Brad the Builder, can he fix it?
Meet Brad, a severely autistic 24-year-old with a gift for constructing Ikea furniture, or anything for that matter. Brad's meticulous nature is the key ingredient in a business his dad helped him set up.PT2M24S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-313rb 620 349 January 20, 2014
The frustrating task of assembling flat-pack furniture can be enough to make a grown man weep.
But not Brad Fremmerlid, a Lego aficionado and furniture builder extraordinaire, who also happens to have severe autism.
What happens for the rest of their lives when the services drop off and they leave school?
The 24-year-old Canadian cannot read or speak, and communicates only using hand gestures.
Brad Fremmerlid cannot read but can put furniture together after studying diagrams. Photo: Screen grab, The Toronto Star
But hand him an allen key and an instruction manual diagram for an IKEA bookshelf and Brad will assemble it faster than it takes to devour a plate of Swedish meatballs.
Now Brad's father has helped him launch a business, Built By Brad, in his home city of Edmonton in Canada. For the bargain price of $20 CAD, Brad will go to a customer's home and assemble even the trickiest of flat-pack furniture.
“Everyone tells us we should be charging more, but we're not really looking for money,” his father, Mark Fremmerlid, told The Toronto Star in Canada.
Brad Fremmerlid: finding a career for himself. Photo: Screen grab, The Toronto Star
“It's just started, but it seems to be so good for him to go to someone's place and have a problem to solve."
Autism is a developmental disorder mostly characterised by a person's inability to interact or communicate socially. An estimated one in 100 - or almost 230,000 - people in Australia have been diagnosed with some form of the disorder. Boys are almost four times more likely to be affected than girls.
Brad was diagnosed as a child. But his father didn't want him to be defined by his deficit, and instead tried to capitalise on Brad's unique skills, including his attention to detail and intense focus.
Master builder: Brad Fremmerlid is an expert at putting together furniture. Photo: Jason Franson, The Toronto Star
And with many Australian families struggling to find meaningful employment for their autistic children as they move into adulthood, more parents arre starting to think along the same lines as Brad's father, said clinical psychologist Vicki Gibbs from Autism Spectrum Australia.
"Autism diagnosis started to increase about 10 to 12 years ago, and that wave of kids is now about to leave school," she said.
"We've talked about early intervention, we've talked about diagnosis, but what happens for the rest of their lives when the services drop off and they leave school? We're really missing out on a big resource because many of these people are capable of doing more than what they end up doing."
Ms Gibbs said Brad's father had identified what his son's interests and skills were and tailored a job to suit him.
Mr Fremmerlid, an air ambulance pilot, told The Toronto Star that his son had been building Lego and other models since he was a pre-schooler, so moving to furniture assembly seemed like a logical transition.
So far Brad has assembled everything from a shower caddy to a filing cabinet for his clients. A support worker drove him to the jobs and assisted him to communicate with the client.
“It just didn't seem like a good solution to be always buying [models] for him to put together,” Mr Fremmerlid said.
“It's much better if he actually builds somebody else's project. It's just so much more practical.”
Ms Gibbs said some people with autism had an incredible ability to focus on things that they found enjoyable.
"There will be exceptions, but some people with autism can do things that perhaps would bore somebody, or that somebody else would find tedious, but they actually enjoy it and can perhaps do it for longer periods of time," she said.
"That might be building, in the case of this young guy, or it might be something to do with computers, or it might be to do with science. Also, some people with autism have got very good attention to detail.
"I think what this dad has done is look at his son as an individual and, although he has got a lot of difficulties, thought: what is he good at?
"It's become something that's sellable."
A Danish businessman, Thorkil Sonne, had used a similar idea to launch a successful IT firm staffed only by people with autism.
The company Specialisterne (English translation: Specialists) uses the characteristics of people with autism as a competitive advantage. His team of consultants work on some of the most detailed, time consuming and repetitive jobs in computer programming.