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"I am the autism specialist at Aspiritech. We’re a nonprofit software-testing company in Highland Park, and we hire adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. There’s a case study suggesting that they are more efficient at software testing than neurotypicals, because of their ability to focus and recognize details. We’re the only company like this in the United States, as far as I know.
"I don’t think autism is a disease. I think it’s a different way of looking at the world. A lot of the testers I work with are much smarter than I am, and a lot of times they don’t need help. But when they do, it’s important that I’m there.
"One of my goals is to help them develop skills like learning what’s appropriate and not appropriate to say. People with autism are often very blunt in speaking their mind, and at other companies, that might get them fired.
"In 2004 I took a job as an autism aide at a Chicago public high school. We had one kid who once stripped completely naked and dove into the swimming pool in front of the girls’ swim team. He was one of our lower-functioning students. But I really enjoyed talking with him. One of his favorite games was to have me repeat things. You know that Luna commercial? He would sing 'Seven seven three, two oh two' and then pause for me to sing 'Lu-na.' He got a big kick out of that.
"Another student was one of the nicest kids I ever met. He was always very polite, very conscientious. Which is common among people throughout the entire autism spectrum. The only time you’d see him frown was when there was a change in schedule. He’d make a mock angry face and say, 'I don’t like that,' in an exaggerated way. I think that’s how he thought people are supposed to sound when they’re angry. A minute later, he’d be over it.
"People with autism often focus on the details rather than the big picture. One student I worked with met this girl. They hit it off, and she gave him her phone number. The next day he called her and she wasn’t there, and he left a message. A little while later, he called again, and he left a message. He ended up leaving a dozen messages in a day, and then he was shocked to discover that she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. In a situation like that, I would think, 'I want this girl to like me.' All this guy was thinking was, 'I want this girl to call me back.'
"There’s a huge need for what we’re doing. My salary is grant-funded, so I’m employed till the end of the year. Hopefully I can stay."