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Autism as a job requirement
September 22, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

It's long been thought that there is a high incidence of autism (and autism-related disorders like Asperger's) in IT fields. Now one company is looking to turn that into sales.

"Aspiritech is a non-profit organization with a mission to provide a path for high functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum to realize their potential through gainful employment.

To this end we harness these individuals' unique abilities – attention to detail, precision, an affinity for repetitive tasks, outstanding technology skills – to provide competitively-priced software testing services. We achieve this by providing our testers a combination of intensive training, structure, and support to mitigate potential workplace challenges."
posted by Chrysostom (33 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Paging Inspector Kavanaugh…
posted by zamboni at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2011


It's long been thought that there is a high incidence of autism...in IT fields.

Clinical terms often get applied to ordinary people. Some but not all shy people have autism, some but not all selfish people are sociopaths, etc.

It's a bad habit. It makes us underestimate the symptoms of people with mental illnesses, and it gives an excuses to people who could avoid behaving badly.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:53 AM on September 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


It has also long been thought that there is a high incidence of height in the N.B.A.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:57 AM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also see the Danish company Specialisterne (literally "The Specialists"). Here are some writeups in Wired and The Atlantic.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Autism-related disorders like Asperger's

It's just been Autism for some time: Asperger's Officially Placed Inside Autism Spectrum
posted by Artw at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2011


Hopefully the company's healthcare plan doesn't exclude pre-existing conditions.
posted by hal9k at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


If someone applies who does not Asperger's, and is not hired because they don't have Asperger's, is that legally discrimination?
posted by Ad hominem at 12:09 PM on September 22, 2011


You don't have Aspergers, you're just an asshole that doesn't feel that there's anything wrong with his behavior yet knows that society has a problem with it.

(does not apply to actual people with Aspergers, who surely do exist)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


If someone applies who does not Asperger's, and is not hired because they don't have Asperger's, is that legally discrimination?

It depends on the way the company is set up. I worked for a non-profit employment agency that was specifically set up for hiring people with disabilities. The contracts we had with the NYC government -- the different departments making something like 90% of the income -- stipulated that 85% (or some large percentage) of placements had to be people who were disabled and documented as such. We had a form that was filled out on their end by a medical professional (doctor/speech therapist/psychiatrist) and was verified on our end. We were (harshly) audited every year. The only time we placed a non-disabled person on the government contracts -- the private contracts were a free-for-all -- is when we absolutely could not find a disabled person to fit the specs.
posted by griphus at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2011


It's a bad habit. It makes us underestimate the symptoms of people with mental illnesses, and it gives an excuses to people who could avoid behaving badly.

That's one of the most clinically precise definitions I've ever heard for someone in IT.
posted by hal9k at 12:22 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the answer. On the site the job requirements for software testers includes

•be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome or High-Functioning Autism

But it is not required for managers, which I guess is understandable.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:35 PM on September 22, 2011


How long before they set up a sister organization, Aspie-date, to match-make and breed a more autistic workforce?
posted by aretesophist at 1:32 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


No time at all.
posted by fraac at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2011


How long before they set up a sister organization, Aspie-date, to match-make and breed a more autistic workforce?

Wasn't there a spike in rates of severe autism (i.e., debilitating autism, not anything that produces hyper-focussed if socially awkward techies) around areas like Silicon Valley, which was speculated to have been caused by people at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum pairing up and having children?
posted by acb at 1:37 PM on September 22, 2011


I'm not sure how this will work unless projects are small enough for one engineer alone. Because larger projects... planning/strategy meetings where one engineer is on-spectrum are bad enough. If everyone at a meeting is on-spectrum and there's a disagreement about architecture or direction, holy crap....
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:38 PM on September 22, 2011


How long before they set up a sister organization, Aspie-date, to match-make and breed a more autistic workforce?

The Atlasphere already exists.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:44 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm assuming the management tier would all be diagnosed psychopaths.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's funny: psychopaths, borderlines and other autistics are the only people I can work with without serious acting effort. 'Normals' mostly appear to see people as nodes in a hierarchy; you either have to dominate them from above or play them from below. It's weird.
posted by fraac at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


The future is a Peter Watts novel.
posted by Artw at 2:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clinical terms often get applied to ordinary people. Some but not all shy people have autism, some but not all selfish people are sociopaths, etc.

It's a bad habit. It makes us underestimate the symptoms of people with mental illnesses, and it gives an excuses to people who could avoid behaving badly.


It's wrong to divide the world into "ordinary" people and mentally-ill people. Pretty much every mental illness comes in different forms ranging from very mild to very extreme. People with less severe issues lead fairly ordinary lives, but they are still are prone to act in ways that are confusing or distressing to others and harmful to themselves. They can be taught ways to work around their problems, but treating them like children who are "behaving badly" only alienates them.
posted by shponglespore at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm assuming the management tier would all be diagnosed psychopaths.

