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Company Trains the Autistic To Test Software 419

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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  • I see it coming... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JazzyMusicMan ( 1012801 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:51PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:56PM (#30383578)

    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.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:57PM (#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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:58PM (#30383596)

    sounds like most jobs these days

  • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:59PM (#30383600) Homepage

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

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @08:59PM (#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 HBoar ( 1642149 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:00PM (#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.
  • Re:Dupe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shadowofwind ( 1209890 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:06PM (#30383678)

    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.

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:08PM (#30383682)

    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 helmets and rattle off the CIA Factbook incessantly. These are people with "high functioning" autism which, again, About half of the Slashdot audience has claimed to have over the years.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:08PM (#30383686)

    >at least the future of computer programming, relies much more on communication skills than rigorous attention to detail
    You don't actually know how to program, do you? (Other than maybe toy programs of a few kLoC)

  • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:13PM (#30383728)

    They are testers... not programmers.

  • Re:Dupe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shadowofwind ( 1209890 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:16PM (#30383762)

    Or maybe a better way to say that is a lot more autistic people used to unfairly be considered unintelligent.

  • Re:Data Sourcing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Urza9814 ( 883915 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:27PM (#30383856)

    Um, what? I hope you're trying and failing to be funny....

    Is it stereotypical to think that someone who has the flu will likely be tired? Is it stereotypical to think that someone with lung cancer will cough? It's a disorder. It has certain symptoms. Saying that _A SPECIFIC PERSON_ with that disorder has certain symptoms of that disorder is not in any way similar to racial stereotypes. What you are saying is that asking someone who is coughing heavily and blowing their nose frequently if they are sick is no different than assuming that all Mexicans can't drive. There's a huge difference. You might as well bitch about people saying that someone with a Y chromosome is a boy. I mean that's not _always_ true either, so that must be a horrible insensitive stereotype too, huh?

  • by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:32PM (#30383892)
    except you just can't get the purchasing power to deliver the benefits you will need for the income you will get.
  • Re:Data Sourcing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ztransform ( 929641 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:33PM (#30383904)

    Mexicans can't drive

    Hey, you made that assumption, not me. You wouldn't pick an actual racial stereotype because you're afraid of being politically correct. I'm just pointing out that people with a particular gene is just as likely to behave differently from anybody else that shares a particular genetic difference.

    I'm just having a go at all those "we're all the same" tyrants who ought to be attacking anyone who considers Down Syndrome or any other genetic difference as something politically incorrect to notice or talk about in an adult manner!

  • Yeah,

    It beats being paid to pick the odd-shaped aspirins off the end of a conveyor-belt in manufacturing...

  • Re:Dupe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by matzahboy ( 1656011 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:40PM (#30383940)
    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.
  • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:45PM (#30383968)

    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!"

    Combining 2 popular "geek" traits: being anti-social and hypochondria.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @09:47PM (#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 [] has made a fourtune "thinking like a cow". I find it impossible to describe her work as predictable or monotonous.
  • Re:Dupe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tautog ( 46259 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:02PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:07PM (#30384116)

    Why is this modded as troll? It's actually quite truthful. I was diagnosed with aspergers as a teen. This was after my parents kicked me off home when I was 11 years old and per government requirements, I had to go to a different school (which was mostly so that the people there could diagnose me). Later I was moved to normal school, with "aspergers syndrome" stamped on me as a result.

    Later I read about it and most of the things just doesn't fit. I mean sure, I was quite shy and non-outgoing as kid as I liked computers and programming. But is that any news for a programmer or a geek? Not that it has caused any problems in my life either - I've had lovely girlfriends, spend nice time out with people and do not see any problems at all.

    Surely some people are really autistic, but there's many who think so or are wrongly diagnosed so because they share some common things between aspergers and geeks. And well, I got plus sides from it too - I never didn't need to go to army and spent that time better.

    There's lots of truth in what the parent says.

