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Company Trains the Autistic To Test Software 419

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-got-99-problems-but-a-glitch-aint-one dept.
Aspiritech, a Chicago based non-profit company, has launched a program to train high-functioning autistic people as testers for software development companies. The company says autistics have a talent for spotting imperfections, and thrive on predictable, monotonous work. Aspiritech is not the first company to explore the idea of treating this handicap as a resource. Specialisterne, a Danish company founded in 2004, also trains autistics. They hire their workforce out as hourly consultants to do data entry, assembly line jobs and work that many would find tedious and repetitive.

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Company Trains the Autistic To Test Software

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  • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:50PM (#30383514)

    They own the future.

    • by palmerj3 (900866) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:24PM (#30384910) Homepage
      I work at Microsoft testing software I wear paper hats. Would you like a bug with thaaaat. Would you like a bug with thaaaat.
  • I see it coming... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JazzyMusicMan (1012801) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:51PM (#30383530)
    I know many will say this is reprehensible, but I honestly think this is something respectable for individuals suffering from autism to do. Honestly, besides grocery store jobs, I have never seen other types of companies hiring these individuals. Of course there are others, but I haven't seen any.
    • by HBoar (1642149) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:00PM (#30383608)
      I completely agree, and don't see why it would be reprehensible. It's simply matching people to work that suits them. Just like how, due to my personality and skill set, engineering is a more suitable job for me than say pole dancing or drain laying, their personality/skill sets make them more suited to certain jobs over others.
      • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:16PM (#30383768)

        engineering is a more suitable job for me than say pole dancing

        Agghhh!!! Image of engineer pole dancing... Thanks mate, you've just ruined my lunch.

      • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:47PM (#30383994) Journal
        One of the worst things you can do to people is pidgeon hole them into a job based on a prevelent sterotype. For example, Temple Grandin [wikipedia.org] has made a fourtune "thinking like a cow". I find it impossible to describe her work as predictable or monotonous.
        • by HBoar (1642149) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:51PM (#30384400)
          Only if the individual doesn't actually fit the stereotype. Surely they aren't stating "You're autistic, therefore you should have this job"; rather, they'd be saying "Many people with autism excel at this kind of job, perhaps we should look among them for a suitable employee". Stereotypes don't describe everyone, but they do have their uses.
        • by PitaBred (632671)
          It's completely predictable to her. Just not to most people. She's simply doing what makes her happy... why should other people not have the opportunity to do the same? I mean... everything is just a label. If you call someone a singer, do you think that they might enjoy work singing rather than, say, replacing toilets? They have a skill and a drive a lot of people don't. Same thing with autism... it's a difference in thinking and skills. Why do you insist on thinking that autism is simply a handicap, rathe
      • by PPH (736903)

        engineering is a more suitable job for me than say pole dancing

        Pole dance inspector?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      Not nearly as reprehensible as I find every idiot geek out there (many of them, sadly to say, on Slashdot) that seem to have some perverse need to revel in calling themselves autistic -- or at the very least "oh, I like star trek and collecting shit, so I have fucking aspergers". Ever since that "report" came out a few years ago, every single fucktard on the planet has started going around clinging to that like some crazy fucking Munchhausen crazed mother.

      In this story, these aren't people who have to wear

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Let's face it.

      A company is in business to make money. They'll in no way spend money unless it'll make more money than the alternatives. There is an ulterior motive here, and it's the hope that the people with autism will be so absorbed with their jobs they won't realize they're getting minimum wage or may not care because now they have a job they can do well. They'll do a damn fine job at it, most likely, and they'll run off all the riff-raff (shitty testers who are just there to pirate the software and/

    • Honestly, besides grocery store jobs, I have never seen other types of companies hiring these individuals.

      ASD isn't a barrier to founding three startup companies [penelopetrunk.com] or Dealing with other people in a business environment [penelopetrunk.com].

      Although it can be hard to register your car [penelopetrunk.com]...

  • A Brave New World (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bashibazouk (582054) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:52PM (#30383542) Journal

    Bring on the Epsilons...

    • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:59PM (#30383602) Journal

      Well, hang on. Epsilons were bred to be epsilons, which was meant to be, and is, morally reprehensible.

      People with autism exist already. Why shouldn't they have better jobs than sacking groceries? And why shouldn't those jobs be in line with their special abilities? The Politically Correct teach us to be "differently abled". If that's really true, then how could jobs in line with those special abilities be bad?

      • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:04PM (#30383644) Journal

        > The Politically Correct teach us to be "differently abled"

        Eesh, that should say The Politically Correct teach us to say "differently abled"

      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:49PM (#30384386) Homepage

        Besides that, if they can handle what the rest of us consider really monotonous stuff well (which a lot of autistic people can), that leaves less of it for those of us who get bored silly by it.

        In other words, it's not just putting autistic folks in a place where they can do a good job. It's actually putting them in a place where they can do a better job than the rest of us, so long as their manager gets training on how to deal with their quirks, and they're kept far away from customers.

  • by ShakaUVM (157947)

    This notion was both used in Brave New World and Dean Koontz's Frankenstein - using autistic people to perform as worker bees.

    That said, there's been a troubling increase of babies born on the spectrum in recent years, and so finding a productive niche for them is something I'm all for.

    (And of course, they'd probably make great software programmers.)

    • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kabloom (755503) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:59PM (#30383600) Homepage

      There have been corresponding declines [aappublications.org] in the diagnosis of mental retardation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shadowofwind (1209890)

        Of course, calling someone retarded is far more impolite now than calling them autistic. Makes it a lot harder to say what the real trends are.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by matzahboy (1656011)
        That is because mental retardation was an umbrella diagnosis that didn't convey any useful information. Most people with any kind of mental disability were given that diagnosis. As we learned more about these kinds of disabilities, we began specifying different kinds of mental problems. It's like the difference between calling a person educated and calling them a physicist.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kabloom (755503)

          Exactly my point. There probably aren't more actual cases of autism -- we just got better at identifying them as autism. (Now I feel like I overestimated the intelligence of the Slashdot crowd, assuming they'd all get the inference, and that I didn't need to spell it out.)

      • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Funny)

        by Jazz-Masta (240659) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:32PM (#30384282)

        There have been corresponding declines [aappublications.org] in the diagnosis of mental retardation.

        If anything there has been a huge increase. They just call it different things - autism, down syndrome, middle management, liberal arts...

    • I think classification is a big reason for the apparent increase in autism and Asperger's syndrome. Years ago a person could just be a little weird, now its always a medical condition. And even severely autistic people might not be classified as autistic, even if they were locked away and drugged because of it.

      That said, I'm not questioning that it really is increasing also. Our environment has been changing rapidly. And childhood has changed a lot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      (And of course, they'd probably make great software programmers.)

      Poor non-verbal skills....check
      Poor eye contact....check
      Lack of empathy....check
      Problems starting conversations....check
      Wants routines....check

      Sure sounds like every engineer I know. Mild autism, asbergers, ADD *or whatever the latest diagnosis is); unless is is severe half the symptoms apply to large groups of people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PitaBred (632671)
        I don't think you actually know large groups of people. Or your large groups are very homogeneous. Those symptoms are relatively uncommon in people as a whole, something you find out when you start getting out of your Engineering type groups. Most people are very much driven by emotion over logic, and simply intuitively understand and love to communicate with other people. About everything. Do you know a girl who calls her mom 5 times a day just to talk? Do you realize that she is at least as common as peop
    • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:09PM (#30383704)

      Interestingly on a similar trajectory as selfish idiots who insist on squirting out some kids on the verge of menopause (when other things, like downs syndrome goes from a 1:1200 risk to a 1:30 or worse risk).

      Anyway, it's great for people to be self-sufficient as long as they are capable of fending for themselves and not at risk of being exploited in ways the "normal" worker is not.

      • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tautog (46259) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:02PM (#30384090)

        Troll? Really? The world for mod points. Are there a lot of late life conception slashdotters out there?

        Not only are late life conception children statistically more likely to have mental "issues" of some nature, I suspect there's a correlation between late life conception and other issues such as bi-polarism and schizophrenia. Evolution favors early and successful reproduction and hasn't had time to deal with reproduction capabilities of long-lifespan organisms.

        Mod me down if you want, but controversial does not equal -1 Troll.

    • That said, there's been a troubling increase of babies born on the spectrum in recent years

      All I see is a troubling increase in the number of diagnoses, combined with a troubling increase in the belief that these symptoms require medical/psychiatric attention to normalize any differences. I don't know about you, but I loathe the idea of a society of homogeneous personalities as much as I loathe the idea of an ice cream shop with homogenized flavors. Variety is the spice of life.