Corporations harnessing their unique talents are not implausible.
posted by acb at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2011


You'd keep psychopaths amongst the workers for morale. Your perfect workforce would be 8 autistics to 1 psychopath to 1 hot borderline girl. None of them should be management.
posted by fraac at 2:37 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Software testing is really fucking boring. Just putting it out there.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:55 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


clearly you've never gotten the feeling when you've been walking the code all afternoon and then you've isolated it to three lines and you get warmer and then it gets harder and then you change one variable and HNG HNNNNNNNG
posted by LogicalDash at 3:18 PM on September 22, 2011


clearly you've never gotten the feeling when you've been walking the code all afternoon and then you've isolated it to three lines and you get warmer and then it gets harder and then you change one variable and HNG HNNNNNNNG

That's debugging. In many teams, the tester doesn't even get to see the source code; they get a build from the build server and go through a suite of tests, logging tickets for things that don't work. Then the engineers look at the tickets and fix the bugs.
posted by acb at 3:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


well, about that

there are communities of "glitchers" on youtube and the rest of the internet who spend their free time documenting bugs in games that have already been released and will never be fixed

I bet Ulillilia would be a shoo-in
posted by LogicalDash at 4:37 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a spike in rates of severe autism (i.e., debilitating autism, not anything that produces hyper-focussed if socially awkward techies) around areas like Silicon Valley, which was speculated to have been caused by people at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum pairing up and having children?

Yes. Also, correlations with rainy and tech-centric areas like Seattle: one of the leading conjectures is that more time spent indoors during formative years correlates with more time interfacing with tech such as television and computers, which in turn correlates with autism-spectrum behaviours. But that is very conjectural (as is the (to my mind considerably less likely) possibility that autism may have something to do with a lack of vitamin D, which is generated naturally in the body in response to sunlight). Right now we have no idea what "causes" autism, whether it is primarily environmental or genetic, or a combination of factors. (A required note here that we have a considerably better understanding of a few things that don't cause autism, including childhood vaccinations.)

Speaking from my own perspective, and looking at the very big picture, I see autism-spectrum neurology as a likely evolutionary development. It seems fairly obvious that we have co-evolved with tools: indeed, the use of tools to make other tools is one of the very few behaviours that separate homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom. To an increasing degree, tools of increasing complexity are now driving evolution, so adaptations that favor strong understanding of logical systems and complex tool use, and interaction through those tools, would appaer to be favorable.

I also find the evolutionary perspective useful because it removes "good" and "bad" from the equation, and thus from autism: evolution is completely blind to value judgements of that kind, and only selects for survival and genetic prosperity.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 5:24 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's an Ursula K LeGuin story where they talk about how the only people who'd do long haul space exploration are social misfits.

well, about that

there are communities of "glitchers" on youtube and the rest of the internet who spend their free time documenting bugs in games that have already been released and will never be fixed


eh some of those are really hilarious and surreal
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:30 PM on September 22, 2011


having grown up with an autistic brother and spent an inordinate amount of time with other autistic people, Aspiritech strike me as a bunch of self-diagnosed tourists trying to profit from a stereotype.
posted by jmegawarne at 2:35 AM on September 23, 2011


What is the le guin story called?
posted by Joe Chip at 7:19 AM on September 23, 2011


Yes. Also, correlations with rainy and tech-centric areas like Seattle: one of the leading conjectures is that more time spent indoors during formative years correlates with more time interfacing with tech such as television and computers, which in turn correlates with autism-spectrum behaviours. But that is very conjectural (as is the (to my mind considerably less likely) possibility that autism may have something to do with a lack of vitamin D, which is generated naturally in the body in response to sunlight). Right now we have no idea what "causes" autism, whether it is primarily environmental or genetic, or a combination of factors. (A required note here that we have a considerably better understanding of a few things that don't cause autism, including childhood vaccinations.)

Remember that there's always an alternative hypothesis in the form of diagnostic and other biases. The epidemiology of autism article in Wikipedia is actually quite good at running through these. It may well be that children we diagnose (correctly) today as having severe autism were previously lumped into the broader and older category of mental retardation. It's not implausible that there are consequent geographic and demographic alterations in diagnosis rates as a result of diagnostic customs in specific areas and differences in access to diagnostic services.

Speaking from my own perspective, and looking at the very big picture, I see autism-spectrum neurology as a likely evolutionary development.

Please clarify. Do you mean that its genetic determinants are likely to be propagated due to an adaptive advantage? It seems like a stretch to me, given the severe social and often language deficits that define the various spectrum disorder syndrome. The possibility of intermediate phenotypes helping people out is not inherently implausible, but I've never seen this demonstrated, and it's hard to do with what is likely a polygenic condition. Working in the sciences, people with "TV Asperger's" seem to do well sometimes, but these people usually just have bad social skills, or possibility some features of 'schizoid' personality, rather than true difficulties with empathy.
posted by monocyte at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2011


There were two Le Guin with this background premise: "Vaster than Empires and More Slow" and "Nine Lives." The two protagonists in "Nine Lives" appear just to be loners, the crew in "Vaster" are definitely not normal.
posted by bad grammar at 6:01 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aspiritech strike me as a bunch of self-diagnosed tourists trying to profit from a stereotype.

I think there are plenty of valid criticisms to be leveled here, but seeing as an actual diagnosis is a job requirement, I'm not so sure that 'self-diagnosed tourists' is among them. Profit from a stereotype, absolutely.
posted by polymath at 10:27 PM on September 23, 2011


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