Autismetalent pilot

Fontys Information and Communication Technology

Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT successfully applies Autismetalent pilot. Up to the next stage!

The results of the Autismetalent pilot were presented on Monday 8 May. This pilot ran for two years at, among others, Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT. What makes the pilot so special is that a number of parties cooperated intensively: Fontys University of Applied Sciences (ICT, Department of Applied Science & Engineering), Municipality of Eindhoven and Autismepunt. In addition, we aim to involve several employers in the pilot. With success. "It’s a win-together pilot, all parties have benefitted," says an enthusiastic Marlou Heskes, coordinator Student+ Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT.

The starting shot has been fired
Youth unemployment among those with autism is 72%. The parties involved buckled down and formulated ambitious objectives: coaching students with (traits of) autism from an integral approach in finding a graduation internship up to keeping up the work after obtaining a degree and insight into the working method’s failure and success factors. During the course of the pilot 12 students started, eight of which have graduated, three are still doing an internship and one student dropped out. A staggering 62.5 % of participating students has a job (the target was 50%). Nicole Ficheroux, Autismepunt, explains: "The starting shot has been fired. Now the stream can begin."

Coaching increases student’s visibility
"Students procrastinate. For instance, they fail their internship to delay their study and postpone working life. What we also see is that students continue studying to not have to work. Through coaching you know the strengths, but also the student’s vulnerability. This is important: being very close to the student," according to Marlou Heskes. Coaching a student thus increases his visibility; he literally stays in the picture. In addition, the student knows where he stands and has an idea of what is required to successfully complete his study. Safety is crucial here. The student must learn to realise that he needs to switch to another context, where he always has to prove himself. Rogier van Velthoven was one of the students to take part in the pilot. He had his doubts at first, but is very positive about his experiences with the pilot. "It was for my graduation phase. How will I approach this? How do I make a presentation? A dissertation? I got a job coach with whom I, among others, discussed my planning and visited my workplace. I eventually graduated and I’ve come full circle: I work at my old course (Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT) as a fully-fledged, paid member of staff."

Governors of Fontys University of Applied Sciences propagate inclusive vision
According to Nicole, people with autism develop differently, they require more guidance. The moment you offer guidance, other competencies might be more important. Guidance should be aligned to the broad use of expertise. At Fontys University of Applied Sciences it still depends too much on the subject to see whether the student gets offered additional guidance. "Across Fontys it can be seen that there is no knowledge of autism everywhere, but they are open to it at ICT and Engineering," says Nicole. Governors of Fontys University of Applied Sciences can be a major inspirer by propagating action in the inclusive vision and showing that this can go hand in hand with clear study objectives. Together they propagate that one can be flexible in how to achieve these objectives and to reward them when students manage to stay on board.

Tailored personal guidance
Jelle Raaijmakers, software architect at ISAAC, coached a student during his internship. "Because it became clear to the student and the coach at any early stage during the guidance of the job coach what needed to be focused on, starting up the student went smoothly."  The student was given personal guidance during his internship, fully tailored to his needs. There is currently little awareness among employers about autism. The checklist (how can I make my company more autism-friendly) is used a lot. Nicole explains: "Things often go well with employers with an open mind and an eye for diversity. They must be aware that these students require extra guidance."

It’s all about talent
The Municipality of Eindhoven is such an employer with an open mind. "It’s all about talent in the Brainport. We need all talent. The pilot shows that, with a little effort, one can help youngsters with autism get a greater chance of work so they can demonstrate their talents" says Staf Depla, Municipality of Eindhoven. One-to-one guidance is crucial here. It provides

That little extra support. In addition, cooperating by sharing insight and experiences (during and after the internship) and looking at the student’s home situation.

Not letting the student go after the study
It’s important not to let the student go, even if he has a job. What now? What do you need? What does applying for a job entail? "People with autism are unique, talented, but also vulnerable," explains Nicole. Mutual trust is important here as, if you don’t dare to trust the talents and strengths of the other, you can at most achieve someone else following your objectives.

Roy Houtkamp, ‘hands-on’ expert of the coalition Vanuit autisme bekeken and now working at Fontys, adds that people are like flowers. Their talents flourish when the environment gets together to nourish them with the right support and with appreciation for diversity in colour and shape. "Broadening the pilot would be very valuable. The basis is already there, laid by the many parties involved. Now we have to spread our knowledge to other institutions," says Roy.

Sharing successes with each other
And what now? What are the plans for the future? Two things are important now: guaranteeing this method within the region of Eindhoven and inspiring other regions with this method, i.e. sharing successes.

Viewed from the perspective of autism, the leader is there to transfer the positive results of the pilot to other areas in the Netherlands. What’s always important here is to fit in with regional initiatives and motivated professionals. "The use of ‘hands-on’ experts when creating solutions is crucial here, as this pilot also indicates," explains Carien van Hooff, of the Vanuit autisme bekeken coalition. Not only students benefit from the approach in this pilot, the employers are also the big winners. “Brainport Eindhoven Region has a major lack of creative people who think differently. People with (traits of) autism are original thinkers who often don’t think in standard patterns," says Carien. The innovative strength the IT sector is looking forward to is therefore partly with this target group. The investment in tailored coaching thus prevents drop-out and frustration among students, resulting in loss of valuable talent and high social costs: from double loss to double gain.

Other universities are interested in the approach and can learn a lot from each other in this area, but mostly with each other. This is what we are now working on. Fontys University of Applied Sciences ICT can set the right example.  "What we have achieved now must be guaranteed. Over the next four weeks, we will concretise with the various parties how the pilot method can be included in the daily practice of Fontys, not only in the ICT course, but also in other courses," says Carien. As Fontys governor Nienke Meijer said it: "we should not remain stuck in pilots, but also dare to take structural steps".