Living in a world of his own

How a young man with Asperger syndrome is mastering his training as an IT specialist at thyssenkrupp in Duisburg

He likes working to instructions: When he knows exactly what he’s supposed to do he quickly translates system commands into programming language. That’s because there’s no “maybe” involved, just a “right” or “wrong”. David Müller* is happy in situations like these, although in most cases it’s impossible to tell his emotions just by looking at him. As a child he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, the mild version of autism, which affects three in 1,000 people in Germany. If people know about the negative and positive sides of the development disorder, it’s possible to develop an enriching relationship with others, believes David Müller. It’s what’s made his apprenticeship as an IT specialist at thyssenkrupp’s steel business possible, because his trainers and friends are able to gauge his sometimes unusual behavior and take special account of it.

Rituals help combat chaos in the brain

For example when he finishes a task in his apprentice training he retreats into his own world, sometimes forgetting he should be going to his trainer and sometimes fearing to do so or taking a long time to overcome his fear. It’s hard for him to interpret facial expressions and figures of speech or even to sustain eye contact. For people with any form of autism it is a challenge to filter and prioritize sensory information. As well as learning the subject matter of his apprenticeship, David has to invest a lot of energy dealing with social interactions. Fixed rituals and rules help him in preventing chaos from breaking out in his brain, as does his therapy, which may not cure his Asperger syndrome but does teach him strategies to survive in the non-autistic world.

His favorite subject at school was mathematics. He also enjoys playing soccer and particularly likes the binary nature of the game. “The ball is either in the goal or not,” David says. “It’s what everyone plays for, there’s nothing in between.”

His parents noticed at an early stage that they had a special child: David was quieter and needed more engagement than others, but once he had started something he could immerse himself in it for hours and produce surprising results.

“As far as talking goes, I still find it easier when others make contact with me and steer the conversation,” he says. Small talk is not his thing, but programming language definitely is. “We seek eye contact and engage actively with him,” says one of his trainers. thyssenkrupp is glad to have David Müller as an apprentice. “Diversity in our young people is a win-win for us: On the one hand, people with different experiences and skills enrich everyday working life, while on the other the ability to accept and cope with challenges and changes in life is a key requirement for a successful apprenticeship,” says Thomas Schlenz, Chief Human Resources Officer at thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG.

April 2, 2017 is World Autism Day:

World Autism Awareness Day takes place on April 2 every year and is designed to raise awareness of the different forms of autism and promote a barrier-free society. This year’s motto of the Bundesverband Autismus Deutschland e.V. is: “Break barriers together for autism – Let’s build an accessible society.” The European Commission in Brussels is currently debating the European Accessibility Act, aimed at enabling barrier-free participation in public life for people with disabilities. In this connection Autism Europe advocates for unrestricted participation of people with autism and wants to raise awareness of the barriers facing people with autism.

*Name altered to protect privacy.