Rise of the autistic workforce

发布时间:2018-01-24 08:01:01来源:未知点击:

By Hal Hodson Editorial “Disability and technology: No more neural divide“ ARE we on the cusp of an autistic revolution? German software giant SAP has declared that it intends to gain “a competitive advantage” over its rivals by actively employing people with autism spectrum disorder. We are seeing the rise of autism, says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in Washington DC and a member of the US National Council on Disability. Indeed, while conditions like autism have historically hindered jobseekers, several global companies have now caught on to the idea of utilising the particular skill set this section of society can offer. SAP announced last week that it will employ 650 people with autism by 2020. This is approximately 1 per cent of its total workforce, which roughly reflects the frequency of autism in the general population. It will work with Danish company Specialisterne, a consultancy that employs software testers and programmers who have autism. While the move is a positive one for many, it is important to note that autism exists on a spectrum, and a large number of people who have the condition would not find such jobs suitable. Neither should it diminish the need for more research. It does however signal a greater acceptance of autism within society. SAP’s move was sparked by successful results from employing a small group of people with autism in India as software testers. It is now expanding its autistic workforce in Ireland, Germany and the US. “People with autism tend to be really good at identifying mistakes and sensing patterns – a very good match for software testing,” says SAP spokeswoman Robin Meyerhoff. It is the largest company ever to make a such an undertaking. Ne’eman calls it a tremendous step forward. “The specific commitment and target for hiring is really quite significant and we hope to see other companies replicate this,” he says. In fact, SAP is not alone. Ne’eman has worked with US finance company Freddie Mac for the past two years to help it hire interns with autism with a view to creating permanent positions. Suzanne Richards, Freddie Mac’s vice-president of diversity, says the move has involved figuring out how to adapt the working environment to suit the needs of “this uniquely talented pool of people”. She says that their focus and mathematical ability was very attractive, but that those skills came in a different package. Physical and behavioural changes to the office environment were necessary (see “Working in an autism-oriented office“). But employees with autism bring more to the table than good concentration. Benedetto De Martino at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena has shown that people with autism make better decisions than “neurotypicals” when it comes to making a rational choice. They are less swayed by emotion. Autistic people are often able to handle large amounts of information at one time, too. Laurent Mottron, who researches autism at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, says that one member of his group, Michelle Dawson, can handle a huge library of literature. “She has 8000 papers on her computer, and can summarise and compare all of them,” he says. “I can’t handle even a tenth of that.” Dawson herself says that her research has turned up a whole host of positive autistic traits which are often treated as negatives by default. “This goes against the usual clichés about autistic strengths being predictably narrow and confined to specific areas,” she says. Mottron agrees that the benefits of autism could be applied to other roles. For example, many people with the condition do not try to rank potential solutions to problems according to plausibility. “Sometimes when you look for a fault in something you can’t have a strategic approach. A counter-intuitive way to solve a problem may be better.” “Their attention to detail is amazing, their memory photographic and their ability to do repetitive tasks with speed and accuracy is excellent,” says Avaneesh Dubey at SAP Labs India. “I believe if you look at any business process, there’s a good chance you’ll spot opportunities to employ people with autism.” “If you look at any business process, you’ll spot opportunities to employ people with autism” “Success in corporate America is really changing,” says Richards. “Autism is such an opportunity, but unless we foster a very broad definition of success, we’re not going to be able to take advantage of it. And we’d be short-sighted if we didn’t.” Tilman Höffken is a marketing manager at Auticon, a German company which employs consultants with autism as software testers. He lays out life in the office. “It seems like a normal work environment, but if you look closely, it is rather pure. There are very few things which could interrupt you, which make noise. There are lamps that many of the consultants don’t like to use, so it’s also a bit darker than a normal office. You have to be very direct and straight in your orders, and you can’t use metaphor or simile in your speech. Some of our consultants don’t like to shake hands. It’s a small thing, but it’s important to understand these things in order to work well as a team. Our consultants are very honest. They just list the mistakes you’ve made. If it’s not what you’re used to, it could seem very rude. But it’s actually quite charming, and very efficient. Feedback from clients is positive. We work quickly, that’s what we hear. One consultant was working with a customer and they gave him an issue to handle in eight days. He solved it in four. Our consultants are able to make connections very quickly, to look at code, the background which is implemented with it and see the mistakes in the whole structure. What I hear from some is that they see the world as a structure and can spot the folds in it. For me personally, the biggest challenge was learning to speak directly and straight, without ‘woulds’ and ‘coulds’. It’s not what you’re used to in other offices, but it works really well.” This article appeared in print under the headline “Have autism,