His Autism Left Him Isolated, Unemployable. Then, Hope



By the CDC’s count, 1 in 44 8-year-olds were diagnosed with having an autism spectrum disorder in 2018. As Renee Dudley writes for ProPublica, those children eventually become job-seeking adults, and in great numbers. And while there are programs that seek to employ people with autism whose focused and fastidious nature allows them to excel at tech, Dudley looks at one employment program in the Netherlands that’s unlike the others. ITvitae aims to recruit “socially isolated, seemingly unemployable dropouts” who wouldn’t pass muster in those autism-friendly employment programs—or even get through an initial interview. “Someone like [Thomas] van Ruitenbeek wouldn’t have stood a chance,” she writes. Van Ruitenbeek’s coach at the mental health department clued him into the soon-to-launch ITvitae in 2013.

At the time, van Ruitenbeek was holed up in his parent’s home and largely unresponsive. He spent most days poring over newspapers looking for secret messages. ITvitae seemed to be his path out of a life that felt pointless. ITvitae co-founder Frans de Bie had designed a different sort of interview to identify who might be a good fit for its training, job placement, and ongoing support services: Candidates would be asked to sketch out their home computer network and discuss it. Van Ruitenbeek nailed that part of the interview. His path is a winding one, but the now-35-year-old is employed in cybersecurity, able to comfortably communicate with colleagues, and owns his own apartment. Since 2014, some 500 ITvitae graduates have found jobs. As one US expert puts it, “We don’t have any company in the United States that comes near that number, even over a 10-year period.” (The lengthy piece is detailed and inspiring, and worth a read in full.)

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