People with autism are being moved from passive support to an asset for the business community, in a Danish concept that has begun to make inroads on the international scene.
“It’s asking: are you human or a machine?” Tobias Ussing says as his fingers race across the keyboard.
He’s in the process of encoding his computer to collect data on how a company can get to the top of the result list when the word ‘container’ is entered into Google’s search machine. A section on the screen asks him to key in some letters as a security control.
“Yeah, I’m human,” he says and with instinctive speed keys in the jumbled letters on the screen.
Tobias doesn’t mind being called a nerd. Nor does he mind being called an expert. But the 30-year-old data expert does mind being placed in a category. As an autistic. Despite the fact that he was diagnosed with the developmental disability autism at the age of 14.
“I once had to have a blood test and the nurse wanted to know if there was anything wrong with me. I said I had autism and she said – ‘well can you come back when you’re well again’, “he says with a smile.
“There’s so much ignorance and prejudice about autism. People seem to need to put you into a box. But to say that all people with autism are the same, is the same as saying that everyone with a broken arm is the same,” he chuckles.
The US Department of Health Centers for Disease Control estimates that one per cent of the world’s population is born with one or other form of autism, a congenital, biological development disability that manifests itself in distinctive communicative or social behaviour or conceptive abilities.
Danish and international studies have shown that as many as eight out of ten people with autism are left off the labour market, at enormous cost to society.
Tobias Ussing was also unemployed for two years until he contacted The Specialists six months ago. A Danish non-profit organisation, the aim of The Specialists is to change the view of autism from being a disadvantage to an advantage. A benefit for the individual and a benefit for businesses and society’s economy. People with autism may often lack social skills and need structure and security, but at the same time they have some unique skills.
Ussing is one of 35 people with autism employed as IT consultants by The Specialists in Denmark. For 20 hours a week he solves IT tasks for business and public sector clients. Jobs include testing and debugging home pages, or, as his current task, optimising search engines. Tobias points to an on-screen spreadsheet and explains that the system now collects data on how many people are searching online for answers about container sales.