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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Autism Entrepreneurs

Some businesses make an extra effort to hire autistic people, and voluntary organizations provide autistic adults with coaching and job search help: one particularly innovative group is the Autism Job Club of the San Francisco Bay Area.   Such initiatives could have a lasting impact on the people who take part. One study found that autistic adults who are in jobs with a greater degree of independence have greater reductions in autism and are more likely to gain greater self-sufficiency in daily living.  So far, these programs benefit only a sliver of the adult autistic population, but they will probably reach many more in the years ahead.   
The Huffington Post has an item by Thomas D'Eri,  COO and Co-Founder of Rising Tide Car Wash, an award-winning social enterprise that emplosy individuals with autism. An excerpt:
To become an autism entrepreneur, you must start by:
  • Knowing your community: When you know one person with autism, you only know one person with autism. Keep this in mind when designing a business dedicated to employing this group. Spend time in autism classrooms, with job coaches at employment sites and in social groups to get to know the community you aim to serve and to identify skill sets that could be used as an advantage for a business.
  • Doing what works: Most entrepreneurs need to innovate a new business model to be successful. As an autism entrepreneur, you need to identify existing business models that work and design a way to employ individuals with autism in them. With an eye towards leveraging existing business models, you will find that autism can be a powerful differentiator to many customers.
  • Looking beyond the interests of your loved one with autism to find the underlying skillsets: As parents, caregivers and friends, we want our loved ones with autism to be happy. It's easy to become myopically focused on their apparent interests to meet that goal. It's typically not a good idea to go down this road, however, because interests aren't the foundation of a good business -- skills are. My brother always wanted to be a museum curator. He memorized tour scripts, museum layouts and schedules. But that role typically requires an advanced degree that Andrew won't be able to achieve with his intellectual disability. That said, his interest in the museum shows his skills for memorization, attention to detail and love of structured environments -- all attributes we designed Rising Tide around.

People like Dan Selec, Rajesh Anandan, Mark Wafer and Gregg Ireland have already begun to prove that this model will be successful. Thorkil Sonne, Founder of Specialisterne has shown that individuals with Asperger's make excellent software testers. His story has inspired intrapreneurs (early adopters) within companies like SAP, Microsoft and HP to hire people on the spectrum.