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The Next Wave of Autism Awareness? Autistic Employees Wanted

The next wave of autism awareness: Global tech company SAP is actively seeking out more autistic employees (via Babble)International software company SAP has announced that it will actively seek to hire more autistic employees, citing a “potential competitive advantage to leveraging the unique talents of people with autism, while also helping them to secure meaningful employment.”

“By concentrating on the abilities that every talent brings to the table, we can redefine the way we manage diverse talents,” said Luisa Delgado, member the Executive Board of SAP AG, Human Resources,  in a press release. To execute the new hiring program, SAP has partnered with the Danish consulting firm Specialisterne.

Specialisterne, which provides a range of tech and consulting services to businesses around the world, says that the majority of its employees are autistic.

“With Specialisterne, we share a common belief that innovation comes from the ‘edges,’ the SAP press release continued. “Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”

In a small pilot program at SAP Labs in India, six autistic people were hired as software testers. As a result, not only did productivity increase, but so did the team’s cohesiveness, the firm said.

Ari Ne’Eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), praised SAP’s forward-thinking initiative.

“We’re excited by SAP’s commitment to include Autistic people in its workforce and applaud the company for setting concrete and measurable targets towards achieving that goal,” Mr. Ne’Eman said in an email to me. “We hope other companies inside and outside the technology sector choose to follow SAP’s lead.”

“ASAN currently runs a Pilot Internship Program with Freddie Mac which places recent graduates on the autism spectrum into internship opportunities within the company,” Mr. Ne’Eman added. “In our experience, discussions of Autistic cognitive strengths can be a useful way of opening up conversations with employers to include neurodiversity in workplace diversity initiatives.”

Mr. Ne’Eman noted that companies shouldn’t limit hiring of autistic employees to the STEM fields. “We’re always very careful to stress that Autistic workers can succeed in a wide variety of fields,” he said. “We are working to open up the workplace to Autistic adults and those with other disabilities in every sector. If technology companies are the first to come to the table to do that, we’re ready to welcome them with open arms.”

It’s estimated that autistic people make up about one percent of the world’s population, so SAP has set a goal for autistic employees to represent at least one percent of its workforce by the year 2020.

I’m guessing SAP doesn’t have to worry too much about meeting that goal. While I certainly don’t want to perpetuate the idea that all people with autism excel in the STEM fields, there’s no way a tech company as successful as SAP doesn’t already have autistic employees.

Before I became a mom, I worked as a Human Resources Manager for an engineering firm that certainly employed engineers who were either openly or quietly on the spectrum. We didn’t actively seek out autistic employees or anything; we simply hired the best people for the job. We also recognized that for a multitude of reasons, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The best companies capitalize on those strengths, and assemble teams that utilize a variety of talents–both technical and interpersonal.

All that being said, I’m thrilled that SAP and Specialisterne are so publicly saying that hiring autistic employees is a good thing. There is so much misunderstanding about autism in the world, and it’s exciting to see employers riding the next wave of awareness.

(via: ABC News)
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)

Joslyn Gray is the mom of four children, including two with Asperger Syndrome. Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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