Five years ago, Julie Lea could never imagine herself on the frontline, answering calls, greeting guests at reception and working as part of a team.

The now 22-year-old was diagnosed with autism when she was a nine-year-old, living with a foster care family in Toowoomba. The condition affects her ability to communicate or mix easily with others. With the support of her school and her family she was able to learn more about her disorder and taught how to read visual cues, interpret body language and how to express herself.

When she turned 16 she joined Life Without Barriers Next Step After Care program which helps young people who have been in foster care to build independent lives.

They are taught how to manage finances, how to lead a healthy lifestyle and care for themselves, how to find accommodation, and techniques and strategies for managing relationships.

With an interest in biology, Julie commenced post-school studies in bio-medical science but discovered after a year that her true passion lay with theology and philosophy.

“Aspies like me do better in an environment where they have a keen interest and through the support of my local church I have been able to immerse myself and I volunteer several days a week at the New Hope church,” Julie said.

Diagnosed as high functioning autistic (about half autistic people are high functioning which means they have average or above-average intelligence) Julie’s next challenge was to find work.

Through Joblife’s employment consultant in Toowoomba, David Krienke, Julie was able to find work as a cleaner. When the cleaning company then won a bunch of contracts that required Julie to obtain a white card she found the challenge of sitting for the test overwhelming.

“David and LWB went above and beyond to try and help me get the white card…but the test required me to do a video presentation and recording and I just couldn’t get there.”

As a consequence, Julie could no longer work with the company. David, along with the team at LWB, felt that Julie’s next role should be where she could be supported to develop social and communication skills…and there was no better place than with Life Without Barriers.

“We wanted to place Julie in a role which would complement her, not hinder her, one she would enjoy and where she would be allowed to grow,” David said.

“Her part-time administration role with LWB is a perfect fit. She has a defined set of responsibilities, is comfortable with the staff and is developing her workplace confidence.”

Julie was buddied with more experienced staff members so that she could develop her office skills, particularly around face to face involvement with clients. She is growing every day.

And where does she see herself in five years’ time?

“Still with LWB, hopefully with a promotion!”