For a long time now, the founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel has recognised the benefits of hiring staff with autism and Asperger’s to avoid what he calls ‘herd-like thinking’. Research also shows that people with autism can bring increased innovative and creative thinking to the workplace. Also, many people who are on the autistic spectrum have exceptional IT skills. In his book Zero to One, Thiel says people with Asperger’s have a single-mindedness that gives startups a unique advantage.
PayPal Says Autistic Employees Give Companies An Innovative Edge
Thiel’s theory stems from the idea of neurodiversity, a term first coined by the Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who sees autism as a natural brain variation, not a brain disorder.
In this theory, people with autism can be excellent for the work environment once they are in post. Sadly, many people on the spectrum never get the opportunity to prove themselves because the big stumbling point is the interview. It is well documented that people on the spectrum often struggle getting through an interview because they can lack the social skills to deal with that situation.
However, there are other ways for companies to screen potential candidates other than face-to-face interviews. If firms could look at more creative ways of getting to know potential employees, it could mean a win win situation for the firm and employee.
More and more children are being diagnosed with autism and subsequently, there is more support put in place for these children than there used to be. However, there is very little support for adults with autism. The concept of the “cliff” is well known in Autism circles. It is a phrase used to describe the sudden lack of assistance to falling off a cliff.
And yet, perhaps things are changing now, there seems to be some evidence that the most forward thinking companies are seeing the value of employing the people who are on the autistic spectrum.
As more children are being diagnosed and as ‘real’ autism is being featured much more in the media (as opposed to Rain Man and The Big Bang Theory), society is starting to see the benefits of employing people on the autism spectrum.
Specialisterne (The Specialists) is a Danish social innovator company who are harnessing the characteristics of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and using them as a competitive advantage in the business market. Specialisterne provides services such as software testing, quality control and data conversion for business companies in Denmark. In addition Specialisterne assesses and trains people with ASD to meet the requirements of the business sector. Specialisterne provides a working environment where it is ‘normal’ to have ASD and where the role of the management and staff is to create the best possible working environment for the employees with ASD.
It is really important that society doesn’t get stuck on more stereotypes though, autistic people aren’t just limited to the IT industry and Specialisterne has recently launched the Autism and Agriculture employment scheme to develop other career paths for those with autism in specialist animal care roles.
It’s all about perspective!