Level IT Up is a social enterprise dedicated to increasing the employment of Manitobans with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). We are part of a global alliance, Neurowrx, working together to advance this mission.
Our goal is to provide a pool of trained and skilled personnel to companies within the information and communication technology (ICT) sector of Winnipeg as well as those businesses and companies using this skillset within their workforce (our “customers”).
Our consultants will be sourced from among those with ASD who possess unique skills and abilities, the “Autism Advantage,” making them uniquely adept at filling these employment needs.
The Autism Advantage:
- high intelligence
- acute attention to detail
- intense focus
- exceptional memory
- ability to persist in seemingly tedious or repetitive tasks
- and more
These assets lend themselves to aspects of the ICT industry including:
- debugging software
- data entry, etc.
By employing our candidates, the business community will gain valuable assets while actively demonstrating their commitment to diversifying their workforce and understanding the innate talents people with ASD present to their workforce.
In Canada, among children and youth 5-17 years of age, 1 in 66 have been diagnosed with ASD. 56% of children and youth received their diagnosis by age 6 and more than 90% were diagnosed by age 12.
ASD does not discriminate, it affects all nationalities, creeds, religions, races and both sexes.
Research demonstrates that job activities that encourage independence reduce autism symptoms and increase daily living skills.
Over the next decade, an estimated 500,000 teens (50,000 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services.
Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 30 to 61 percent of children with autism.
Roughly 25 per cent of Americans living with ASD are employed and no more than six per cent are competitively employed.
(Carolyn Dudley, David B. Nicholas and Jennifer D. Zwicker, What do we know about improving employment outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder?, Sept 2015)
Individuals with an ASD have difficulties with reciprocal social interactions and interpersonal communication, and may demonstrate unusual or repetitive patterns of behaviors. We use the term “autism spectrum disorders” because the symptoms can occur in any combination and can range from very mild to quite severe.
(Hendriks, Employment and Adults with ASD, 2010)
Everyone with ASD is unique – don’t assume that the strategies and accommodations needed for one person will necessarily work for another.
Accommodation may be as simple as wearing noise cancelling headphones, being seated in a quieter area, adjusting local lighting to be less bright/glaring, using direct and clear communication processes.
In Canada, an estimate 1% of the population has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In Canada, approximately 1% of the population has Autism Spectrum Disorder. This lifelong condition, or neurodiversity, can have significant impacts on social interactions and behaviors, with many exhibiting a range of behaviours those in the workplace view as “odd” or disruptive.
This can pose a challenge to employers and create the context for significant social isolation from “typical” co-workers. Despite this, many individuals with ASD have skills or characteristics that are both valued and beneficial to employers (e.g., Schall et al., 2012), and the diversity of skill sets exhibited across the spectrum provides opportunities for a wide range of individuals to be meaningfully engaged.
Cost-effective, evidence-based approaches must be identified and successfully implemented to improve assessment, career counselling, training, on-the-job supports, and workplace accommodations. Currently, there is a dearth of support specifically focused on those with ASD. The supported employment sector is primarily dedicated to working with those having intellectual disabilities, and the agencies that are contracted to provide head-hunting/recruitment services are unable to provide the level of ongoing support needed to ensure employment success for those with ASD.
Level IT Up is here to fill that gap!
Level IT Up is a registered non-profit organization governed by an amazing board of directors comprised of industry leaders, entrepreneurs, educators and autism experts. Under their leadership, Level IT Up is set to operate as one of the cutting edge social enterprises in Canada. Our ultimate goal is to build a profitable, self-sustaining consultancy firm with a social purpose.
Anne Kresta, MSc
President and Chief Executive Officer, Level IT Up
Anne Kresta, MSc
President and Chief Executive Officer, Level IT Up
As the parent of two sons who have Asperger Syndrome, Anne has always championed the many gifts and talents inherent among those with autism spectrum disorder. Supporting her sons as they negotiated their ways through childhood, adolescence and beyond has led her to become a strong advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities across the lifespan. In collaboration with The Ability Hub/Sinneave Family Foundation in Calgary, AB, and through her past involvement with Community Living Manitoba and on the Thrive! leadership group headed by Manitoba Family Services, she has led a number of projects focused on improving the employability and post-secondary experiences of those with ASD. Anne continues to work locally, through Level IT Up, and globally, as chair of Neurowrx, an alliance of businesses and organizations from around the world, to advance the employment of people with ASD in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Brian has 33 years of experience in the telecom and software industries, having served in a variety of engineering, finance, marketing, and executive positions. Brian has worked in large enterprises and created small startup firms and brings a deep knowledge and experience working within industry-government-academia partnerships. Brian holds a Bachelor of Economics and Management degree and a Diploma in Engineering Technology. Brian is passionate about supporting people with autism and developmental disabilities and is actively involved in board and fund-raising activities.