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        All I see is a troubling increase in the number of diagnoses, combined with a troubling increase in the belief that these symptoms require medical/psychiatric attention to normalize any differences. I don't know about you, but I loathe the idea of a society of homogeneous personalities as much as I loathe the idea of an ice cream shop with homogenized flavors. Variety is the spice of life.

        Not all of it is the result of increased diagnosis. As in, it's unlikely the increase is due to improved detection. Read

  • by kabloom (755503) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:56PM (#30383570) Homepage

    High Functioning Autism isn't really a condition that impairs people from doing more complex work. It's really similar to Aspergers Syndrome, and people with these two conditions are the kinds of people who would can get good educations and be great programmers.

    (I hear Silicon Valley has a higher prevalence of Aspies, likely because the kinds of jobs found there are a good fit for Aspies and tend to attract them to the region.)

    • by Seumas (6865) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:13PM (#30383724)

      Ever since that report came out a few years ago, it has been "trendy" to walk around proclaiming "I'm a geek and have some weird OCD traits, so I totally have aspergers!" I'm sure it is sometimes legitimate and meaningful, but for the most part I suspect it is the geek version of a guy going around telling people how edgy and brooding and complex he is. And when geeks aren't going around self-diagnosing themselves as that, I'm sure doctors are all too often eager to do it for them for the same odd reasons they go around telling everyone (or used to, at least) that they have ADD and ADHD simply because they can't sit in a chair and not twitch a muscle for fifteen hours straight.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by matzahboy (1656011)
      Yes, high functioning autism people CAN be successful in the business world, but it is more of a exception rather than a rule. Not being able to communicate well or understand abstract ideas is a real problem in the business world. It does impair them from doing complex work. Everything for an autism person MUST be concrete. I can see why this would lead to success in programming, but they would fail at many other professions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kabloom (755503)

        Let's be more clear. There's high functioning Autism and there's low functioning Autism, and the difference between the two has to do with whether they can hold their own in intellectual settings, and whether they can live independantly. High Functioning Autism [about.com] and Aspies [udel.edu] have at least average intelligence, and can frequently be geniuses or experts in their fields.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by IorDMUX (870522)

      High Functioning Autism isn't really a condition that impairs people from doing more complex work.

      Indeed. I have done quite a bit of thinking/independent study on this issue, and I think the best way to describe the difference between an "Autistic" brain and a "Neurotypical" brain is by comparing a GPU to a CPU.

      A neurotypical or 'normal' brain is incredibly parallel, much like yon super-powered GPU's. This parallelism is what allows the average person to walk, chew gum, carry on a conversation, breathe, and at the same time remember that they left the front door unlocked. Scans of autistic brains,

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The writer must be a programmer because as a tester, I find the phrase "predictable, monotonous work" offending. Sure, parts of testing can be predictable and monotonous, but a good tester goes outside the box and the majority of testing is not the predictable monotonous type. If testing was predictable, then it wouldn't be needed. If it was predictable that certain bugs would be found then a good Engineer would always fix it before it was found, making it not predictable anymore.

  • Data Sourcing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IntentionalStance (1197099) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:57PM (#30383584)
    Yes ago we were doing a data warehousing project. This involved getting other departments to build extract feeds from their system so that we could pull all the data together. Some one had to chase down progress from all these third parties. It was no fun at at all. Spending hours hassling people who were tee'd off with you 'wasting' their time.

    Dave had mild Aspergers. We got him to do the hassling as he couldn't sense the irritation of the people he was calling.

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:57PM (#30383588)

    consultants? nice way to get out of paying for there health care and makeing them pay all the taxes on there own. How about helping and makeing them w2 workers?

  • That will be a first for me.
  • by roc97007 (608802)

    "The company says autistics have a talent for spotting imperfections, and thrive on predictable, monotonous work."

    Sounds like manager material to me.

    • by MoFoQ (584566)

      bad thing is....we wouldn't be able to call them (as managers) retards without feeling guilty of doing something un-pc

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        That's true.

        This just occurred to me -- perhaps they've been secretly using the autistic as first line managers for years. That we've been accurate (although non-PC) all this time and didn't realize it?

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Not at all. Managers more than anything else have to be able to read and influence people, which exactly what autistic people have the hardest time doing.

      They're likely to accidentally quote Tom Spikowski, and say "I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people!! Can't you understand that?! What the hell is wrong with you people?!?!"

