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Wired: Hire Autistics for Better Results

September 25 2009 | by

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In WIred magazine’s The Smart List: 12 Shocking Ideas That Could Change the World, entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne says more companies should recruit autistics. Thorne, whose youngest son was diagnosed with the mysterious developmental disorder, says that in some jobs, an autistic person’s preternatural capacity for concentration and near-total recall can be more valuable than having good people skills.

In Sonne’s native Denmark, as elsewhere, autistics are typically considered unemployable. But Sonne worked in IT, a field more suited to people with autism and related conditions like Asperger’s syndrome. “As a general view, they have excellent memory and strong attention to detail. They are persistent and good at following structures and routines,” he says. In other words, they’re born software engineers.

According to the article, in 2004, Sonne quit his job at a telecom firm and founded Specialisterne (Danish for “Specialists”), an IT consultancy that hires mostly people with autism-spectrum disorders. Its nearly 60 consultants ferret out software errors for companies like Microsoft and Cisco Systems. Recently, the firm has expanded into other detail-centered work—like keeping track of Denmark’s fiber-optic network, so crews laying new lines don’t accidentally cut old ones.

Sonne recently handed off day-to-day operations to start a foundation dedicated to spreading his business model. Already, companies inspired by Specialisterne have sprouted in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Similar efforts are planned for Iceland and Scotland.

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