Redefining Ability — Thriving Danish Software Company Job Requirement: Autism
Do you have autism? Apply within. A thriving Danish software company attributes its profitability to their unique mission of “using the characteristics of autism in a positive way to provide valuable services for the corporate sector on market terms.”
Thorkill Sonne, founder of Denmark’s thriving software company Specilisterne (“The Specialists”), is turning disability on its head, tapping the different brain wiring behind autism as an asset. Impressed by his autistic son Lars’s gifts of drawing and memory, Sonne trains people like Lars to become software testers. “They have a good memory, they have very strong attention to details, they are persistent … within their area of motivation, and they follow instructions,” he told ABC news in a story titled, “Software Company Only Hires People Who Have Autism.”
Just like with any of group of workers, effectively managing people with autism in the workplace requires knowledge of what this specific workforce needs to perform at their best. Here are some of Sonne’s guidelines as he writes in the Harvard Business Review:
How does managing autistic workers differ from managing other people? Most of our consultants with autism have a mild form called Asperger’s and are high functioning. Still, because they’re often hypersensitive to noise, they can be uncomfortable in open-concept office spaces without doors or walls. They also have trouble working in teams and understanding social cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. You have to be precise and direct with them, be very specific about your expectations, and avoid sarcasm and nonverbal communication. Though we expect employees to do their jobs well, we don’t ask them to excel socially or to interact all the time with others. We just find them the right role. That takes tremendous stress off them. I think normality is whatever the majority decides it will be, and in our company people with autism are the norm.
In the upside-down world we live in, Sonne has accomplished his primary goal: to show the world that employees with high-functioning autism can help propel a company to success. He hopes the existence of more companies that understand what people with disabilities can uniquely offer will make it easier for his own son to find employment down the road. And as I discuss in The Inclusion Paradox, he has every right to be hopeful. Successful companies in the 21st century will be those who see how previously overlooked talent pools can help generate profits and productive and enriching livelihoods for many.