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New, better workers on the autism spectrum

posted 27 Sep 2013, 03:14 by Valerie Carlin   [ updated 27 Sep 2013, 03:14 by Jan Szafranski ]

IT firms are making a concerted effort to recruit workers on the autism spectrum, and for good reason.

FORTUNE -- In May, Ernest Dianastasis, the managing director of Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), the Delaware Valley's largest IT consulting company, unveiled a surprising initiative: by the end of 2015, individuals with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs) would comprise at least 3% of CAI's workforce. "This move is not about advocating for the rights of the disabled," Dianastasis explains. "It's about bringing highly skilled people, who have often been overlooked, into the corporate world."

CAI isn't the first company to make a concerted effort to access this untapped source of brainpower. In May, 2012, Freddie Mac set up a fully paid internship program for undergraduates with autism. "Our interns are terrific workers who are not easily distracted," says Stephanie Roemer, Freddie Mac's Diversity Learning and Recruiting Manager. Though autism impairs social functioning, those on the high-end of the spectrum --still often referred to as "Aspies," even though "Asperger's Syndrome" was removed from the latest edition of psychiatry's bible, the DSM -- typically possess exceptional problem-solving abilities, particularly in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. These employees can stay focused on repetitive tasks for hours at a time; their attention to detail is also remarkable.