    Posting as anon for obvious reasons.

  • by Cythrawl ( 941686 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:17PM (#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? []

    Remember the article says High-functioning autism, please don't jump on the short bus as many of you have on here.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:49PM (#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 HBoar ( 1642149 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:51PM (#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 LockeOnLogic ( 723968 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @10:58PM (#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:Dupe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PitaBred ( 632671 ) <> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:13PM (#30384534) Homepage
    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 people with autism-spectrum issues if not more so?
  • by Cythrawl ( 941686 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:16PM (#30384548)
    Yes he can draw conclusions to it, He can compare the thing that happen in said episode to things in real life. Yes he can make new possibilities from the data he just learned. He is like I said a very bright and intelligent young boy. You leave him at his own devices on You Tube for example he will pick out and watch things that interest him.
    He just has some quirky traits in his personality. He is very focused on what he is interested in. Some audio stuff like loud sirens, parades, people singing something as simple as happy birthday to him upsets him greatly. Its like his brain cant handle the overload of information. But he will play in a busy playground, with lots of kids making noise. He will watch a train go by but covers he ears for the horn, but not for the noises of the carriages.

    You give him a problem and he can and will work it out. Left to his own devices severly I doubt he would perish (apart from the fact he is a child) he just has some quirks.. That is different from a child with a different spectrum of autism, they would not survive, some cannot even communicate or even speak. Every comment seems to stem from the lack of understanding on what Autism is and how it affects each individual.
    Some are bad that they will need constant care. Some of the high level (like my son has) or aspergers, will have productive and normal lives, but will always be known as having some quirks. There are many HLA people who are scientists, Some even work at the University where he got tested, so I doubt my son would fail as you put it. I suggest you do some reading up on the different spectrums of the disorder, before posting just a comment.

    Many people in life now could have Autism in the high spectrum but never got diagnosed from it. They could be successful and somewhat ruthless at their jobs because of it.
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @11:57PM (#30384772) Homepage Journal
    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 the greatest people -- warm, caring, friendly, sincere -- but when it came to things like reading and math, well, you know the story.

    Yes, I'm aware that Down's syndrome is a well-described, well-defined disease with specific genetic causes, and autism is poorly understood. 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.
  • Re:Data Sourcing (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ethan0 ( 746390 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:04AM (#30384822)

    That's not a stereotype, it's one of the primary characteristics of aspergers and practically part of the definition of the condition.
    That's more like saying it's stereotypical to say that black people have dark skin. It's not true in 100% of cases, but a far cry from stereotyping.

  • by ZeroExistenZ ( 721849 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:39AM (#30384998)

    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 Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @01:01AM (#30385104)
    Would you rather we just threw them all in a publicly funded half-way house and left them?
  • by kabloom ( 755503 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @01:19AM (#30385182) Homepage

    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 [] and Aspies [] have at least average intelligence, and can frequently be geniuses or experts in their fields.

  • 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 Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @02:53AM (#30385496)

    That's like saying "people who work in IT reside on the intelligence spectrum". Sure, there is a wide range of intellectual abilities, but there is a very clear difference from "not good at math" and "crippling mental retardation".

    Autism is defined as a DISORDER, not a spectrum. Take the convenient wiki definition of "a disorder of neural development that is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior."

    Neither of your examples remotely resembles autism. Both are textbook examples of masters of social interaction and communication, which is of course the most important trait for someone of their business and marketing ability. I really don't think you understand what Autism is, and it doesn't really help to trivialize it like you are.

  • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) * on Thursday December 10, 2009 @03:16AM (#30385588) Journal
    I am not arguing against this program I was mearly responding to the OP who's post appeared to be stereotyping austistic people.

    Why is the internet is full of people like you who whenever someone make a trite quip they immediately take it to the extreme? Do you do this in real life conversations? If a stranger pushes the wrong button in the elevator do you jump down their throat and accuse them of wanting to hijack a plane?

