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Where Autistic Workers Thrive

Florida's Voice

IT’S HARD getting a job when you’re autistic. If you don’t look people in the eye when you talk, they dismiss you.

Social interaction and communication skills can be a challenge for people with autism spectrum disorder, but companies looking to hire untapped talent for tech-related jobs are discovering that those with autism are unusually detail-oriented, highly analytical, and able to focus intensely on tasks, making them valuable employees. Last October, six companies—Ford Motor, DXC Technology, EY, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and SAP—formed the Autism at Work Employer Roundtable to share best hiring and workplace practices and to help other companies see the return on investment in hiring autistic employees.

An estimated 80% of people with autism go unemployed, even though many are highly educated and eager to work.

One of the first companies to seek out autistic talent was SAP, a multinational software company that began hiring autistic employees to do software testing.

“If we ship something with a bug, it’s very costly to fix,” says Jose Velasco, vice president of product management and head of the SAP Autism at Work program in the U.S. “In 2013, there was a significant software-testing need in India, so we hired four people there as a pilot. Now we’re hiring people on the spectrum in 10 countries.”

At SAP, autistic employees are placed in work teams with mentors to help them navigate corporate life.

Getting a foot in the door is the first obstacle for job candidates who may answer questions in short, abrupt sentences or shy away from looking a recruiter in the eye.