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Software Company Starts Drive to Add More Workers with Autism

Update Date: May 23, 2013 10:00 AM EDT
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SAP, the largest business-management software firm in the world, has announced that it will add 650 people with autism to its workforce. The move will mean that about 1 percent of the company's workforce will have autism spectrum disorder.

Roughly 1 percent of the world has autism spectrum disorder; in the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 50 schoolchildren have the neurological condition. The condition affects brain development and can impact the ability to interact in social situations, as well as manifest in repeated body movements.

While the condition can be challenging for parents and educators, as a burgeoning amount of children with autism become adults, it will present added challenges to the workforce as well. According to the Guardian, 5 to 6 percent of adults with autism spectrum disorder are able to find places of employment. That number rises to 20 percent in adults with Asperger's syndrome and other high-functioning forms of autism spectrum disorder, but experts say that the number could be three-fold higher.

However, one company is not deterred by autistic candidates' challenges in communication during interviews or with other employees. As BBC reports, some adults with autism spectrum disorder see their condition manifested in a strong attention to detail and a high level of intelligence. Those strengths, SAP says, make some adults with autism spectrum disorder extremely well-suited for jobs in the information technology sector.

So far, the company has already hired 11 people with the condition to work as software testers in Bangalore, India and in Ireland. The German-based company wants to add more software testers, programmers and data managers to work in Canada, Germany and the United States this year. By 2020, the company hopes to reach its goal.

At least one organization, Autismus Deuschland, the largest organization for individuals with autism in Germany, has said that they will monitor the organization to make sure that the program is not exploitative. The company has also stated that they would provide job coaches, who would serve as mediators between employees with autism and neurotypical employees, as well as help the new employees with communication and dealing with time pressures.

According to Bloomberg, the company is working with a foundation called Specialisterne, which seeks to help adults with autism spectrum disorder find jobs in the technology sector.

Researchers have not discovered a single cause or cure for autism spectrum disorder, though some advocates say that they do not want to be cured, just want to be treated normally.

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