German software company SAP is looking to break out of the mold and hire hundreds of people with Autism, recognizing their unique talent for information technology. By 2020, the company plans to have 1 percent of its global workforce of 65,000 employees be individuals with autism.
SAP executive Luisa Delgado told the BBC that the company believes that "innovation comes from the edges." While it is a developmental disorder, Autism has a very broad spectrum, and many people afflicted with the disorder demonstrate an impressive attention to detail and are highly focused and intelligent. "Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st Century."
SAP already has six employees with autism working as software testers in its Bangalore, India office, who have noticeably improved productivity. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders are known to possess an analytic prowess and have a unique view of the world surrounding them. The autistic spectrum, including Asperger's syndrome, affects approximately 1 percent of the worldwide population.
The company is piloting the program with the help of Specialisterne, a Danish social organization that helps place autistic individuals in job opportunities. At Specialisterne, which translates from Danish as “The Specialists,” the majority of employees have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. The recruitment for SAP will focus on software testing, programming and data quality assurance.
The hiring trend is gradually growing. Texas-based CRM firm Alliance Data is recruiting workers on the autism spectrum. Jim Pierce, VP Corporate Administration, told NPR that "this is an untapped labor market." He has hired a dozen people with intellectual disabilities. "We've got this one guy, for example; his productivity is three times as productive as the person doing his job who did not have cognitive disabilities before him. And his error rate is 2 percent. He is 98 percent accurate. He's a phenomenal worker," says Pierce.
Berlin-based consultancy Auticon places people with Asperger's syndrome as IT consultants with companies. In dealing with the integration of such employees, founder Dirk Müller-Remus told DW.com, "We have to explain to the companies that the new employee is different. We have to tell them how he is different and what is the best way to communicate with him." Müller-Remus has a son with the syndrome.
Aspiritech, a nonprofit Chicago-based company, also launched a program to train people on the autism spectrum to test software for tech development companies.
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that as many as one in 50 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders today, the global economy needs to start preparing to accept and accomodate an influx of future employees that may present with symptoms of the disorder.
Ann Cameron Williams, chief research and innovations officer with The Arc, a national organization of and for people with intellectual and related developmental disabilities told CNN, "It is something that we have to open our eyes to. It is something that we really have to embrace. We don't have a choice of turning away—we have to employ these people."
She added that companies are starting to understand the business benefits of hiring those on the spectrum, as well as the ethical and public relations benefits. "It is hard to measure it with a dollar, but it is the right thing to do. When you have a company that is willing to hire someone with a disability, it's a positive reflection on that company."