Sr. Account Manager, BDC
Sr. Account Manager, BDC
Elaine Palson, BDC Sr. Account Manager, Technology Industry, has an extensive career in small business, economic and community development spanning over 20 years. She has worked with hundreds of startup and growing companies, specializing for the past 10 years in the technology start up space. Prior to her not-for-profit career she worked in the corporate environment for AT&T as a technology implementation analyst.
She has volunteered her time as a strategic council member for Red River College addressing the barriers to education and a steering committee member on the Province of Manitoba rural economic development strategy addressing the challenges of economic growth in rural communities. She is also a founding member of several initiatives including the Manitoba Small Business connections group, Manitoba small business financial literacy, “Ask the Business Expert” panel presentations, and several women in business initiatives. In her spare time you will find her supporting the startup ecosystem, mentoring entrepreneurs, career pathing young people, and encouraging female involvement within the science and technology industries.
She has dedicated herself to community sustainability, growth of the Canadian economy, and is driven to make a positive impact on Canadian entrepreneurs.
Janine began working with children on the autism spectrum as a classroom teacher in 1997. These experiences inspired her to pursue graduate research focussed on teens and young adults with autism spectrum conditions, which led to a range of practical and research publications in the area. Janine is passionate about improve the lives of individuals and families impacted by autism and has developed and provided numerous programs for children, youth, and adults on the autism spectrum. She has experience in assessment, intervention, transition planning, parenting support, and many other activities aiming to improve access to service and knowledge about ASDs across the lifespan.
Director of Strategic Relationships, Reliance Products Ltd
Director of Strategic Relationships, Reliance Products Ltd
Melissa recently pivoted from a career as branch manager of administrative professionals recruitment services to become the director of strategic relationships with a winnipeg based manufacturer of blow molded packaging (www.relianceproducts.com). She also serves on the board of Asperger Manitoba Inc. and was a member of the working group that brought the Level IT Up concept to life.
An experienced entrepreneur, Suzanne Braun is the founder and CEO of Relish New Brand Experience Inc., a certified B-Corporation. Since 1998, Suzanne has led the transition of Relish from a design boutique into an integrated agency and software development firm. Suzanne has over 18 years of experience developing resources for and marketing to educators on a variety of platforms and is CEO of Quipped Interactive Learning Tools, Inc. a Canadian education technology company. Suzanne mentors technology startups focused on social impact projects at North Forge Technology Exchange and has Blue Belt Certification in Innovation Engineering. She is Project Director for the Manitoba Open Innovation Challenge, a social innovation project designed to engage Manitobans in the innovative processes to address complex societal challenges. She is a graduate of Impact8 (MaRS Discovery District/Toronto) and was an RBC Social Impact Entrepreneur for 2015.
Where can I learn more about ASD in the workplace?
Level IT Up can provide workshops to staff and community that are related to ASD and employment. In addition, there are many great resources online and in your local bookstore. Some of these are listed below, but many more are just a click away! It is important to keep in mind that every individual with ASD is unique, and their skills and abilities profile, coupled with their accommodation needs, should be reflected in any employment situation. The onboarding process may take a little longer, but clarified roles, responsibilities and communication pathways have been helpful to others in the workplace when an individual with ASD joins the team.
How has Level IT Up evolved from concept to reality?
The Level IT Up social enterprise concept came out of similar ventures already hard at work in Canada and around the world. Using and adapting business frameworks from Meticulon in Calgary, Mindshift, in Fargo, and many others, an initial business plan for Level IT Up was developed and a feasibility study completed.
With a committed board of directors and the support of many local businesses in Winnipeg’s information and communications technology sector, the model is being tested and the future looks bright.
In time, Level IT Up will further evolve to support a wider range of individuals with neurodevelopmental difference in additional business sectors including, accounting, engineering, science and technology, etc. where their unique advantages (attention to detail, intense focus, excellent rote memory, pattern recognition, etc.) can be used to their greatest advantage.
Who can I speak to to learn more about the Level IT Up business concept?
Contact President Anne Kresta or any one of our board members to learn more about our business concept and how it might benefit you or someone you know.
How does the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and fit in with Level IT Up?
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA) is a landmark piece of legislation that became law in 2013. It commits to removing barriers to accessibility in the areas of customer service, employment, transportation, information and communication, and the built environment. Standards are being developed to support this legislation with increased public awareness and knowledge of how to support and encourage diversity in all aspects of community life. Level IT Up will serve as a resource for employers to learn how to better accommodate neurodiversity and will also serve as a source of new hires as these businesses diversify their workforces. Learn more +
What can I do to help my staff learn more about ASD?
Level IT Up offers workplace lunch and learn workshops for prospective employers. These workshops provide information about ASD, its many positive aspects and challenges that may be noticed on the job or in the workplace. Level IT Up is also connected to numerous local professional consultants who can offer further information and support upon request.
How does Level IT Up support consultants with ASD on the job?
Level IT Up works with both the employer and candidate to determine job expectations, processes, communication chain, point of contact, etc. Level IT Up staff are on call and may come to the worksite to provide direct support as needed by both the new hire and the employer as the consultant adjusts to the workplace and their new role. Level IT Up staff maintains an open communication portal for both as long as needed; this can last anywhere from weeks to months.
