Software Company Only Hires People who Have Autism

A thriving software company turns their talents to profits.

ByABC News
April 1, 2010, 12:34 PM

April 1, 2010— -- At first glance, Specilisterne looks just like any other thriving software company. However, these colleagues had to meet a certain job requirement in order to get hired -- they must have autism.

"I could only work in a supermarket before," employee Hille – who has high-functioning autism called Asperger Syndrome – told us.

Specilisterne means "Specialists," and they test software. It is a tedious click by click process where most of us would lose focus and make mistakes.

The workers at the Denmark-based company share many of the same life experiences. Many were told they were unemployable, that they were too disabled to focus professionally. The social side of office life also eluded them, they were incapable of joining in with the lunchtime crowd.

Mads, another employee at Specilisterne, told ABC News he hadn't been able to keep a job in 20 years before landing his current job. He told us, "Most of my colleagues are like me … we have in common to be weird."

Thorkill Sonne, who founded Specilisterne in Copenhagen, believes that everyone does not have to fit in socially-accepted little boxes. He means to change the nature of that box completely. He is turning disability on its head, hiring his employees because of their ability. Sonne says workers with high-functioning autism have different brain wiring that gives them an edge.

Sonne told ABC News, "they have a good memory, they have very strong attention to details, they are persistent … within their area of motivation and they follow instructions."

But this is not a charity; employees need to turn a profit to remain employed. Sonne believes you need to please your customers with a service or you are out of business.

He says his primary goal is to make profits to show the world that it can be done with employees like his. He has a personal motivation for accomplishing it -- his son, Lars. Lars, his father's inspiration, has autism and gifts like drawing and a great memory. Sonne hopes the existence of companies like his might avoid Lars years of unemployment, like Mads.