Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

There's Place for Workers with Autism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

There's Place for Workers with Autism

Article excerpt

Byline: Candace Moody

You may think the term "autism advantage" is an oxymoron, but it's trending in employment in the U.S. and Europe. About 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Autism spectrum disorder occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and is almost 5 times more common among boys -1 in 42 - than among girls - 1 in 189.

About half of children with ASD, 46 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, have normal or above normal intelligence. Many grow up to become high-functioning adults who want to work and support themselves. But the syndrome presents challenges: difficulty in responding to social cues, a tendency to overreact to sensory stimulation or changes in routine, and in some cases, fixation on details or objects of interest. These behaviors make it hard for people with ASD to interview competitively and fit into a teamwork environment.

But some people with autism have been able to channel their obsession with detail or prodigious memory into jobs where those qualities are valued. In 2004, a Danish man named Thorkil Sonn started a company he called Specialisterne, Danish for "the specialists," where he employed about 35 high-functioning workers with autism as consultants for software testing. Sonn has a son with autism with a remarkable memory who inspired Sonn's business idea. At the age of 7, Sonn's son Lars reproduced from memory an atlas of European highways after a family road trip. He'd spent the long car ride studying the atlas in the back seat.

Sonn has moved his company to the U.S., where roughly 50,000 people with ASD turn 18 every year. Specialisterne USA operates training and employment centers in Wilmington, Del. …

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