Despite their high intelligence and work ethic, many high-functioning adults with autism are unable to find jobs because of poor social skills. But one European computer company is paving the way for acceptance—and hopefully, others will follow suit.
Many people on the autism spectrum are highly intelligent, passionate, and incredibly focused—ideal traits for any potential employee, you’d think.
Unfortunately, most autistic people never make it past the interview stage. Social faux pas like showing up for a job interview wearing a coffee-stained shirt, or refusing to make eye contact with the potential manager, don’t have anything to do with how qualified someone might be for a position. But in the vast majority of cases, a job will go to a confident applicant with a broad smile and firm handshake, even if he doesn’t have the same professional credentials as his autistic counterpart.
Soeren Ljunghan, a 42-year-old software tester with Asperger’s Syndrome, has been through the frustrating interview process dozens of times. “I kept going to job interviews but coming second and wondering why I wasn’t chosen,” he told BBC News.
“It was very stressful. I began to question whether I would work again.”
According to a survey by Autism Europe, 62% of high-functioning adults with autism report that they are unemployed, though many believe that a job is an essential component to living a happy and fulfilling life.
Fortunately, there’s hope for Ljunghan and other unemployed autistic adults, thanks to the computer company Specialisterne, which was founded five years ago by a man whose own son has autism. The group currently employs more than 40 autistic workers in Denmark, and is now opening a branch in Scotland, where it plans to implement similar policies.
The company’s founder, Thorkil Sonne, recognizes that workers with autism have some special concerns: they are often fixated on routines, and can be bothered by loud noises and chaotic environments. At Specialisterne, he takes care to ensure that his staff’s needs are met—and in turn, he watches them flourish in their work.
“I see them grow in self-esteem,” he said.
“It’s the most motivating part of my work and a magical moment for me, as the father of a boy with autism.”
The company hasn’t expanded into the United States yet, but hopefully, American companies will take note of Specialisterne’s successes and open their minds about hiring individuals on the autism spectrum.
After all, Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tim Page, and bestselling author and livestock consultant Temple Grandin are all on the spectrum—what company wouldn’t want to give another brilliant mind a chance to shine?