As a non-verbal teen with autism, Aiden Soedjarwo thought his job prospects would be low, but he was hired for his problem solving abilities. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
As a non-verbal teen with autism, Aiden Soedjarwo thought his job prospects would be low, but he was hired for his problem solving abilities. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Genius autistic teen hired without saying a word

Aiden Soedjarwo could install Windows on a computer at age six and, at 13, was talking to NASA about how to extract water from Mars.

But, as a non-verbal autistic Year 12 student living at home in Katoomba, the 18-year-old rated his chances of getting a job as low.

Yet he has just landed a job, without having an interview or even meeting his new boss face-to-face, after proving he was far better than anyone else.

It was thanks to recruitment firm Xceptional, which helps autistic people like Aidenfind meaningful work in a world that often rejects them.

As a non-verbal teen with autism, Aiden Soedjarwo thought his job prospects would be low, but he was hired for his problem solving abilities. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
As a non-verbal teen with autism, Aiden Soedjarwo thought his job prospects would be low, but he was hired for his problem solving abilities. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

The Sydney-based company was founded by Mike Tozer, who has personal experience with autism.

"I started Xceptional in 2017, inspired by my sister, Sarah," he said.

Mike Toser, founder of Xceptional, and his sister Sarah who has autism.
Mike Toser, founder of Xceptional, and his sister Sarah who has autism.

"As her brother, I know the amazing strengths she has to offer. Yet too often, these are missed. Through Xceptional, we are empowering many like Sarah and Aiden to connect with employers and show what they are truly capable of."

Aiden's mum Julie said her brilliant son entered a NASA competition for ideas on how to extract water from Mars.

"He sent off his ideas and got an email back asking for him to provide more technical details," she said.

But, despite his intelligence, she feared he would not be employable.

"He has so much potential but I was worried about how he would go in the workplace and relate to people," she said.

The Katoomba High student was booked in for a three-day workshop with Xceptional last year.

Chief growth officer Aron Mercer said most standard recruitment processes, whether writing a cover letter on a CV or sitting in a panel interview, are based on a person's ability to sell themselves.

"So often autistic people who have degrees of social anxiety can find it really hard meeting new people, can really struggle in those interview processes and they struggle to articulate what sets them apart in a letter," Mr Mercer said.

"When you have artificial intelligence-enabled platforms like Workday that are filtering candidates based on key words, autistic candidates are not standing a chance."

Aiden's work on problem solving in the workshop quickly showed he had an exceptional brain.

"In a traditional interview, we could not get this guy a job at Red Rooster. But he has an amazing brain," Mr Mercer said.

Geoff Osborn runs a Brisbane-based company called GeoSynergy that specialises in analysis of water and gas utilities and requires technical data analytics.

"I just need people who can solve problems and solve data problems in different ways, and who are hardworking and focused," Mr Osborn said.

"I haven't had an amazing success rate with finding people through any kind of previous recruitment that I have done, I just want people who can solve these problems, so I sent it to Xceptional."

Geoff Osborn, from GeoSynergy, hired autistic teen Aiden Soedjarwo without ever meeting him or interviewing him.
Geoff Osborn, from GeoSynergy, hired autistic teen Aiden Soedjarwo without ever meeting him or interviewing him.

"I had to complete an assessment which had four tasks to test my problem solving skills and experience with software development, they were basically virtual work scenarios for data analytics. Autistic people such as myself have enhanced skills in problem solving and are able to learn new things quickly (especially within their special interest area)," Aiden told The Sunday Telegraph via text.

"For the future, people on the autistic spectrum are beneficial in society in areas of business and science if they are supported to continue developing their gift."

Mr Osborn praised Aiden's skills.

"Aiden had a go at all problems and got it done it in 12 hours … the next closest person took 40 hours, so he was eight times faster and had clearer answers," Mr Osborn said.

Aiden Soedjarwo, 18, works for a tech company from home. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
Aiden Soedjarwo, 18, works for a tech company from home. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

Aiden, who is still in year 12, was offered a job two days a week. They have never met or spoken in person. Aiden conducts his job from home in Katoomba via messaging.

"I would not have imagined I'd go out and hire a non-verbal autistic person, but if I put it on paper and say what am I trying to achieve here, it makes a lot of sense," Mr Osborn said.

"I've since taken another full-time person from Xceptional and he is working out really well too and, if I have another vacancy, I'd probably do it again."

Xceptional has developed a unique activity-based system to help autistic people overcome barriers they face in securing employment.

"The candidates that come to us might come across as evasive," Mr Mercer said. "Physiologically their brains are different and if businesses want to be innovative and bring new kinds of thought for the next technical revolution, we think autistic people have a lot to offer."

Originally published as Genius autistic teen hired without saying a word


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