A couple of months ago, I was thumbing through Wired Magazine and came across an article headlined: "One of 12 shocking ideas that could change the world." The article referred to a small Danish company, called Specialisterne, which was earlier the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study.
Essentially the premise was simple--take a disability and turn it into an advantage. It called for persons with autism to be trained to check computer code. Their penchant for detail and repetitive behavior (think Rain Man) become strengths in service offerings that the "more normal" falter in.
This seemingly simple idea was surely a shock to me. Specialisterne started with Thorkil Sonne who, as an IT industry person, was simply looking for opportunity for his own austistic child. Specialisterne trains specialists who become consultants working onsite or offsite.
This week, I found myself in Copenhagen, Denmark, listening to people brought together by Specialisterne and meeting people from 25 countries similarly trying to find ways to increase the employability of autistic persons. There were parents, autistic persons, social workers, investors, IT executives and one lonely lawyer.
What struck me was a 20-minute speech given by a consultant working on an egg-grading software aplication. Despite having a PhD and excellent credentials (CERN alumni), this individual could not find steady work until Specialisterne came along. He only needed a chance that would enable him to apply some of his skills.
Autism is a disorder that affects 1 to 2 percent of the population. It is neither fatal nor a debilitating disorder. With some proper application, some good can be done. Even in IT.