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Good Industries for Adults with Autism in Boston | AutismWorks

Hiring People in Spite of Autism and because of Autism

    Reposted article, written by Laura Shumaker.

    Autism and Employment

    When companies like SAPSpecialisterne and Aspiritech started hiring people on the autism spectrum, many, including me, wondered “How is that going to work?”

    “We hire people in spite of autism and because of autism,” said Jose Velasco, head of SAP’s Autism at Work program in the U.S. “It’s not a disability play; it’s a skills play.”

    Autistic employees can concentrate on repetitive tasks for long periods, have superior attention to detail, communicate honestly, and bring new perspectives to the workplace, said Velasco,  all traits employers can use to their competitive advantage.




    What does it mean for someone with autism to get a job at a company like SAP?

    “It means they can enter the world and they’re valuable,” say’s Thorkil Sonne,  founder of Specialisterne, a Denmark based business that partnered with SAP to build their Autism at Work Program. “A lot of people with disabilities have very low self-esteem, which comes from being reminded all the time of everything you’re not good at. Many people with autism find their self-esteem from what they do and not who they are in their social networks.”

    Let’s hear their stories. The first is from Brian, who works for Aspiritech:

    “I have Asperger’s and ADHD.” said Brian T. in a letter to the editor of Chicago Magazine.” I am 36 and own a car but still live with my parents. I volunteer at a food pantry, where I do data entry.  But it’s at Aspiritech, where I’m working part-time, where my pride and gifts truly take flight.” Since writing this letter, Brian T. has become a full-time salaried employee and manager at Aspiritech and has moved into his own apartment.

    “I am a 56 year old woman who had prior experience in the IT industry,” says Janis, a Quality Assurance specialist at SAP. She joined SAP in April 2014. “I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult, as is the case with most people my age I did not meet the more restrictive criteria for Autism in the 1960’s. I had been unable to obtain full-time employment since I was laid off in 2001. However, I kept up my skills though underpaid part-time work and through returning to graduate school.

    So, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work for SAP as a QA specialist in a business software development department. The Specialisterne training (with the robots) was phenomenal; at SAP I’ve received more support than I could have hoped for.”

    Recently, Janis joined a Hackathon competition in Palo Alto where approximately 20 teams participated. Each team consisted of 3 members and each team had about 6 hours to complete their assignment.   With an idea proposed by Janis and with her background in multi-media and design, her team ultimately took first place and won the competition.

    “I am very grateful for the opportunity that I have been given to work at SAP,  and the structure of the Autism at work program, say’s Elijah Martinez.

    Elijah is a Technical  Integration Specialist who joined SAP in April of 2014.  After being on the job less than 6 months, Elijah began creating  documents that assist our customers and partners implement our solutions. These documents have received more than 6,500 views since being published to our SAP Community Network (SCN) site. Elijah had struggled for three years to find full-time employment after graduating Cum Laude with a degree in Physics from Santa Clara University.

    “Although I have always been viewed as a high performer, in Academia, previous part-time work, my self-employment, etc. I found the task of “Getting a (full time) Job” very daunting. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” can be very true, and all the advice was always simply to “get out there, and network” which is very difficult for someone who struggles with precisely that.

    Being given a chance to bypass the usual who you know and having to talk yourself up in interviewer stages, and instead showcasing my knowledge, understanding and ability to learn and grow through the Autism at Work Program, was a huge blessing. I’ve been connected with great colleagues who are not only considerate of the fact that sometimes I may approach things differently in the workplace, but appreciate that this can in fact be beneficial. I have not been pushed to do anything that I am incapable of, but I have been afforded a great many opportunities to try new things, in order to grow at my own pace and contribute to my team and SAP.

    The real world office experience, collaborating with colleagues on actual projects, in an environment that is considerate of differences in learning and working style has been invaluable, and I am constantly thankful for the program and everyone involved in making it happen.”



    Posted on Jul 20, 2015 2:08:00 PM by Laura Shumaker

    Laura Shumaker

    Written by Laura Shumaker

    Laura Shumaker is a nationally recognized autism writer, speaker and advocate and the author of A Regular Guy: Growing Up with Autism. Her essays have appeared in many places, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism . She writes the popular autism and disabilities blog for the San Francisco Chronicle. Laura and her husband Peter are the proud parents of three terrific sons, and live in Lafayette, CA. Their oldest son, Matthew, has autism.

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