A group of graduates from a specialised autism training program have left the dole queue and secured their first jobs inside the department responsible for handing out their disability benefits.
- Graduates of Dandelion Program land full-time jobs in public sector
- Julie Anderson says program is "best thing that's ever happened" for her son Jack
- Minister Michael Keenan says program "a win-win"
The Department of Human Services (DHS) has been funding the Dandelion Program for a number of years, which has partnered with IT companies to integrate people with autism into the workforce.
But this is the first time graduates of the program have landed full-time jobs as computer programmers and software engineers in the public sector as a result.
Among the new graduates is Brisbane man Jack Anderson who now works in the DHS automation team.
"Computers are really logical with how they work, and the way my brain works is also logical, and I can make them do what I want them to do," Mr Anderson said.
"It is definitely helpful when I can feel when something's off in the computer, or I can realise where there's likely to be issues."
Mr Anderson said he did not feel his autism was a defining aspect of his job, and not all of his colleagues knew he had the disorder:
"I'm just Jack in the automation team."
'It's the best thing that's ever happened'
Mr Anderson was diagnosed with autism when he was around five years old, but went on to be Dux of his school and was awarded a university scholarship.
Despite having a physics degree, he struggled to find a job.
"Of course, when you're on Centrelink benefits looking for work, you need to apply for 10 jobs a fortnight," Mr Anderson's mum, Julie Anderson, said.
"And for someone like Jack, going through that recruitment process was very, very hard — it was near impossible for him.
"Of course, it's not doing the job that's the hard bit. It's getting the job."
Ms Anderson said the change in her son's outlook on life since gaining employment had been remarkable.
"It is the best thing that's ever happened to Jack, I can truly say that," Ms Anderson said.
"When he finished his degree, and then in that time before he started with the Dandelion Program, he was just kind of going into himself, he wasn't really able to thrive like he could have."
Program aims to put unique skills to use
The Dandelion Program was established by Danish company Specialisterne, after its founder Thorkil Sonne's son was diagnosed with autism.
Mr Sonne wanted to create an environment where people with the disorder not only felt comfortable in the workplace, but could put their unique skills to use.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there are more than 160,000 people on the autism spectrum across the country.
But currently only about 40 per cent of adults on the autism spectrum are employed.
Other departments, including Defence and Home Affairs, have joined the partnership with the Dandelion Program.
Human Services Minister Michael Keenan said he was proud his department was taking the lead.
"It's given job opportunities to people who have got unique skills and talents and abilities that we can utilise, and has allowed DHS, my department, to take advantage of the skills," Mr Keenan said.
"It's been a win-win for everyone involved."
Mr Anderson said his colleagues had undergone training about how to work with someone who has autism.
"A lot of it is just good practice in a workplace, regardless of autism," he said.
"Stuff like just being clear about what you mean, and being honest and impersonal when you're giving feedback."
He said he hoped more workplaces would embrace staff with disabilities, and urged people with autism not to shut themselves away.
"You should figure out what your skills are, figure out what you're good at, figure out what you're passionate about," Mr Anderson said.
"You shouldn't be ashamed to go look for support and accept any support that you're offered."