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Creating opportunities for youths with autism in Kenya

That people with autism and other learning disabilities suffer economically is not in doubt. This is because while there has been progress in addressing challenges related to 'visible' disabilities such as physical disabilities, not much has been done to address the plight of people with autism. To begin with, autism is not well understood in the society and the fact that it can co-occur with other disorders such as dyslexia complicates matters.

While going through school is a challenge for them due to underlying factors such as struggling with social interaction, securing a job is a herculean task for them as they are thought to be incapable of performing the tasks in a job, let alone the pressures of a fast paced office world. Luckily, with inclusivity programs such as the Microsoft's Neurodiversity program, it has come to the attention of the corporate world that people with autism are more than capable of the jobs presented given the right kind of environment, and all that is needed is capacity building to tap into their skills often overshadowed by their disability.

One such initiative offering the capacity building is the Autism Tech Training Centre by iLab Africa at Strathmore University. The 4 month training programme is aimed equipping adults with autism with IT skills such as game development, software testing and mobile application development for them to secure jobs that maximize on their strengths such as attention to detail and an affinity for repetitive tasks. They also notice patterns easily which makes them suitable for jobs like data science and software development.

The beauty of the programme is that only a computer test is done in place of an academic requirement. It is also flexible in that learning takes place in the morning hours of 8:00 am to 1:00 pm meaning one has time to do other things in the afternoon. The fact that the training is done physically provides a platform for the participants to ask questions directly to their instructors and laying the groundwork for soft skill training and mentorship which is done alongside the technical training. Intakes are twice a year and the the fees are relatively low.

The training takes pride in the fact that some of its students have been successfully recruited by reputable companies in the country, including telecommunication giant Safaricom, the Kenya Power and Lighting Company and Absa Bank PLC. It is glad noting that plans are underway to partner with Microsoft to have the Neurodiversity programme in Kenya. The ripple effect of such efforts is that there will be complementarity and job readiness collaboration of efforts to have more people with disabilities in the workplace. With global companies looking to come to Africa and some already established with regional offices in Kenya, autistics and other people with disability have the freedom of choice in their line of work with the help of such training opportunities. Mentorship also instills confidence in the participants which is crucial for personal growth and development. Gradually, an equilibrium will be achieved in terms of people and technological development thus creating an ideal society for all.

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