I was excited to read this article about a Danish firm employing autistic people as software testers.
It makes a refreshing change to see the skills and needs of people with autism recognised in a positive way.
Getting a bad press
So many articles in the news seem to be about pills that ‘make the autism go away’, or warnings about possible causes of autism. I admit, being on the spectrum has often caused me trouble, even though I’m at the high functioning end of the scale. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with more severe forms of autism. Even so, I get annoyed when I see so much news about curing or eliminating the condition and nothing about how to make life better for people who are currently living with it.
UK employment and autism
There are practical issues to be faced every day. A major issue for people with ASD is employment. Generally speaking, the UK’s employment and recruitment system is heavily geared towards people who aren’t on the autism spectrum. In fact, I’d say it was heavily scewed in favour of people who are extroverts – the opposite of someone with autism. And yet people with autism have skills which would be valuable in many workplaces and positions. They just need help getting through the recruitment process and settling in to their new environment.
The company in the article I linked to, Specialisterne, has come up with a radical solution to make their recruitment process suitable for people with autism. The working environment is also set up with their employees’ specific needs in mind.
You could argue that it’s easy to set up an autistic- or aspie-friendly workplace when you’re starting from scratch. Modifying other workplaces and recruitment policies for existing firms who want a mixed intake may not be practical. You could also argue that this company is effectively discriminating by specifically choosing to employ people with autism.
Personally, I think it’s discriminatory not to adapt to the needs of people with autism if you have a position that would suit their skills. If you’re prepared to interview and employ someone in a wheelchair and you put in a ramp and a stairlift to help them get in, why not modify your interview technique with lego and offer part-time or flexible hours for people with autism?
If autistic people can’t get a job, they end up on benefits or being supported by their family. It’s a waste of tax-payer’s money and it can’t be good for their self esteem. Autistic people are more prone to depression than their non-autistic counterparts, so being able to support themselves is very important.
People with autism tend to have good memories, strong attention to detail and they can focus on tasks with a degree of stamina often lacking in people who aren’t on the spectrum. They can bring real clarity to problems and make sense of complicated data.
I’m glad Specialisterne is planning to come to the UK. More intiatives like this could make a huge difference to people with autism – and the way they’re perceived in society.