The idea that individuals with autism offer unique skills that can be translated into the workplace is gaining ground. These skills include intense attention to detail, single-minded focus and a willingness to work on something continuously until perfect.
A movement is growing to help harness the qualities of those on the spectrum into desired job skills. For example, the Chicago-based nonprofit Aspiritech trains high-functioning people with autism to work as testers for software companies. In Denmark, the company Specialisterne (the name means “the specialists”), trains and hires out people with autism to do data entry, assembly work and other jobs that many workers find tedious.
“The stuff we do is boring for [others], like going through a program looking at every detail, testing the same function over and over again in different situations, but it doesn’t disturb those of us with autism,” says Thomas Jacobsen, an autistic employee at Specialisterne. “That’s our strength.”
However, there are other important qualities that are important for the workforce but are often difficult for those with autism, including changing plans at the last minute or dealing with sudden new requirements. Socializing, another extremely important quality in the workforce, is often a challenge for those with autism as well. Potential employees require intensive screening and training before going out in the field.
Animal behavior expert Temple Grandin, who is autistic, says her says her intense attention to detail was an asset in designing effective cattle containment systems that are now widely used. This movement hopes to redefine disabilities as differences and utilize the unique skills of a population that has been largely ignored from the workforce.