As work continues, much less support will be needed, and Level IT Up will continue to check in both in-person and remotely to make sure that our consultant performance meets business partner expectations.
What can I do to help my employee with ASD be successful at work?
A structured environment, quiet workstation and clear instructions, preferably in writing, are ideal. Specific instructions such as “be ready to start working at 8” are more meaningful than “Don’t be late.”
Some companies choose to embrace a clearer communication style as a best practice strategy. Under this ‘universal design’ model, companies ensure that communications with all employees are expressed as unambiguously as possible. A focus on clear communication encourages greater compliance with workplace policies and promotes a workforce that communicates effectively within the business as well as with customers.
What is a social enterprise?
“A social enterprise is a business owned by nonprofit organizations, that is directly involved in the production and/or selling of goods and services for the blended purpose of generating income and achieving social, cultural and/or environmental aims.”
A social enterprise is a business model that allows an organization to earn revenue for its services while maintaining its non-profit status. This revenue is used to pay our consultants competitive wages, pay our job coaches and pay other staff involved in the enterprise. Some of the revenue is also used to offset the costs of assessment and training processes when screening our consultants for their suitability in working with us. Other revenue sources used to offset these initial costs include donations, grants and fundraising.
Our social purpose is the increased independence and employment of adults with ASD in Winnipeg.
Why is the Level IT Up concept important for Winnipeg?
In a recent census, the population of the Winnipeg metropolitan area was listed as 811,900. Given that at least 1% (this may range as high as 1 in 66, according to the (Public Health Agency of Canada) of the population is affected by ASD, there would be an estimated 8,119 individuals with ASD living in this area. An estimated 27% are between ages 20 to 30 (our initial target age range), and this would yield a potential candidate pool of 2,192 people. Of these, approximately 1 in 6 will already have some kind of gainful employment, leaving 1826 unemployed. Of those, some will have severe impacts and will not be a good fit for our endeavours. Using National Survey of Child Health estimates for 2011–2012, the prevalence of severe or moderate ASD among U.S. children of ages 2–17 years was 0.8% , leaving 99.2% of those with ASD as potentially employable.
Through the chairing of a growing alliance of similar businesses around the world known as Neurowrx, Anne Kresta, Level IT Up’s inaugural President and CEO, has learned much about the many different business models, training processes, job coaching scenarios, employer outreach, retention, and support processes in an open-share format. These businesses are acting as mentors to Level IT Up, with Meticulon providing access to all of their recruitment and training materials for use in our enterprise. MindShift, in Fargo, ND, has provided additional insight more relevant to our economic landscape. At present, no such social enterprise is at work in Winnipeg, and interest and demand for this kind of service is growing. We recently completed a feasibility study that supported our concept and we are using it to inform our planning and practice.
Within Winnipeg, we have a growing ICT sector as well as larger companies who have departments dedicated to internal development and support of information technology.
How will Level IT Up measure its success?
Our success relates directly to the success of our candidates and participants as well as the experiences our employers have in contracting with our trained consultants. This will be reflected in the number of candidates applying to our service, the number of participants who successfully complete the three-week (minimum) training process, the number of employers who host presentations on ASD and the autism advantage, and the number of employers recruited to employ successful candidates. This in turn will be reflected in revenue generated from placement and support; increasing our capacity to train and place future candidates.
As we move forward with this business concept in Winnipeg, Level IT Up will develop strong ties within the ASD and ICT community and establish a brand for excellence in personnel provision.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) describes ASD as a series of conditions characterized by “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect, to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures, to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships, ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends, to absence of interest in peers.
Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior.
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):
- Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines or ritualized patterns, or verbal/nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take the same route or eat the same food everyday).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
- Hyper or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or symptoms may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder frequently occur together. To make comorbid diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
NOTE: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or a pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
How might I notice differences between those with ASD and neurotypical employees?
The autism spectrum is surprisingly broad and individual personalities vary, as they do with typical populations; however, individuals on the spectrum tend to find social interaction and social communication challenging. They may miss social cues or interpret language very literally, so clear instructions are essential.
On the positive side, the tendency to be literal thinkers translates into exceptional attention to detail and remarkable accuracy and precision on tasks. This structured way of thinking also allows some of those with ASD to excel at managing schedules and deadlines.
Where can I learn more about supports and services for people with ASD in Manitoba?
By visiting the Manitoba Autism Spectrum Disorder Portal, you can learn about supports and services for those with ASD and their families in Manitoba across the lifespan. This web portal also has a searchable database where you can look for specific programming across different ages and stages of the lifespan.
While it is not a complete list of what may be available, it does provide a good starting point.
Another useful website is the Information for Manitobans with Disabilities portal. While content is more generalized, there is a lot of information that may be of use to individuals with ASD and their families.
Part 1: ASD 101
Part 2: ASD on the job