Autism in commercial software testing

Today I met Thorkil Sonne, the founder of Danish testing company Specialisterne.

Autistic Spectrum Disorder, the most common form of autism affects half a million people in the UK. Only 6% of adults with the condition are in full time employment and the cost to the UK economy of caring for autistic people runs into the billions.

Eight years ago Sonne’s son was diagnosed. Sonne didn’t want his child to grow up having to rely on the state for benefits and support and so he founded a software company that he says is able to benefit from the special skills autistic people bring to the workplace.

I met him at the Test Management Summit at the Institute of Directors in London earlier today. What impressed me was that Sonne had created a software company with autistic employees, whose clients include some of the biggest names in the software business, like Microsoft and CSC.

In his words, the main benefits that autistic individuals bring to the workplace are that they are methodical and exhibit great attention to detail. Other attributes include motivation, focus, persistence, precision, ability to learn and follow instructions.

All of these skills have come in very useful for the task of software testing, checking documentation and ensuring functional specifications don’t contradict.

He has obviously had to adapt the working environment at Specialisterne to take into account the needs of autistic people, namely limiting the level of stress, shorter working hours and the need to state instructions precisely.

But through Specialisterne, Sonne is giving us a genuine lesson in thinking outside the box, and doing an extraordinary act, by helping those who suffer from autism an opportunity to gain some independence, learn new skills in IT and move a little closer to living normal lives.