Avast celebrates World Autism Awareness Month with educational activities and our Autism@IT mentoring project.
Avast has been a long-term active supporter of people on the spectrum, and for April – World Autism Awareness Month – we pieced together a host of activities, microlearnings, and challenges designed to increase awareness and demystify definitions. One such event was a “Living Library” hosted by Atyp magazine, where no question was taboo and audience members got to speak and listen to people on the spectrum during a 60-minute workshop. This month we also reached the final stage of this year’s Autism@IT program.
Autism@IT was designed by the Avast Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) group as a mentoring project that connects Avastians with students on the spectrum. This year, our mentors met with students for 20 weekly sessions, where trainees were taught IT skills and how to prepare for job interviews. The program was helpful in both directions, as it also gave mentors the experience of collaborating with people with autism.
Avast CEO Ondrej Vlcek spoke about our team's activities in support of World Autism Awareness Month on LinkedIn.
“Students on the spectrum are as different as anyone else, and perceiving them through the lens of being on the spectrum is, in fact, not helping at all,” said Avast AI Research Manager Tomas Trnka after working as a mentor in this year’s program. Tomas experienced firsthand how people with autism are not afflicted but gifted.
“All of them have their strengths and weaknesses,” he continued, “and you basically have to find a way to collaborate with them as with any other colleague. They know much more than they thought they knew, so our role was mainly to provide a bit of guidance, experience, and encouragement. It was an amazing opportunity to meet with open-minded colleagues and meet people with supposedly ‘special needs,’ which is not true. They appreciate genuine, direct, and open communication without assumptions, which requires a lot of trust on both sides. I guess we all could take a page from their book.”
Gabriela Böhmová, a supervisor of the AutTalk foundation, commented that the program accomplishes much more than improving the trainees’ IT skills. “Many autistic people experience a lack of acceptance in their lives,” she said, “and fear of error and rejection often limits their willingness to take risks and realize their potential. Thanks to very kind and supervised mentors, the project has not only an educational but also a therapeutic effect.”
When asked if the mentoring program was successful, Karolina, a student on the spectrum, replied, “I got familiar with the basics of SQL and data visualization, and from there I can continue to gain knowledge in this area.” She also commented, “The mentors were nice, patient, and helpful. The cooperation was pleasant. I was happy that I was not criticized for noncommunication from my side, and instead I got support and reassurance that I did not have to be afraid to call and ask when something was not clear to me.”
We consider this year’s Autism@IT program a success, and we look forward to next year’s trainees. In the meantime, we’ll continue developing D&I opportunities and educating our employees and the world that people with autism may seem different, but they are by no means less.