Successful companies in the 21st century will be those who see how previously overlooked talent pools can help generate profits while engaged in productive lives.
Danish software firm Specialisterne is one such progressive company that is turning the notion of disability on its head. Specialisterne, which means specialists in Danish, is tapping the different brain wiring behind autism as an asset. Founder Thorkil Sonne, impressed by his autistic son Lars’ gifts of drawing and memory, began training people on the autism spectrum to become software testers. “They have a good memory, they have very strong attention to details, they are persistent within their area of motivation, and they follow instructions,” says Sonne.
How does managing autistic workers differ from managing other people? Sonne explains that most of his consultants with autism have a mild form called Asperger’s and are high functioning. Still, they’re often hypersensitive to noise, and can be uncomfortable in office spaces without doors or walls. They also have trouble working in teams and understanding social cues.
As a result, Sonne is precise and direct with his employees. He’s very specific about expectations, and avoids sarcasm and nonverbal communication. As he explains in the Harvard Business Review, “Though we expect employees to do their jobs well, we don’t ask them to excel socially or to interact all the time with others. We just find them the right role. That takes tremendous stress off them. Normality is whatever themajority decides it will be, and in our company people with autism are the norm.”
Sonne has accomplished his primary goal: to show the world that employees with autism can help propel a company to success. He hopes the existence of more companies that understand what people with disabilities can uniquely offer will make it easier for his own son to find employment down the road.
Diversity Best Practices members can read more about Specialisterne and how companies are addressing people with disabilities in Differently Abled: A New Look at Disability.