Autistic People Find Job Niche in Tech

SAP not the only company committing to hire more autistic employees.

May 23, 2013, 5:59 PM

May 24, 2013— -- Phillip Griffin graduated high school with honors in 2009, but despite his good grades and interest in math and science, finding a job proved difficult.

That's because Griffin, 22, has autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder marked by difficulties with social interaction and communication – making job interviews a nightmare.

"I got a little frustrated," he told, adding that he's had part-time jobs that included working as a custodian for a local church near his home in Brookfield, Ill.

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Although no two people with autism are exactly alike, many have trouble catching social cues, elaborating on answers to interview questions and making eye contact, said Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks.

"They're sometimes not well understood," said Bell, the father of a 20-year-old son who has autism. "If an interview candidate is not looking you in the eye, I might -- if I didn't know the person had autism – say, 'Wow. This person is aloof' or 'They aren't necessarily interested in the job.'"

He said standard company interview practices focus on "soft skills," but the most important thing is the hard skill: Can the candidate actually do the job?

But Griffin proved that he could and last Thursday landed a job in information technology at AutonomyWorks, a technology company that employs only autistic people because it values their ability to spot patterns and their preference for repetitive tasks. He had to prove that he could build test websites during a two-week tryout.

And he "mastered" it, said managing director of AutonomyWorks Julie Calmes.

When asked what he enjoys about his new job, Griffin said, "Well, it involves computers. I love the step-by -step process. I like the office environment."

But AutonomyWorks isn't the only group seeking autistic employees to work in jobs in software testing, data entry and programming.

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Since it's estimated that 1 percent of the world population is autistic, German software giant SAP announced this week that it aims to hire enough autistic people to make up 1 percent of its 65,000 work force.

"It really is a new step," Bell said. "As an autism dad, this makes me really excited and optimistic that corporate America is going to recognize the value of people with autism, and that more and more opportunities will become available."

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