Autism and Entrepreneurship

This graph shows the autism spread in all US state by state

In California, Most autistic cases are in Silicon Valley and Bay Area Los Angeles and San Diego area.
My son is highly functional autistic. He will get a certificate of completion (not graduation diploma) from Whitney High School in Rocklin, CA in June 2012. . He attends once a week a special Social and Communication program at MIND Institute part of University of California Davis.

Now what's going to happen after graduation? He may continue to get to attend college and some sort of graduation with supportive services paid ultimately from California budget. He may try to get a job, something not designed for his strengths and skills. Research shows the 98% of the persons on the spectrum end up living with a family or supporting charities paid from the budget Department of Developmental Services 

On March 13 I attended  a one day working conference Driving Forces Behind Post Secondary Education and Employment for Young Adults with Intellectual Disabilities and with Autism .The tune at this conference was to make the autistic persons join the mainstream, but this is an impossible dream. We can not force the nature to make them be as we want. The sensitive approach is to create for them environments where they feel comfortable the way they are naturally, and not feel a stranger. The job must be designed for them and not redesign the candidate by forcing him to pretend he is not autistic as a precondition for employment

My son David would not be able to handle an interview. Yet he can build Lego constructions of 2,000 plus pieces reading the plans without any assistance, the quality of his work and attention to details can not be matched anyone in our family. He has qualities that could be channeled to be highly productive in a right enterprise.

  • Photographic memory
  • Ability to match shapes and a 3D view final construction
  • High tolerance for repetitive work
  • Obsession for perfection and spotless quality

So here come the idea. If Silicon Valley is the world hub of entrepreneurship, why not do two things.
  1. Facilitate Startup companies for profit, with specific  job descriptions and supportive services until all autistic employee reach full productivity.
  2. Created multiple oasis of productive units with jobs designed for special skills of highly autistic children in large corporation like Google, Face Book, Oracle
  3. All jobs for (1) and (2) will be specially designed for persons with Asperger and autism)
To illustrate the potential, the Obama administration high priority project of scanning all paper medical records and create an EHR  (Electronic Health Registry) is estimated to cost $100 billion and $27 billion have been out as an incentive. The California  Department of Developmental Services  budget is $4.6 billion.

There is a precedent in Denmark. Businessman Thorkil Sonne created an IT business employing 50 people, 37 of them autistic, paid above the market, with a company that has $2 million in revenues and it is profitable. Harvard Business Review published an interview with him, that you download from our web site

Here is an extract from a Wired Magazine article on Thorkil Sonne
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.

Turning autism into a selling point does require a little extra effort: Specialisterne employees typically complete a five-month training course, and clients must be prepared for a somewhat unusual working relationship. But once on the job, the consultants stay focused beyond the point when most minds go numb. As a result, they make far fewer mistakes. One client who hired Specialisterne workers to do data entry found that they were five to 10 times more precise than other contractors.

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. "This is not cheap labor, and it's not occupational therapy," he says. "We simply do a better job."

In an article from IEE Spectrum, Engineers and Autism we read
The author of the theory, Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psycho­pathology at the University of Cambridge, argues that in generations past, engineers, mathematicians, and other systemizers had little opportunity to meet potential spouses who thought as they did. Now, however, schools and professions sort both sexes by psychological types, raising the chances that people of like minds will marry and bear children. Baron-Cohen, cousin to comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen, says that such ”assortative mating” is concentrating the genes that predispose to systemizing thought. That, in turn, ought to be increasing the likelihood of having a child with the most extreme systemizing: autism.
He notes that engineers are twice as likely as others to have autistic children, and that in general, the relatives of autistic people tend to score above the average on tests of systemizing. An unusual number fall on the ”autistic spectrum,” which includes conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder that can leave children isolated, if not actually disabled. Yet even Asperger’s may not constitute a true handicap, because it is so often accompanied by countervailing powers—sometimes even by genius. Newton and Einstein have been cited as possible examples.

Not all autistic people are like Newton or Einstein.   Yet the great majority of them can earn a livelihood, if given the opportunities. Dandelion is now a symbol or entrepreneurship for autistic persons. "While many people think of the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) as a pesky weed, herbalists consider it a valuable herb that can be used as a food and medicine. Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavor to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines."
And the flower by itself, if we are to create a garden of dandelions only, is beautiful.

Hacking Autism is one response on Silicon Valley for developers gathering to develop applications for autistic persons, mainly children:
The work each team is doing could typically cost from $50,000 to $175,000. An organization called "Random Hacks of Kindness" is helping to coordinate their work. A typical team includes specialists in UI (user interface), graphics, coding, testing and quality assurance. An expert of autism is joining each team to guide the developers.
A similar team can operate in every company creating jobs (instead of games only)  for autistic employees The final deliverable will be a job description, a training program and incentives to reach a productive level without stress, while elevating their self-esteem and quality of life.

One surprising discovery is that creating jobs for autistic people, will help us create better jobs for all of us. Learning to observe an individual being - not an amorphous mass of people - will  improve - and one day change forever - the way Human Resources functions  in corporations.

Watch the video. (Refresh the page before playing)


The author  is an autistic musician, with  85,000 viewers
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