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:14PM (#30383746)

    On the topic of Autism, I suggest everybody read "The Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon. It puts the condition into a very approachable context that allows the reader to live through the eyes of an Autistic. It also has a great science/research back story that us geeks like.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:41PM (#30383942)
    These names seem to be disparaging. Would you work for a contract agency named Shortbusstaffers or a software company named Weonlyhirethementallydifferent?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      These names seem to be disparaging. Would you work for a contract agency named Shortbusstaffers or a software company named Weonlyhirethementallydifferent?

      Spicialisterne just means Specialists, nothing derogatory there. Aspiritech doesn't sound to bad either, like a combination of Aspire and tech.

  • In Holland Specialisterren [specialisterren.nl] (hmm, sounds familiar) does the same.
  • Whoever came up with this idea is a complete fucking genius. I feel really sorry for the engineers though. It will never work well enough to fully satisfy the testing team.

  • by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:54PM (#30384044)
    He was someone working halftime to "integrate into society", three years ago.

    The project was a huge database migration, so we would give the kid excell sheets with thousands of records to compare data consistency, validating scripts and data transformations, while management smiled "that'll keep the kid busy for a few months".

    Now, he loved wikipedia, and we'd only see him read franically on wikipedia... at the end of the day, he'd walk up to the IT-manager, each time again:
    "I'm sorry sir, I did my best today but I could only manage to go through 70% of the list. I found some errors which I marked. Next time, I'll try harder, I don't want to dissapoint you.", while the same look of disbelief was on his face over and over again.
    All the consultants that passed through the project with their programming knowledge, could not match the comparing accuracy of this kid with his massive speed, while he just seemed to be reading wikipedia, apoligizing each evening when he went on his way home in all his quirkyness being very thankful to get the "opportunity to work with pcs".

    It's maybe relevant to mention the project was an agressively low priced fixed project, going over schedule so the client being hired for the project kept on dumping starters and benchers to finish the project with the problems you could imagine. It's why I was hired the period of the project to support the other consultants who were stuck in the mess they've been creating trying to get the project done.

    If I would have the opportunity again to work with and rely on autistics for tasks needing massive concentration and accuracy, I'll put all my trust in their hands.

    • by LockeOnLogic (723968) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:58PM (#30384456)
      Not trying to be antagonistic here, but I have to ask. Do you think your co-worker was being paid in-line with the amount of work he was doing? My only fear with this concept is that they may be taken advantage of.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ZeroExistenZ (721849)

        Do you think your co-worker was being paid in-line with the amount of work he was doing?

        No, he wasn't under a regular contract, they also didn't know the output he'd have. When he was "hired" (allowed to sit around and have tasks handed to him to "integrate") they thought they were doing charity...

        At least that was my impression, I never saw the guys paycheck, but he also wasn't there fulltime :)

    • by Pink_Ranger (1024741) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:04PM (#30384824)

      rely on autistics for tasks needing massive concentration and accuracy, I'll put all my trust in their hands.

      The more I hear this sentiment echoed, the more I think they're the ones who came out right, and we're the ones who are broken.

      • by oldhack (1037484) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:57AM (#30385328)
        I've heard the same sentiment noted by a mother of autistic child, but for a different reason. She had to teach her boy to lie. A lot. For some reason, our social norms require us to lie more/less constantly.
      • by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @07:53AM (#30387002) Homepage

        Well, at the very least, it's pretty clear that they didn't come out wrong, but with a very useful skill set. I have similar sentiments about ADHD: if you're in a group of cavemen going out hunting, you want someone in your group who will notice all the little things that folks who don't have ADHD ignore because that's not what they're focusing on. So if I have a task that involves looking around for anything unusual or interesting, I want someone with ADHD along, because he or she will find things I'll miss.

        In fact, any "disorder" that is as common as high functioning autism or ADHD often indicates that it's not a disorder at all, but more a personality type that the rest of us have decided was annoying to deal with. For instance, autistic people are the most likely to announce that the emperor is walking around naked, which is extremely inconvenient for anyone who is selling clothing that everyone claims they can see but no one can.

  • Slashdot has been hiring mentally handicapped people as moderators since 1997. Now that's truly groundbreaking!

  • by mestar (121800)

    Company Trains the Autistic To Test Software

    But if somebody has written some software to train autistic people, it would be:

    "Company Tests Software to Train the Autistic"

    What if a weird consultant is to do some work for some developer tools company:

    "The Autistic to Train a Test Software Company"

    What if some ill behaved company is about to release its Railroad tycoon clone:

    "The Autistic Company to Test Software Trains"

  • by Cythrawl (941686) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:17PM (#30384188)
    Jesus, I would expect something better from Slashdot

    A lot of you are suggesting that high function Autism is mental retardation. It ISN'T!.

