What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
(This explanation was written by the blog authors drawing from the sources named at the bottom.)
Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder that affects an individual’s ability to read and respond to social cues, communicate effectively, and organize and prioritize tasks. Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome have above-average (or even superior) intelligence and enter the workforce with advanced or multiple degrees.
An Austrian physician named Hans Asperger first described the syndrome in 1944. He wrote about a group of children with unusual characteristics including difficulty making friends, pedantic speech accented with odd vocal tones and rhythms, and consuming preoccupations with topics of special interest. Writing in his native German, Asperger’s work remained largely unknown until the 1980’s when it was translated into English by a British researcher, Dr. Uta Frith.
It was not until 1994 that Asperger’s Syndrome was officially recognized by the American medical community, and even at this writing, theories about its etiology and the diagnostic criteria continue to evolve. It is generally agreed that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
In addition to challenges with social and communication skills, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty organizing and prioritizing information, switching attention rapidly from one task to another, and grasping “the big picture.” They may also be unusually distracted by noise, smells and/or physical sensations and have problems with fine and gross motor skills.
On the flip side, Asperger’s Syndrome also confers specific strengths that make these individuals particularly well-suited to jobs requiring attention to detail and prolonged focus. Careers in computer programming, technical documentation, academic and scientific research, engineering, and academia are among the choices that make good use of their logic and analytical skills, excellent memory for facts, vast knowledge of specialized fields, tolerance of routine, and creative problem solving.
Some forward thinking companies specifically hire individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome to take advantage of their unique cognitive abilities. Specialisterne (www.specialisterne. com), based in Denmark, is a for-profit software testing company with clients including Microsoft, Oracle and CSB. Founded in 2004, the company hires people with Asperger’s Syndrome because, according to founder Thorkil Sonne, “…they are methodical and exhibit great attention to detail” and offer “motivation, focus, persistence, precision and ability to follow instructions.” 2
Left Is Right, based in Sweden, is another for-profit company that specifically hires people with Asperger’s Syndrome. According to their Company Presentation, their employees “…would rather calculate the perfect angle for the hammock than think about how comfortable it would be to lie in it.” 3
In the United States, Brenda Weitzsberg founded Aspiritech (www.aspiritech.org), which follows the Specialisterne model. It was created as a non-profit and made fully operational by the end of 2009.
Meticulon is an innovative Calgary, Alberta-based multi-partner (including Autism Calgary) IT consulting company. Launched in 2013, it is a social enterprise that trains, matches, and oversees people on the autism spectrum as consultants to work within existing companies in developing and testing software systems. As such it creates rewarding employment for individuals who might have struggled in the past to find work that matches their intellectual and other abilities. As part of its work, Meticulon helps its participating companies understand, maximize the skills of, and successfully work alongside autistic employees. This all helps reverse, in at least a small way, a shocking statistic: 80% of employable people on the spectrum do not have jobs, and many of the remaining 20% are underemployed. A great many autistic people have great potential, but their social challenges keep them from being and staying hired. With support, many soar. See: http://meticulon.com
Given the intelligence, tenacity, drive and often ingenious ways that people with Asperger’s Syndrome compensate for their limitations, one can argue that Asperger’s is not a “condition” at all but simply a way of processing information that differs from the so-called “neurotypical” majority.* Or as Temple Grandin, Ph.D., an adult with autism known worldwide for the innovative design of humane livestock handling facilities, so forthrightly puts it: “What would happen if you eliminated the autism gene from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.”
2 “A Danish IT consultancy is using the special skills of people with autism to improve the quality of its software testing,” ComputerWeekly.com, February 8, 2008, Reed Business Information.
3 View the company presentation in English at http://www.leftisright.se/images/stories/
©2009 Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching • 978-298-5186 Barbara@ForwardMotion.info • www.ForwardMotion.info