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Why One Software Company Is Going Out of Its Way to Hire People With Autism

One recent hire tells Motherboard he now feels like a "productive member of society."

Approximately 3.5 million people in the United States are somewhere on the autism spectrum, which includes those (often un-diagnosed) with autism or Asperger Syndrome. More than 50,000 each year transition into adulthood. Even though many on the spectrum are high-functioning (meaning they have little problem adapting to social norms), there is still an unemployment rate of nearly 80 percent. Presumably, employers don't comprehend the benefits of hiring someone with cognitive abilities that don't fit in with the standard corporate structure. Santa Monica-based MindSpark sees things a bit differently.

Mindspark on Tuesday launched an enterprise software testing platform. Normally this wouldn't be significant, as the company is on the surface simply expanding its current business model of software testing into enterprise solutions. Recognizing the types of analytical minds that exist on the autism spectrum, Mindspark is staffing its enterprise software offering with analysts that are on the spectrum. Mindspark is one of a growing number of companies fully behind the practice of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is the practice of staffing your organization with employees who can do the job based on their cognitive abilities, rather than whether or not they can hold a conversation around the water cooler. They aren't hired because they impressed in an interview with a snazzy tie and some fight song from an ivy league school. They are hired because they can not just do the job, but do some jobs better than employees who aren't on the spectrum, like repetitive analysis and quality assurance.

"Their intellectual horsepower is quite high," Gary P. Pisano, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, said last month in an article about neurodiversity for Working Knowledge about the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) population. "They do things differently and they behave differently, but the question is, can you turn that into a virtue? That's part of the thinking on this idea of neurodiversity; that we do better when we mix people who think differently or are wired a bit differently."

Let's be honest, we're all wired a little bit differently. So what is normal? Thinking that there is a "normal" is what holds us back from realizing our full potential in the first place. Then applying this false standard to those on the spectrum holds them back even further. Companies like Mindspark realize this and look to fill the gaps in its workforce with those who can do the job, rather than just filling seats with whomever impresses or shows social aptitude, something those with ASD tend to lack.

"Our mission is to use free market forces to drive social change by creating careers in high-tech for people with specialized abilities," said Gray Benoist, President of MindSpark in a press release. "This model has been proven to work—and exceed the performance of other QA platforms. That's why our clients stay, expand their business and refer new customers to our unique and successful team."

Partnering with Los Angeles based developmental disabilities support organizations such as the Exceptional Children's Foundation and all Southern California-based Regional Centers, which are state disability support offices, Mindspark is able to tap a workforce that goes unjustly ignored. The benefits flow both ways. Mindspark gets qualified employees with analytical brains, employees get a chance at career instead of shoved around an employment system that will eventually fail them.

"Mindspark is a wonderful opportunity for those on the autistic spectrum," says one Mindspark employee hired through the initiative. "It gave me not only a job, but the skills and tools needed for a lifelong career. I feel like I'm now a productive member of society due to the chance MindSpark gave me."

Isn't that what we all want in the end? To feel like a productive member of society? Even those with ASD deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. While some on the spectrum may lack the social skills to simply fast talk their way into a career, they make up for it with raw analytical talent. Mindspark has recognized this and has no qualms about its mission of social good—because in the end, this hiring practice benefits Mindspark just as much as it benefits the employees.