    I am very disgusted with the fact that people on here are totally blinkered and think its retardation. My 5 yr old son, just last week was tested for three hours and its been found that he has slight Autism. He is NOT retarded in any way shape or form. He is an exceptionally intelligent little boy. He just has trouble focusing on simple to learn tasks that are not within his interest. Case and point, at age 2 he could tell you what every single car was in the parking lot by looking at the manufacture's logo. Every one. even the odd ones that you don't see a lot of like Ferrari and Lamborghini (well you don't see many here in the white mountains of New Hampshire).
    At age 3 his focus went from that to NASCAR, and he could tell you every driver, sponsor, number, what car they drove. Now he is into trains, he can watch an episode of Thomas the Tank engine and recite the whole episode word for word in order after watching it ONCE. He could read at age 3, he could write his name at age 4. He can count to 30+ and knew all his ABC's at 2 and a 1/2.

    However he has problems if you break his routine, when he talks to you he will turn every conversation around to focus on what he is interested in. He has social skill problems when he deals with his peers who are of the same age. Adults not really a problem, and thats due to most adults being of a higher level than most kids his age. I personally think he has aspergers as he is very social and will will approach people and talk to them. We have has some simple tasks like one half of potty training that he still hasn't mastered at age 5, and we now know how to handle that, because all the ways we were trying were disrupting his routine.

    The pediatrician came up with a very good example of how his life will be with it. If for example he decided to work at a museum as the resident Ornithologist because that is what he was interested in, he would excel at that job. He would have a perfect memory for that task and would know EVERYTHING about it. He would be a walking encyclopedia on the subject. Everything else would be secondary.

    If he took up programming he would excel at it if he was interested in it. Seriously HOW IS THAT RETARDATION? Low functioning Autism is totally different end of the spectrum. Its just that all Autistic people have their brains wired differently, they are NOT retarded.

    I suggest you read this before posting any more retarded posts ok?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_speculated_to_have_been_autistic [wikipedia.org]

    Remember the article says High-functioning autism, please don't jump on the short bus as many of you have on here.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lawpoop (604919)
      Well, how do you define retardation?

      If the average functioning human mind can read emotional states of other people, can look at other people in the eye and carry on a "normal" conversation, isn't a person who can't somehow "impaired" compared to one who can? I'm not saying that they're bad or anything else like that, I'm just saying they have some specific cognitive impairments compared to an "average" person.

      For instance, I knew some people with Down's syndrome in my public school system. They were th
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by glarbl_blarbl (810253)

        All I'm saying is that autistic people, while having a good mind for facts and that sorts of things, have a poor mind for social interaction, which is kind of important. So I would argue that is it a kind of impairment.

        But it most certainly is not mental retardation. One little data point for you: I have Asperger Syndrome, and an IQ of 148. Also, just because non-verbal communication is not intuitive to people with ASD it does not necessarily follow that we are incapable of learning it. Please remember that you are talking about real people here with real feelings, and a lot of us read slashdot. Spreading your misconceptions to people who don't know any better can create real problems for us.

  • by wolffenrir (1065076) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:03AM (#30386232)
    and he can run circles around most other children his age. He began learning mathematics by age two. By age five, he knows more about the solar system then many adults. He even understand, in principle, the behavior of celestial mechanics (though he doesn't understand why, he is still only five). The reason I say this is because most autistics don't need special jobs nobody else will fill. Most of them are better than average people. They fall behind because the educational system failed them. They were not given therapy and support at a very early age. People really have no idea my son is autistic at this time. He has learned skills to adapt. But he still has his autistic strengths. Data entry and software testing are for muggles. Autistics are meant to be software engineers, software architects, scientists, mathematicians. This company is capitalizing on the failure of society to properly develop its autistic children.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cheros (223479)

      Mine taught himself to write from age 3 (using BBCs "words & pictures" series) - all we did was help him shape the characters and provide wagonloads of markers and notepads. At age 3.5 he was writing and reading so fluently that at the end of the year he and another girl at his school with similar talents were doing the reading for the nativity play. Next he discovered London Underground and learned the whole layout by heart (which I only discovered when I wondered aloud how I got from A to B and he p

The reason that every major university maintains a department of mathematics is that it's cheaper than institutionalizing all those people.

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