Ron Brix’s longtime job as a computer systems developer for Wrigley, the gum and bonbon maker, appropriate acute absorption to detail, committed focus and a alertness to assignment on article repetitively until perfect.
The abstruse he credits to his success? Autism.
Brix, age 54, was diagnosed in 2001 with Asperger Syndrome, a anatomy of autism generally apparent by the exact ancestry that advice accomplish him an ideal employee.
“My career would not accept existed at all after the autism,” says Brix.
The adorning condition, which strikes about 1 in 150 U.S. children, is advised a “spectrum disorder” because it affects bodies in abounding altered agency to capricious degrees, from balmy amusing troubles to a astringent disability to communicate.
It’s generally apparent as a affecting diagnosis, but now some advocate companies see autism as article else: a resource.
A quiet movement is growing about the apple to advice transform the altered attributes of high-functioning autistic adults into approved job skills.
In Denmark, the aggregation Specialisterne (the name agency “the specialists”), trains bodies with autism as distinctively accomplished advisers who are beatific out as alternate consultants to companies to do abstracts entry, accumulation assignment and added jobs that abounding workers would acquisition annoying and repetitive. Founded in 2004 by agent Thorkil Sonne, the ancestor of an autistic son, the aggregation has 50 employees, 75 percent of whom are autistic.
In the United States, the non-profit Chicago aggregation Aspiritechrecently launched a pilot affairs to alternation high-functioning autistics as testers for software development companies. Their aboriginal applicant is mFluent, an iPhone appliance aggregation a Chicago.
Aspiritech — whose lath includes Brix, now retired from Wrigley, and the amateur Ed Asner, whose son Charles is autistic — claims those who are autistic accept a bent for spotting imperfections, and advance on predictable, banausic work.
Brix says his adeptness to focus on article to the exclusion of aggregate abroad gives him an advantage. And Specialisterne says tests appearance their advisers can be up to eight times added authentic at tasks like chiral abstracts access than workers after autism.
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“The being we do is arid for [others], like activity through a affairs attractive at every detail, testing the aforementioned action over and over afresh in altered situations, but it doesn’t afflict those of us with autism,” says Thomas Jacobsen, an autistic agent at Specialisterne. “That’s our strength.”
Still, software testing isn’t artlessly a repetitive exercise, addendum Dan Shiovitz of Marchex, a software aggregation in Seattle that specializes in online chase and advertising. While ancestry of “detail focus, alertness to echo tasks and abstruse bent are ones we attending for in testers, testing has a lot of artistic work,” he notes. Testers charge to be able to amount out accessible solutions to problems and be active abundant to change affairs at the aftermost minute or accord with abrupt new requirements.
Autism spectrumThese were challenges to Brix in his job programming machines that mix capacity and blanket gum. A ample allotment of his job complex the animal factor, such as designing the alternate screens that operators use to run the machinery. Brix additionally did on-site set-up, which meant travelling to Wrigley’s all-embracing locations, affair new bodies and activity in new cultures.
At Wrigley, Brix’s longtime aide Rod Onusaitis helped him cross his amusing interactions.
“We got forth well,” says Onusaitis, an engineer. “I knew what his problems were and I was able to adviser him in the appropriate administration to complete his tasks. He was actual abundant aggressive and a acceptable programmer, but sometimes disregarded the big picture.”
Next bearing of autistic adults Each year, over 26,000 accouchement built-in in the U.S. will eventually be diagnosed with autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated half-million bodies beneath the age of 21 are autistic, and Specialisterne estimates that 85 percent of them can apprehend to be unemployed or underemployed.
Aspiritech architect Brenda Weitzberg has a 30-year-old autistic son who, in animosity of accepting a academy degree, has been bound by his amusing abilities to jobs like accession carts for a grocery store.
“I am a affable guy, and my co-workers like me,” says Oran Weitzberg, “however, I accept bound amusing abilities and autism does accomplish award and befitting a job difficult. I accept agitation interpreting nonverbal signals from others, and I had to apprentice to antipodal in adjustment to be a acceptable co-worker.”
He says his retail assignment at Target, Trader Joe’s and AMC Theatres has helped him apprentice to collaborate with others.
Both Brenda and Oran Weitzberg say he struggles with poor authoritative skills. “He needs an controlling secretary,” says Brenda Weitzberg. “But I apperceive a lot of men like that.” She says seeing her son’s struggles aggressive her to try to “address the access of accouchement with autism who are acceptable adults.”
Brix additionally admits to adversity in multi-tasking and organizing, in accession to his poor amusing skills. “I tend to be abroad and aloof,” he says. “I do not do a acceptable job at account facial expressions, and I do like my solitude.”
As the numbers of those with autism are on the rise, so is an compassionate of the disorder, both in association and in the workplace. Anthropologist Dawn Prince, of Bellingham, Wash., has accounting books about application her Asperger affection as a prism for her assignment on gorillas. She applies her attraction for acquirements to compassionate their amusing interactions.
Animal behavior able Temple Grandin, who is autistic, says her says her acute absorption to detail was an asset in designing able beasts ascendancy systems that are now broadly used. Grandin, who will be portrayed by Claire Danes in an HBO biopic appointed to air in aboriginal 2010, advocates for employing autistics.
“Society loses out if individuals with autism spectrum disorders are not complex in the apple of work, or accomplish added kinds of contributions to society,” she wrote in her book “Developing Talents.”
Unique challenges Brenda Weitzberg is astute about the challenges, though. Aspiritech is currently active on donations and volunteers, and is gluttonous grants, investors and added aggregation contracts. A pilot affairs accomplished three software testers, including Oran Weitzberg, who is now teaching others. Aspiritech is now interviewing candidates for the aing training round.
Video: A academy for kids with autism At Specialisterne, the aggregation in Denmark that trains and advisers bodies with autism, architect Sonne says, “I anticipate there’s a huge befalling for bodies who appetite to run businesses based on absolution the assets of bodies with autism.”
To alpha Specialisterne, Sonne abdicate his job in advice technology and communications and took out a additional mortgage on the ancestors home. Aftermost year, the aggregation fabricated a baby profit. Their audience accommodate the toy aggregation LEGO and Microsoft. (Msnbc.com is a collective adventure of Microsoft and NBC.)
Potential advisers go through months of screening and training afore they are beatific as alternate consultants to audience who charge accept that the specialists will assignment alone part-time, and they cannot assignment in a anarchic ambiance with added than a few added bodies in the room. In return, Specialisterne assumes abundant added albatross for their advisers than best companies, with acquirements experts and amusing workers on staff.
Robert Austin, a assistant at Copenhagen Business School, wrote about Specialisterne for the Harvard Business Academy and says, “there’s no acumen this couldn’t assignment in the United States.” He says that redefining altitude like autism as differences, rather than disabilities, is important for a developed economy.
“Innovation is area it’s at,” he says, “and you can’t innovate after variation.” Austin says we charge to admit appropriate abilities in people, apprehend that these may appear with challenges to alive in a acceptable workplace, and acquisition a way to abbreviate disabilities and booty advantage of differences.
Austin, Sonne and Weitzberg all say that if we can amount this out, we can actuate and use a allotment of our citizenry that we’ve been ignoring.
“My compassionate of autism is a being has both abundant ability and deficits,” says Brix. “My accomplished career was based on abilities that came as a aftereffect of, not despite, my autism.”
Chris Tachibana, Ph.D., is a science biographer based in Seattle and Copenhagen, Denmark.
© 2013 msnbc.com. Reprints
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