Tech Program Provides Career Breakthroughs for Adults with High Functioning Autism

‘“If you stop looking at the differences and you look at the potential, you’ll get the benefit,” Stephen Kay’s boss said. Monday through Friday, Stephen Kay arrives at his job as a quality assurance tester at Qualitest and gets to work looking for problems. Kay, 30, and his team of coworkers test a wide variety of software ranging from medical equipment to the latest Android and Apple apps for companies around the world. They look for glitches, making sure the software does what it’s supposed to. This full-time job is a dream come true for Kay because he’s an adult living with high-functioning autism and the road to employment hasn’t been easy.
“I have Asperger’s syndrome and ADHD and Turret’s,” Kay said. “Some people associate autism or learning disabilities with some kind of brain damage or lack of intelligence. That’s not the case at all.”Kay graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a degree in computer science in 2013. In the years that followed, he applied for countless jobs but came up empty.”If you do that for months at a time it can just be crushing,” he said. “Three or four years of not getting anywhere, it’s pretty depressing.”Kay said the ratio of jobs he applied for to interest he received from potential employers was astronomically low.”It was probably it was less than a 1 percent thing,” he said. “Probably closer to maybe a thousand to one.”
Kay had to wait until November of 2018 for his employment breakthrough, which came with the help of a relatively new Technical Training Program developed by the National Foundation for Autism Research called NFAR Tech.Chelsea Asaro, Outreach Specialist with NFAR Tech, said Kay’s story is familiar for many people living with autism. And she said the obstacles individuals with high-functioning autism face leaves a startling number of them unemployed.”The unemployment rate for people with autism is 85 percent,” she said. “And that’s even higher for people with high-functioning autism. The people who are least impacted and have the most skills also have the least access to services that will help them to transition to work.”
Asaro said every year between 600 and 800 students with some form of autism graduate from San Diego County high schools.“That’s like the size of an entire high school class coming out of San Diego high schools ready to take that next step,” Asaro said. “So what does the outlook look like for them right now? It’s really not very good.”So far, NFAR Tech has trained more than 100 people through its seven-month software testing program. Students of the program are taught technical skills needed to be an entry-level tester and are also prepared to pass an industry-recognized certification exam (ISTQ).”
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