Our son’s graduation in 2003 from a four-year university was a day of great joy and pride for the entire family, but it also left us with the sinking feeling of: “What’s next?”
Our son had many areas of strength – he had taught himself to read at age three and had an extensive vocabulary – but also complex challenges, especially in the social and executive functioning arenas. These impacted his ability to be organized and planful, manage his time and priorities, and self-monitor. As a result, we were serving as his executive secretary, helping him to stay focused and organized!
Raising him had been a challenge. From age three to eight, we received multiple diagnoses including insufficient parental limits and Sensory Integration Disorder. At age eight he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS and only at age 14 (in 1993) did we first hear the term, “Asperger’s Syndrome.” There was absolutely no technology and very few resources at that time that could help him or us.
The end of formal schooling meant a drastic drop in services along with changes to daily routine and social opportunities. Much of his time was spent in front of the computer or TV. He also seemed to have a growing self-awareness of being different. As a child, we rarely knew how he felt, even when he had been bullied or when depressed or anxious. As an adult, the very same issues were exasperated by his growing social isolation.
Finding a job for our son became a challenge. It also became evident that the rehabilitation system was not familiar with high functioning autism. Most of the jobs they found him were in retail, bagging groceries and collecting carts; jobs not well suited to his social and motor skills. Understandably, fast-paced, high-volume retail stores valued employees that could easily move from task to task and multi-tasking was certainly not our son’s forte! The high rate of manager turnover meant that, even if the first few supervisors were understanding and had been prepared by the job coach, their successors were not.
The current system provides job coaching for 90 days without long-term follow up. Though our son typically required less time to learn a new job, he would have benefited from some ongoing support when misunderstandings or challenges in the workplace arose. For example, he excelled at cashiering only to be fired after two and a half years (by a new manager) because he lost track of time during mandatory breaks. Had the vocational counselor still been involved, this problem could have easily been resolved using a timer, watch or other cue.
Despite being “higher functioning,” our son fell through the cracks as his impaired social, organizational and motor skills made him unfit for manual labor and his social demeanor made it impossible to get an opportunity at jobs that were more suitable to his intellectual abilities. We finally realized that we are setting our son up for a lifetime of continuous vocational failures and disappointments. Something had to be done!
In 2008, we founded Aspiritech, a nonprofit with a mission to provide a path for high functioning adults on the autism spectrum to realize their potential through gainful employment.
We’re thrilled with the results we’ve achieved so far and with how much our employees have accomplished. We’ve seen firsthand how the right environment and support – and most importantly – THE RIGHT TYPE OF EMPLOYMENT – can transform the work experience for people on the autism spectrum.
Aspiritech harnesses the strengths of autism such as focus, attention to detail and strong technical skills to provide training and then employment in software testing (quality assurance or QA). Aspiritech provides its clients with reliable, secure, effective testing and communications. Through our operating procedures, we ensure the quality and consistency of our work and give employees the structure and direction they need to do their best.
Testimonials from our satisfied clients attest to the quality we deliver. For example, David Fisher, CEO of optionsXpress said, “Aspiritech allows us to scale our QA and QC resources up and down… and do it efficiently.” Sara Winter at Squag writes, “It’s easy to recommend… Aspiritech was on time and on budget… providing excellent service…”
In addition to the first-rate, quality QA services they are providing, we’ve found that our testers thrive in Aspiritech’s environment. When we have regular, consistent work we see a huge impact on the testers’ mood, sense of pride and confidence. Our own son has demonstrated an increase in initiative and self-awareness. Other parents are reporting renewed pride and self-confidence too!
And the surprises don’t stop there! When they detect a “bug” (a suspected software error) or a process that can be improved, they are told to double-check it with someone else. At first, each worked in separate corners of our office and they all checked their errors with the manager who had trained them. Guess what? Within a very short time, almost all began to work together around the main conference table and to double-check their bugs with one another! We are seeing teamwork and cooperation amongst our staff, all of whom have some form of autism. In recognition of their leadership and technical skills, two testers have just been promoted to project leads and given raises!
At Aspiritech, our testers appreciate each other and are comfortable with themselves because we value them and acknowledge their incredible abilities and their work. We also are understanding and accepting of their individual “quirks.” Incidents that are unacceptable in other places (and are not customer-related) are often ignored and our autism specialist, graciously funded by grants from Autism Speaks and Healthcare Foundation of Highland Park, handles them later.
Our continuing challenge is securing enough contractual work to provide a consistent, predictable work schedule for our testers. And although software testing is a great match with the strengths of autism, we are exploring other types of work where their extreme focus and attention-to-detail will be an advantage.
Today, most experts agree that at least 85-90% of adults with autism are either unemployed or severely under-employed. Of those who work, many are overqualified – stuck working in low-paying jobs that are not a good fit with their skills and abilities. In sharp contrast, Aspiritech’s work is intellectually challenging. In addition to a pay check, it provides socialization, self-fulfillment, self-esteem and structure to our testers’ lives.
It boils down to finding the right fit in the employment world. We must stop trying to pigeonhole people with autism into available jobs and begin to looking at what jobs (such as software testing) align with autism’s strengths. If we can transform how we view employment for adults with high functioning autism, just think how much of the lost productivity and other incremental costs – and estimated $3.2 million per person – we could reduce, redirect or avoid.
As a society, we can do better. And we must do better before the tidal wave of 500,000 children with autism reach adulthood in the next decade or so! We cannot afford to waste their talents and have capable individuals fall through the cracks as our son once did!
For more information about how Aspiritech can meet your company’s quality assurance/software testing needs, please contact Moshe Weitzberg, PhD, at email@example.com or check us out at www.aspiritech.org.