The Labour Department has a Work Orientation and Placement Scheme which gives employers a monthly allowance of HK$500 for the first two months that they hire a disabled employee, including people with HFA. But Cheung points out the paltry amount barely counts as an incentive.
The only specialised services for people with HFA are provided by NGOs, who must raise the funds for these projects themselves. Heep Hong Society recently ran a programme to boost HFA clients’ employment prospects through improving their skills in communication, problem-solving and interviews. Case managers and social workers in Heep Hong Society work to discover clients’ special skills and match them with suitable jobs and workplaces.
Galen Liu Ying, an educational psychologist working for Heep Hong Society, says the main problems people with HFA face are not in coping with their tasks but dealing with people. “They can’t understand that in general social intercourse, people usually have expectations of certain behaviour. They face a lot of hurdles when dealing with people in the workplace because of this,” Liu says.
She recalls the experience of one of her clients, Yin who is in his early twenties. On the first day at work, Yin’s co-workers invited him to a welcome lunch. Being ignorant of social skills, he turned down their invitation. He was not being rude but simply did not understand the importance of having lunch with colleagues on the first day at work. Yin was used to being left out. “If the above scenario keeps happening, you can imagine how their co-workers will have no idea how to cope with them,” Liu explains.
“Handling variables is their huge weakness,” Liu continues. She says that if a higher functioning autistic person working as a courier discovered that a company had changed its name from that on the delivery slip, he would have no idea what to do and become extremely anxious. Since people with HFA are visual learners instead of auditory ones, they learn better by doing rather than by listening to instructions. Social workers help them to manage uncertainty by conducting hands-on demonstrations and breaking down working procedures into smaller steps.
People may dismiss people with HFA as being stubborn and afraid of variables, but these can actually be their advantages in the labour market. “They are very loyal,” Liu says, “they are resistant to changes.” Unlike other young people who frequently switch their jobs, they are steady and stable once they have adapted to the working environment. And they are rarely late for work because of their strong sense of time
Higher-functioning autisitic people also have a good head for numbers. Peter Lam Kuen, centre manager of the Heep Hong Society’s Ho Fu Centre cited the example of a client who worked for a cruise liner company. His job was to match the passengers’ HKID numbers with their names as they boarded.
“There were 60 HKID numbers and 60 names at that moment,” Lam says. “The thing that came to my mind was ‘oh my goodness, I couldn’t handle it when so many people gave their HKID to me’.” However, he saw that his client swiftly handled the task. “He is sensitive to numbers,” Lam says.
The client later helped the company to set up a database and transferred the data from hard copy into a digital library. “You know our boys (HFA clients) are very systematic,” Lam adds. The client was awarded a watch from his boss as recognition for his excellent performance.