Less than 10 per cent of New Zealanders who have been diagnosed with autism are in full-time employment - but a new programme hopes to change that.

Altogether Autism has carried out a talent search of almost 100 people to identify who is working, who would like to be and what area they are working in.

The charity's national manager Catherine Trezona said, of the responses they had so far, 50 per cent of the people were unemployed. Of those who did have work, less than 10 per cent were in full-time employment while 10 per cent had part-time work and 20 per cent did voluntary work.

She estimated there could be about 80,000 New Zealanders on the autism spectrum who were looking for work.


The figures were in line with international research which found about 2 per cent of the population had an autism diagnosis but only about 20 per cent of those people were in full-time employment.

Altogether Autism national manager Catherine Trezona is working to get autistic people into jobs. Photo / Supplied
Altogether Autism national manager Catherine Trezona is working to get autistic people into jobs. Photo / Supplied

Trezona said those with autism often did not interview well because their social communication skills were different and they tended to be overly honest.

Neuro-diverse people would often tell potential employers they were not an expert in the area because they did not know everything about the topic when in fact they were more than qualified to do the job, she said.

With the help of Specialisterne Australia chairman John Craven, who is speaking at the Altogether Autism Conference in Auckland on July 19 and 20, the organisation has been approaching companies about the possibility of employing people on the autism spectrum.

Specialisterne is an organisation set up to help autistic people into jobs and work with them and their employer to get the best outcome for both.

One of those Trezona and Craven had already met with was Minister for Disability Issues, Nicky Wagner.

Wagner challenged the pair to pull together profiles of 40 to 60 autistic people who had particular strengths in areas within the state sector and she would consider whether any were suitable for jobs.

A spokesperson for the Minister said she was very focused on supporting disabled people, including those with autism spectrum disorders, into jobs that matched their unique talents.

But it was not a case of businesses taking on a charity case, Trezona said.

Neuro-diverse people often saw things in a different light making them good problem solvers - banks around the world employed them to manage security and detect fraud. They were usually very task-oriented and passionate about their work which meant they often lifted productivity.

Employers had also found that when giving autistic people the very clear, step-by-step instructions they often needed, it helped clarify the tasks for all their other employees.

The Specialisterne programme allowed autistic people with the relevant skills to do work experience for companies which agreed rather than going through the interview process. If that was successful, mentors continued to work with the employer and employee to make sure both were happy with the arrangement.

One man's struggle

Elroy Liddington is a fully qualified electrician but struggles to find work because he has Asperger's syndrome. Photo / Supplied
Elroy Liddington is a fully qualified electrician but struggles to find work because he has Asperger's syndrome. Photo / Supplied

Elroy Liddington had always dreamed of being an electrician.

In 2015 he completed his apprenticeship and that's where the problems started.

Liddington, 39, said he was capable of doing the jobs he was given but was regularly in the firing line for not being fast enough. Eventually he handed in his resignation.

After the difficulties made themselves known, the father-of-two began seeking answers and was eventually diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome - a type of autism.

His insistence on perfection, anxiety, struggle to pick up on body language and tone and difficulty processing information quickly started to make sense.

"I've spent half my life to get there and to finally get qualified and find that, because of things going on with my brain, I might not be suited to that ... It's pretty frustrating.

"It's been a bit of a rollercoaster."

Liddington's end goal was to become an electrical inspector - a job he would be well suited for because of his attention to detail and thorough knowledge of the rules - but he needed years more experience as an electrician first.

He also struggled with interviews which made getting a new job difficult.

Although he was more than capable of doing everything required of an electrician he struggled to sell himself as he did not view himself as an expert. His anxiety and difficulty processing questions and forming answers quickly also made interviews very daunting, he said.

But, Liddington had taken part in the talent search and was hopeful his skills might make him eligible for a work trial under the Specialisterne programme.

He had researched the programme and believed it had the potential to help many autistic people into jobs they could enjoy and be productive in.