It will employ 650 people with autism by 2020, approximately 1% of the workforce reflecting the proportion of people with autism in the general population. They will be working with a Danish company Specialisterne which employs software testers and programmers who have autism.
The move follows a pilot scheme employing people with autism in India as software testers and is now expanding the scheme into Ireland, Germany and the USA. In India they found that they could do repetitive tasks with excellent speed and accuracy.
A finance company in the USA called Freddie Mac has also been hiring interns with autism for the last two years with a view to creating permanent posts. They say that they have had to work out how to adapt the working environment to suit the needs of “this uniquely talented group of people”.
Auticon, another German company, which employs consultants with autism as software testers found that they had to make some adjustments in an autism-oriented office. For a start they don’t have things which make noises or interrupt them or have bright lighting. You have to be very direct with instructions and not use simile or metaphors. Some consultants don’t like shaking hands. They tend to be very honest with their feedback as well which probably takes some getting used to.
Apart from the concentration and attention to detail researchers at the Californian Institute of Technology have found that people with autism are better than “neuro-typicals” at making rational decisions as they are less swayed by emotions. People with autism can also handle large amounts of data as they found at the University of Montreal in Quebec where one person could summarise and compare 8,000 documents on her computer.
Autism exists on a spectrum and not everyone who has the condition will find this kind of job suitable for them but SAP says that “people with autism tend to be really good at identifying mistakes and sensing patterns – a very good match for software testing”.
The President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in Washington DC believes this the start of the rise of autism in the workplace.
Source: New Scientist 1 June 2013 “Have autism, will travel”