    Here's a free tip for you that will make you life a lot less consfusing and everyone else's more pleasant; Don't pressume to know what other people think, especially when you have zero evidence to make such a judgement.
  • Seriously, these guys shouldn't be jumping on a psychological disorder and claiming everyone has it. What they're looking for is the theory of multiple intelligences. A psychological disorder by definition has a significant impact on your everyday functioning, normally to the point where you can't work or go to school as a normal person. But what else do you expect from a guy who performs mental health diagnosis on celebrities?

  • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:26AM (#30386060)

    Python is what I'd call 'pithy'.

    You should only watch O'Reilly for occasional freak show entertainment, not as a vocab builder.

  • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @05:59AM (#30386222)

    Why is this modded as troll? It's actually quite truthful. I was diagnosed with aspergers as a teen. This was after my parents kicked me off home when I was 11 years old and per government requirements, I had to go to a different school (which was mostly so that the people there could diagnose me). Later I was moved to normal school, with "aspergers syndrome" stamped on me as a result.

    Later I read about it and most of the things just doesn't fit.

    Whenever psychologists and other "experts" describe Asperger's, I recognise absolutely nothing about it. But when someone who has it describes it, I recognise everything. Best description I ever heard was in social situations feeling like an anthropologist on Mars. You know what's going on, you can analyse and understand it, but you're not really part of it. You don't have an intuitive feel for it like others do. That's me. I recognise that completely. Social situations are hard work for me (or I just ignore them). But other than that, I have no problem functioning normally.

    But as soon as a psychologist opens his mouth about Asperger's, it turns into some disability that other people have.

  • by wolffenrir ( 1065076 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:03AM (#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:Dupe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @06:53AM (#30386462)

    You simply haven't yet worked out the illogicality of your thinking.

    I obviously refer to the complete and deliberate act of producing a child, including conception.

    So do I.

    Eeeh. No, I didn't, you made that straw man up all by yourself. Neither was it a consequence of anything I said.

    Yes you did. You said: "It is simply a deliberate gamble with a innocent persons life when one makes babies at 45. There are absolutely *no* excuses, in my opinion." If you say their are no excuses, then you are saying that at 45 a potential parent should always choose NOT creating a life, rather than creating a life that may have autism. That is valuing a life with autism as worse than no life at all. And yet we are no talking about a certainty of autism, but merely a raised change. So you are saying it's better to have no life at all than to have an increased risk of autism.

    Where you might be confused is that you are imagining it as instead being a choice of having a child at 45 vs a child at 25 (say). But life doesn't work like that. It may be that a woman hasn't met the right man to settle down with at 25. No one makes the decision to have a child at 45 vs 25. They just make many decisions along the way to have a child now, or not have one now.

  • by BountyX ( 1227176 ) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @10:28AM (#30387756)
    There seems to be a stereotype that quirky people are intelligent and I feel that many people leverage that stereotype to compensate for their own shortcomings (and for attention). After all, it is very advantageous to do so. Making your shortcomings "official" makes it easier for others to believe and overlook those shortcomings; however, it makes light of people who suffer from those real disorders. I believe this stereotype stems from associating perfectionism with OCD and being bored with ADD. While many intelligent people do get bored fast and may be perfectionists -- the very definitions of OCD and ADD are almost the opposite of having high fluid intelligence, which is a bit ironic.

    In real life, personality is NOT a very good indicator of fluid intelligence since personality is mostly a function of crystallized intelligence (which can be confounding). It has been my experience that really gifted individuals that are "quirky" do everything they possibly can to hide their quirks from other people. Their "quirky" side is only revealed in their lifestyle when you really get to know the individual and they let their guard down. They also happen to be very affluent and social. In the end, this "quirky" trend is all so Shakespearian to me. The stigma of a genius is often associated with some fatal flaw. How annoying.

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford