified, she says.
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Many companies, such listing as Microsoft, are starting to think of people with autism as an untapped talent pool — people who are skilled, but also might bring perspectives to companies that are currently lacking. It still can be tough to get in the door. Jill Locke, a research assistant professor at uw who is the Project search business liaison, and Hala Annabi, an associate professor in the uw information School, are involved in helping people with autism get ready for employment, and pointed out how many things anyone moving. Its a challenge for pretty much every 20-something. Imagine having autism on top of that, locke says. Maggie meister is mapping out a schedule for the next two weeks on a huge whiteboard in UWs Allen Library. What do you all need to bring for the pool on Friday? She asked the Project search students.
That means people with autism might have trouble maintaining eye contact and keeping up with conversations, especially if the chatter is ambiguous, and might focus intently on a certain topic when talking to people, showing little interest for other topics. Some people with autism also answers have intellectual disabilities. But not everyone with autism has any or all of these characteristics, and severity varies widely. So the program organizers curate the internships as much as possible, aiming to give all students jobs in which they can gain skills within their reach. Holding a job has been shown to reduce depression and create better mental health generally, stobbe says. Many people argue that getting people into jobs benefits society as a whole. Otherwise, some people with autism would be more dependent on their families and social services during the days.
team. Skelly is part of Project search at uw, a program operated in part by the university and seattle public Schools that helps young people with autism gain skills vital to workplaces — and, by the end of the school year, to find jobs. The goal is that, over a course of at least three internships in a year, skelly and his classmates will learn how to work in an office, or perhaps a restaurant, or maybe in a library — and they will know how to take public. The uw program is one of several Project search programs across the United States, and is one of a small handful to focus solely on young people with autism. Its challenges are significant: Research shows only about half the people with autism have held a job at some point during high school and their early 20s — the lowest rate when compared to other groups with disabilities, according to a study published in the. Most read Stories, but researchers at uw, backed by teachers from high schools and job-placement experts, are hopeful they can craft specific classroom lessons and pair students with specialized job experiences to give young people a jump-start into jobs. Part of the challenge is the breadth of the autism spectrum, and in the number of ways the condition can manifest. Autism can mean many things, but generally appears in two ways: difficulties related to social communication, and the concept of repetitive behaviors, says Gary Stobbe, a neurologist at uw medicine who has helped craft the Project search program.
Related: The story behind How uw, microsoft are pitching in to help job-hunters with autism. After dusting the rooms, the task shredder list notes he will make copies, then do a bit of computer work if he has time. Skelly checks the list often throughout his shift, relying on it to help keep him on track. Skelly has autism and has long struggled to keep focused on the tasks presented him. That distraction was especially bad in middle school, skelly remembers, but has significantly improved the past several years. Im learning about how to be more in-depth in my job, skelly says, pausing briefly from wiping down a table to check his map and see which room is next. Its about knowing what I should be doing without someone telling. Still, it helps skelly to have a list so he can take things one step at a time.
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For young people with autism, it can be tough to get in the door. So project search at the University of Washington builds workplace skills, and Microsoft focuses on hiring and training. Matthew skellys dreams are in the clouds. Specifically, in an Alaska airlines plane, flying through the clouds. The 21-year-old seattleite has a goal to become a flight attendant for the local airline company — but this spring, his training is taking place firmly on the ground, within a series of mirrored rooms on the University of Washington campus. Skelly strides confidently to a small whiteboard in the corner of a back office packed with chairs, a coffee maker and a copy machine. He bends down to see his task list for the day, the red highlighter in his hand poised to check off the first job. First on the list: Wipe down the tables and chairs in every room of the University of Washington Speech hearing Clinic. Skelly, dressed smartly in black slacks london and a black polo shirt, knows exactly where to find the tube of cleaning wipes and the floor map of the office.