Jonathan Ball has transformed from quiet and withdrawn to a tall and proud 22-year-old.
Ball is on the autism spectrum and struggled to get a job after leaving school.
He said he was a “couch potato” and didn’t know how to approach finding a job until joining Autism New Zealand’s employment programme.
The programme, which focuses on pre-employment training and in-work support, saw Ball paired with an employment facilitator who helped develop his skills and build confidence.
READ MORE: * ‘Look for the strengths’ with autism, says mum * Online screen time a double edged sword for kids with autism * Video shows what life is like with Autism
Ball now works 30 hours per week in a kitchen at Bert Sutcliffe Retirement Village on Auckland’s North Shore.
Ball’s mum, Kathy, said she had the idea he could work there, when she saw it being built.
“I started to think big busy environments wouldn’t work for Jonathan. Maybe in a retirement village, it would be a better pace,” Kathy said.
The village wasn’t asking for kitchen-hands at the time, but Ball’s employment facilitator inquired until he was granted an interview, followed by a three-month trial and full-time employment.
Ball said he’d always wanted to work in a kitchen and he now does everything the chef requires, from dishes and cleaning to taking stock and plating food.
He was also looking into doing a chef course while working.
“My chef personally thinks I’m ready for it. He would help me along the way,” Ball said.
“Something like that coming from him and his experience gives me a sense of confidence.”
Ball shared his job-hunting struggles in a speech at Parliament in front of MPs, including Minister for Disability Issues Nicky Wagner, on April 4 as part of Autism Awareness Week.
In the speech, he described a sense of powerlessness while job hunting.
“Trying to get a job was like being a child again, trying to walk for the first time. I could see my path but my legs wouldn’t carry me along,” Ball said in his speech.
“I started thinking I’d have to just push shopping carts …. It was my worst nightmare, but I was given the impression that’s all autistic kids could do.”
Ball said his employment facilitator saw potential in him and helped him learn the skills he needed.
“When you find someone fighting for you, it gives you the strength to fight for yourself as well,” Ball said.
“She’s done so much for me and for us. I’d like to share the spotlight with her.”
He said he now loves being at work and being part of a team.
Ball’s employment facilitator Romy Hume said it was a joy working with him.
“Jonathan’s story is a good example of the trials and tribulations many young people on the autism spectrum go through. But it shows that, with some assistance, there can be hope for a good future,” Hume said
Kathy said she had seen a big change in her son since he started work and she was proud of him as he gave his speech in Parliament.
“My heart was pounding but he was amazing. It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” she said.
“Nor I,” Ball added.