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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Autism and Tech Startups: The Rest of the Story

IThe Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other disabilitiesMany posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience.

Michael Bernick at Forbes:

In the early 2010s, a wave of tech start-ups arose with the goal of employing adults with autism, building on the claimed skills of these adults in software testing and quality control. Most of these tech start-ups failed to survive: casualties of the offshoring and competitive price pressures of the software testing and quality control jobs they focused on, as well as an overhyping of the tech skills of most adults with autism. But a few of these start-ups have survived and even grown, and they point to possibilities in this niche market of employment going forward.

The wave of autism-focused tech start-ups was generated in good part by a glowing New York Times article in June 2011 on the Danish tech firm, Specialisterne. The article uncritically accepted Specialisterne’s story, neglecting to note a key element in Specialisterne’s growth: the large subsidies that the company received from the Danish government for its mission. The American start-ups soon ran into the market realities of competing without large government subsidies, and in an environment of greater global competition.

Three start-ups from that period were able to navigate this competition, and continue to do so: AutonomyWorks, Ultranauts, and VenturesATL. Their success is due to the unusual skills and missions of the individual entrepreneurs who founded and continue to lead them, the teams they have built, and their ability to pivot and adapt to changing markets. Though the business lines of these companies differ, a common pivot has been to higher-level data and AI-related services.