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Highland Park Firm Hires Individuals With Autism for Software Testing

By Prescott Carlson in News on Sep 22, 2011 8:20PM

An Illinois tech startup is making lemonade out of lemons by utilizing some of the traits found in individuals with autism.

Aspiritech, in Highland Park, hires software testers who are on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum that have what is commonly referred to as Asperger's syndrome. While "aspies" usually have trouble interacting socially, other propensities such as a tendency to hyperfocus on interests, an acute memory, and a need for routine and repetition make them ideal for the work at Aspiritech.

According to the Associated Press, Aspiritech's clients have been thrilled with the firm's testers, with one company, who hired Aspiritech to test their iPhone app, telling AP, "There is a pride in their product you don't usually see in this type of work."

The company's founders, Moshe and Brenda Weitzberg, were inspired by their son, who has Asperger's and in the past has had trouble holding a job, and modeled the firm after a similar company in Denmark.

The employees are paid in the range of $12 - $15 an hour, and appreciate not only getting the work, but being around others of similar minds. Tester Rick Alexander, 24, said:

"I have a lot of social anxiety. I don't like meeting new people," said Alexander, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome as a teenager. Like many of the other testers, he lives with his parents.

He'd rather be a software developer than a tester, he said. But selling himself in a job interview is "very difficult for me."

"When you're a child, the school is very concerned with you, the state is very concerned with you," Alexander said. Organizations help adults with autism, he said, but "you need to approach them and for somebody with Asperger's syndrome, it's very difficult to do the approaching."

Lest you think Aspiritech is taking advantage of people with this disorder, the company is a non-profit organization, and is partially funded by donations.