Increasingly, parents who set out to help their children find jobs instead find themselves starting autism-focused companies.
“I like the complicated stuff, the eureka moments,” says Pease, 20, whose eureka moments now come from solving clients’ complex software problems. He’s a quality assurance analyst for Aspiritech, a software testing firm in Chicago.
“It’s like a puzzle,” Pease explains, describing the meticulous process he uses to identify software glitches and help clients resolve them. His technical ability, precision and affinity for repetitive tasks are a perfect fit for the job.
Those qualities are also hallmarks of his high-functioning autism.
Aspiritech is among a growing number of companies created to employ people on the autism spectrum. Launching as “social enterprises,” these businesses harness the strengths of those whose brains operate differently.
Often, their founders are people who never intended to become entrepreneurs, but have unique insight into the underutilized skills that come with autism: Parents who have watched their children struggle to find jobs.
Strengths before stereotypes
“We as a society cannot afford to waste their talents,” says Aspiritech founder Brenda Weitzberg. Her company has doubled in staff size and revenue over the past two years, employing 59 people with autism and passing the $2 million mark.
Weitzberg and her husband started Aspiritech after seeing their adult son “fall through the cracks” when it came to finding and keeping a job. More than 80 percent of adults with autism are unemployed.
Like many people with high-functioning autism–also known as Asperger’s syndrome–their son showed above-average intelligence, precision and honesty. But Asperger’s syndrome impairs social interactions. These individuals often can’t read social cues, keep track of time, engage in give-and-take communication, or understand nuances. Seemingly simple conversations, as well as traditional interview processes, can be excruciating.
“If you think about it, it makes no sense to systematically screen out talented people from your organization who can contribute in real ways, just because they do not fit a pre-determined mold,” says Harvard Business School Professor Gary Pisano.
But that mold is beginning to crack, he says, as more businesses realize the value of neurodiversity–people whose brains function differently–in the workplace.
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