There are co-workers who are bothered by noise more than usual. Others who like to work almost in the dark. There is the one who moves all the time in the chair, or the one who is not able to look into the eyes. They are office manias, until they cease to be. For people on the autism spectrum, they are unbearable difficulties, which make it impossible to adapt to a work environment. A company called Auticon is developing the formula so that the capabilities of these people shine: adapt the work to them.
"There is a job out there for every person," says Rebecca Beam, president of Auticon in the United States, at the company's Santa Monica, California offices. According to the Autism Works academy, unemployment among people on the spectrum of autism reaches 77%. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 160 children will develop some type of disorder on the spectrum of autism. It is called spectrum because autism can manifest as a simple rarity that does not prevent living independently, even a severe handicap.
The company has found a niche for autism in the economy: tests of software. Auticon analysts check security systems for faults. In this area, they have found that people on the autism spectrum have especially useful skills, in some extraordinary cases, especially in everything that requires continued attention, deciphering logical sequences and finding errors. The Auticon philosophy is that "autism is not a disease, but a different operating system."
For Evan Rochte, 34, the problem was contact with people. Although he always had difficulty making friends, he was not diagnosed with autism until he was 28 years old. Rochte is not made to greet and have brief trivial talks. Can not stand it. He had a very bad time working in a supermarket where he had to bag the customers' purchases. "I find it very difficult to interact with people, especially if I do not know them." He was not working for years. "I never had a job for a long time. He never passed the interviews, "he says. His parents saw an article about Auticon five years ago and started the course to become a computer analyst. Today he is one of the most veteran analysts in the United States team.
"Evan was very shy when he arrived," says Rebecca Beam. Last year, Beam wanted him to speak at a conference in San Jose that had to be flown in from Los Angeles. Evan Rochte was able to go to the airport, take a plane by himself, meet Beam in San Jose and make a presentation in front of the Board of Directors. Beam puts it as an example that work not only serves to make these people feel useful and independent, but is in itself a form of therapy that helps them in the long term.
The work environment has to adapt to these people. For example, a fundamental tool for this company is Slack, the internal messaging program for companies. One of the most common problems in autism is the anguish of personal interaction. Another is the radical literalism when it comes to understanding a conversation, that is, they can not understand an irony, a joke, or a phrase. Slack allows everyone to communicate in writing, at their own pace, choosing the words, without having to speak, or look each other in the eye. No phone conversations that bother the next door. The one who needs to work in the dark has his place. The one that does not support the normal ambient sound of an office, has headphones with noise cancellation.
To enter Auticon, candidates must complete a 250-hour course consisting of the necessary training to analyze systems. They train 10 or 12 people every two months. Approximately half are successful and can be incorporated as paid interns, who will then be analysts. Normally, they are people who already have experience in computer science, many are involved in the world of videogames.
This Santa Monica office was originally called Mindspark. It is a company created in 2011 by two partners, Chad Hahn and Gray Benoist. Benoist is an executive who had two autistic children and set out to create a company in which they could have a career. His son Gray Jr. is still working here in Santa Monica. Keep the accounting with a noise canceling headset. They were acquired by Auticon in 2018 to expand in the United States. Last year there were 21 analysts and this year there are 45. The Santa Monica office has been joined by two others, much larger. In addition to California, the parent company has offices in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Italy and Canada and plans to open an office in Spain.
"When customers ask me what makes them so good at testing software, it's the identification of patterns, the attention to detail, the ability to do repetitive activity without fatigue, they can really find the smallest detail, and they also have an incorruptible honesty" , says Beam. "Here there are people who do in their head what others do in an Excel," adds Isha Dash, director of operations in the United States. Dash gives an example to an analyst who found a fault in the algorithm that calculated the premiums of an insurer. Beam says that she first sells computer services, and then explains that the work is done by autistic people. It's not about giving pity. "The service has to be good or we would not have business".
Your next security hole can be discovered by a person who can not stand sitting by a window, or who needs absolute silence and pencils ordered in a certain way. That should not be the important thing. Rochte, who for years thought he could not work, says: "They should give an opportunity to people with autism. Do not draw conclusions just because they are autistic. Even if they act strangely, they have to know them and go further. "