The number of people on the autism spectrum who work full-time lags far behind the number who are able, and quite willing, to work full-time.
People on the spectrum in their twenties are more likely to be unemployed than other peers with disabilities, and the odds are worse for young adults on the spectrum who come from low-income households. Some sources indicate that only 15 percent of people on the spectrum with college degrees are employed.
There are legitimate barriers to employment for people on the spectrum—but not enough to justify an 85 percent unemployment rate for those with four-year degrees. But employers are starting to realize that they’re missing out. The international IT service provider auticon (that prefers a lowercase spelling of its name), has decided not only will it make it easier for people on the spectrum to work for them, but they will only hire technology consultants with autism.
Auticon is not hiring people with autism just to “be nice.” The UK CEO of auticon, Ray Coyle, explains that people on the spectrum have skills that are “far above what we’ll find in the neurotypical community. So the reason that we work with people on the autism spectrum is because of the talents and the skills that they bring to the workplace.” He goes on the explain that those on the spectrum are often uniquely situated to perform the highly detailed, repetitive, analytical tasks required in the technology industry.
The firm’s offices in Santa Monica and Culver City, California, are making a difference for people on the spectrum in the US. People like Peter Souza, who is happy to finally have a sustainable, livable income from just one job.
Souza’s resumé is full of variety: He’s worked as a butcher, musician, iron worker, grocery store clerk, freelance website builder, and front desk attendant at a gym. But the income wasn’t consistent, or sufficient, for him to rent an apartment in California. He’s lived out of his car while trying to make ends meet. But now he shares an apartment and pays rent out of just one income.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” he says, “to have a one-job life where working 40 hours a week is enough.” Souza now works at auticon as a quality assurance manual tester.
The California offices of auticon are the results of two caring fathers. The company’s founder Dirk Müller-Remus founded the company in Germany after one of his children was diagnosed with autism in 2007. As he learned more about the unemployment rate for those on the spectrum despite their education, he realized the need for a company like auticon.
Meanwhile in California, Gary Benoist founded the IT company MindSpark when he found there were few career options for his two sons on the spectrum. “Both are incredibly capable and smart and deserve an opportunity to be able to express that,” Benoist told BBC.
MindSpark was acquired by auticon in June of 2018.
The company is set up to be inviting to its employees on the spectrum. The lighting is soft, headphones are not a problem, and employees can instant message their coworkers instead of speaking with them directly. Employees can also choose to work in dark rooms and are also entitled to days off for anxiety.
“Sensitivity to our employees’ issues is our first priority,” Benoist told BBC, “but that means putting the processes behind that to ensure you still deliver the highest quality to your client, which requires thought about how projects are put together and how resources are assigned.”
Auticon does indeed deliver quality. The company’s website boasts over 200 employees, about 150 of whom are on the spectrum. They have offices in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, and the United States. Auticon completed over 200 projects in 2017 and has increased revenue by 50 percent each year so far. Many of the company’s clients report improved internal communications after working with an auticon consultant—it seems that communicating clearly and directly has benefits beyond IT.
For concerned clients, the company has job coaches and project managers both to help with consultant to client communications and help auticon’s employees reach their full potential. With a growing list of big-name clients and awards, the firm seems to be growing in prominence as much for its expertise as its unique hiring approach.
On the “Why auticon” section of their website, the company simply states, “Autism is not a processing error, it’s another operating system.” For people like Peter Souza and other tech consultants on the spectrum, it’s an operating system that helps them succeed in the high-stakes tech industry without having to sacrifice salary, quality, or self-respect.