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Why autistic people find a home in technology

What do Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Well, other than being worth more than $80 billion between them, they also both have Asperger’s Syndrome.

In an article he wrote for The Telegraph in 2011, notorious hacker and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, wrote, “Later, when I became well known, people would enjoy pointing out that I had asperger’s or else that I was dangling somewhere on the autistic spectrum”.

And, in what was described as “the biggest military computer hack of all time”, there is the infamous case of Gary McKinnon, a computer hacker with asperger’s who, in 2002, hacked into the NASA and US defence systems looking for evidence of UFOs.

Some people have argued that despite McKinnon’s actions being illegal, people with disabilities such as aspergers or autism that display such a focused capability with technology should be employed by governments as assets rather than be seen as threats.

Indeed, Silicon Valley now embraces people with Asperger’s Syndrome, and there are even some smaller tech startups that are made up almost entirely of autistic and aspergic people, perceiving traits such as obsessiveness, antisocial tendencies, and bluntness as strengths when it comes to business and technology.

It’s no secret that ‘IT geeks’ are often particularly shy, preferring computers to people, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that disability and technology often walk hand in hand.

Software and hardware development is steeped in numbers and logic, and, with a common trend in autistic people being to thrive on facts and figures, this is a world they fully understand, in many cases much better than non autistic people.

If they were to write their useful traits to employers in a CV, an autistic person would more often than not be able to write:

  • Maths orientated fast thinker
  • Incredibly focused
  • Less prone to distraction
  • Huge memory
  • General intolerance for mistakes and errors

The National Autism Society has confirmed that only 15% of adults with autism are in fulltime employment – it seems time for the technology industry to remove employment stigmas that still dictate businesses.

New technologies are being developed all the time focused on making a disabled person’s life easier, such as Microsoft’s Kinect translating sign language into written text, a Braille smartphone and various apps for wheelchair users and alzheimer’s sufferers.

Who better to help develop these than the people who they’ll make the most difference to?