Euan Buenavides at his internship at Grant Thornton, an accounting and business advisory firm in Dubai. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Imagine yourself in your first job as a teenager, and the questions that play out in your mind: “What if I’m not able to deliver? What if I’m not capable enough? What if I fail?”

It’s difficult enough for the average person. Now imagine navigating through this scenario as an individual with autism.

One teen who is proving to be a shining example of integration into the workforce is Euan Buenavides.

The 16-year-old Filipino teenager has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and has landed an internship at Grant Thornton, an accounting and consulting firm in Dubai.

Hisham Farouk

Hisham Farouk, chief executive officer at Grant Thornton, told Gulf News: “Since February 2017, Euan has been an intern within the Business Process Solutions function of Grant Thornton. He joins the team every Wednesday from 9am to 1pm. Euan receives the same benefits that our other interns receive. He is rated for each task, which he is assigned, with exceptional improvement being noticed on a weekly basis. He is responsible for cross-checking information and data, after which, he prepares an internal report for the team to assess and work with.”

According to Farouk, Euan is more than capable of handling his new role.

He said: “He is very well suited to the role, given his strength aligns to meticulous planning and completion of assignments. He is a perfectionist in tasks assigned to him.”

Euan’s mother Elcy Buenavides, in charge of operations for a nonprofit organisation in Dubai, said: “Euan is always excited at the prospect of going to work. He is very focused at his job. I am so happy for my son.”

As the youngest of three siblings, who were all raised in the UAE, Euan is cheerful and very active, be it at work or in sport. The six-footer also loves to play basketball.

He said: “I’m excited to work and use computers. I play basketball a lot, it’s good exercise and good for my health.”

But as a single parent, Buenavides said it was often challenging to raise her children.

She said: “I was pregnant with Euan when his father left us, so I had to stand up for the family. When Euan was diagnosed with moderate autism, back in 2004, it was so hard, but I just had to accept and embrace it. I joined an autism support group for parents, Genesys, and learned about the Intervention Services for Autism and Developmental Delays (ISADD).”

ISADD is an Australia-based network that provides holistic, evidence-based training services to children with autism.

Buenavides said: “I was blessed to find ISADD therapists for my son, from home. With them, he learned to speak, read and write, and interact with people.”

In 2009, Euan was accepted at Dubai Autism Centre (DAC). His mother says it was a big change from the one-on-one sessions he was receiving at home, as he transitioned to a proper school environment with classmates.

She said: “DAC’s individualised educational plan helped develop my son’s skills based on his specific strengths. He was exposed to different kinds of therapy throughout his nine years with them, until June 2017.”

She is optimistic about Euan’s future. Euan will continue his educational journey with Dubai-based Integreat Centre for Special Needs, starting September, where he hopes to achieve greater independence.

But special education costs, coupled with healthcare bills, can burn a hole in the wallet.

A study in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics found that the total lifetime cost of supporting an individual with autism is $1.4 million (Dh5.14 million) in the United States.

Buenavides said: “Therapy sessions are not cheap. But it’s all been worth it, since Euan has improved a lot. I am lucky to have family and friends who have been understanding and supportive with our situation and especially Euan’s condition. I want him to enroll into a full-time educational curriculum and have a university degree. But it’s quite expensive, and I can only pray for kindhearted people to sponsor my son’s education.”

With organisations like Grant Thornton providing the opportunity for people with autism to work among their peers, and develop in a professional environment, there is hope.

Farouk said: “Euan is a joy to work with, and therefore, the firm sees him very much a part of the team, irrespective of his intern role. We are equally supportive of his ongoing academic commitments, therefore once he graduates, we will work with Euan to support his ongoing professional journey, as we do with our other intern team members.”

It is a long, but rewarding road to the desk at which Euan now sits, in the Grant Thornton office.

Buenavides said: “To parents, I would say - never give up. Always think this is a challenge passed on to you, because God knows you will be able to handle it. This road is a very difficult one to travel but you will learn and gain what it takes to survive – resilience, endurance, perseverance, understanding and love.”

What is autism spectrum disorder?

It is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting the person’s communication and social skills, and it creates repetitive behaviour.

Pedrian Rutor, a therapist at Dubai Autism Centre, said: “With Euan, you can have a verbal exchange with him, but it still lacks substance at times. Children with ASD often behave in a manner that we don’t understand; that is because they themselves do not know how to, especially in public and when upset.”

There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function, according to UK-based National Health Service (NHS).

Reseach indicates it may have a strong genetic component, but it’s still to be proven. ASD is four times more common in boys than girls. Early detection of ASD is important for parents to learn how to help their child improve mentally, emotionally and physically.