Autism Academy Utilises Unique Strengths of Adults with ASD
More than 100 guests attended the official launch of the Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance (AASQA) on Wednesday 6 April 2016. The event, held at the Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre, was officiated by the Governor of WA, Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO, and hosted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deborah Terry.
The AASQA is a social innovation initiative with the vision of harnessing the special talents of people with autism spectrum for the collective benefit of those with autism, industry and the wider community. It is the first initiative of its kind in Australia.
The mission of the AASQA is to enable individuals with autism to leverage their unique skills through training, education and mentoring programs, creating pathways to valued, long-term employment. This initiative simultaneously meets the social inclusion needs of people with autism and the business needs of the Australian ICT industry, which faces challenges in attracting and retaining software testers. Utilising the recognised strengths and talents of individuals with autism, namely their extreme attention to detail, appreciation of predictability and capacity to focus, the AASQA aims to meet this market driven need for Australian industry.
Underpinning the operation of the AASQA are experts from the fields of software engineering, occupational therapy and special education, which support and provide high-level expertise and services in assessment, training, education and work placements in the software testing industry.
It is estimated that more than 200,000 Australians are diagnosed with autism. In 2012, an estimated 42 per cent of all Australian adults with autism participated in the labour force. This compares with the 53 per cent labour force participation rate for people with other disabilities and 83 per cent for people without disabilities.
“The Autism Academy for Software Quality Assurance aims to improve this participation rate by helping high school students with autism spectrum identify and develop interests in STEM, using coding and robotics as the platform,” said the Governor of WA, Her Excellency the Honourable Kerry Sanderson AO.
“For those who decide to pursue further tertiary studies in computer science, software engineering and information technology, this Academy aims to provide these students with mentoring support, for example through the Curtin Specialist Mentoring Program, as well as work integrated learning and internship opportunities through the Australian Computer Society Foundation.”
The AASQA Deputy Director, Associate Professor Tele Tan, told The Weekend West that the AASQA’s mission is to see young people, who have a natural ability to focus on and analyse large amounts of data, which makes them well situated for software and security development roles, gain full-time employment.
“The software testing industry in Australia is a $420 million business, so there is great scope to provide employment opportunities for young people on the spectrum,” Associate Professor Tan said.
“There’s a growing need for analytical data skills. It’s a very systematic process which requires accuracy, focus and attention to detail, so for people living with autism, it’s a perfect employment match.”
The launch event was a huge success, with students and interns of the AASQA, autism stakeholders, such as the Autism Association of WA and Autism West, major companies and supporters, such as Bankwest, Deloittes, Cisco, Optika, Magentys and Amristar and education organisations, UWA, Murdoch and ECU, attending.
A number of families with children on the spectrum attended the event and enjoyed mingling with guests.
“We both enjoyed meeting and talking to so many new and interesting people…We were very surprised at how many people took the time to talk to the boys and seemed genuinely interested in what they had to say. And the boys did a great job at being involved in conversations, we thought. It was a most pleasurable experience for all of us,” said a parent of a child from Willetton Senior High School.
The inaugural Director of the AASQA is Professor Torbjorn Falkmer, School of Occupational Therapy and Social Work, and the Deputy Director is Associate Professor Tele Tan, Department of Mechanical Engineering. The AASQA is currently located, as a guest tenant, at Curtin’s Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre.