Tech company seeks out employees with autism

An Associated Press article quotes Scott Standifer of the University of Missouri’s Disability Policy and Studies office delivering a pretty startling statistic:

A 2009 U.S. Department of Education survey found the employment rate for young adults with autism was on par with that for deaf-and-blind young adults, and well below the rate of those with blindness alone or learning disabilities or traumatic brain injuries.

The article applauds the efforts of a non-profit right here in the Chicago area that uses the talents of young adults with autism to find software bugs. Aspiritech (the name plays on the words “Asperger’s,” ”spirit” and “technology”) was founded by Moshe and Brenda Weitzberg after their son Oran, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 14, was fired from a job bagging groceries.

Aspiritech provides meaningful work (pay is $12 to $15 an hour) in a relaxed environment where bosses never yell if you’re late and nobody minds if you need to be alone for a while. What’s more, the company is building social skills. The software testers, who are in their 20s and 30s, are trained to work together and they take part in organized outings: miniature golf, bowling, eating at a restaurant.

“We want to improve social skills among people who tend to be socially isolated,” said Marc Lazar, Aspiritech’s autism specialist. For many of them, software testing is not going to be their lifelong career, Lazar said, “but while they’re here they’re going to improve their job skills and they’re going to learn what kind of behavior is expected on the job and they’re going to have more to put on their resumes.”

The article also quotes Molly Losh, an autism researcher at Northwestern University, explaining that most research dollars have gone toward studying children with autism while adults have been neglected. “Our vocational structure really isn’t suited to funnel people with autism into the workforce,” Losh said. Aspiritech “is a magnificent and innovative venture,” she said. I agree.

Kudos to Aspiritech for increasing awareness of the needs of adults with autism, and addressing those needs where it counts the most: in the workplace.


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