I was threatening to write on this topic under my November post "Lack of social skills made us human". See also, or I should say - especially Emily Deans, M.D. comment!.
Here we go.
It is about people with Aspergers' or mild Autism working in business environment (software consultancy), intermingling with the "normal" office employees and the ensuing culture clash.
An interview with Thorkil Sonne on CBC Radio 1 (Canadian) a couple of months ago, has sparked my interest in this as around the same time I started researching some issue involving anthropology and society. The following article from The Independent titled "Better, faster... and no office politics: the company with the autistic specialists" is fairly close to what was told on Sonne's radio interview. Let me quote:
I know lots of companies with noisy, chaotic, open-plan offices, where the work is like fire-fighting most of the time, and people from Specialisterne wouldn’t be able to work there. That said, the environment they need is the kind of environment we should all be working in anyway.”
Remarkably, about 70 per cent of Specialisterne’s employees are stationed in client premises. I asked Sonne how easy it is for them to fit in with other working environments. “We create virtual Specialisterne environments in our clients’ offices. Everyone who will be in contact with our consultants is briefed about the conditions they require. They have to be nice to our people, avoid stressing them. In Denmark, we use a lot of irony and sarcasm, but people with autism can’t decode that. We make sure that the clients know how important it is to be direct, to outline tasks precisely and to stick to routines, particularly if any queries arise.”
“That’s how you avoid an ‘I only fly with Qantas’ freak-out?” I blurt. “Yes,” says Sonne. “We’ve never had a ‘freak-out’. In fact, saying what you mean, meaning what you say, being nice, avoiding stress are all good things in general for companies to take on board. Many have said to us that having one of our consultants has softened the atmosphere.”
It must actually be a relief to work with colleagues for whom office politics, backbiting and bitchiness are anathema. “Yes, they are a happy and loyal group, no one ever talks badly about anyone else. It’s nice to work with people who are honest, without filters. In fact I am working on a new management technique based on our experience with working conditions that are more open and direct.”
You do have to have the right environment for people with Asperger’s to function – there needs to be an acceptance that I am special, that I might not work regular hours, that I might have down periods – but if you have that in place, we can do any job.”
Most Specialisterne employees tend to work 20- to 25-hour weeks, but Jacobsen has brought his hours up to 35. “You really blossom here. I see it with so many Aspergerians who join the company and get proper training. I have a lot of friends at the company now, and we socialise and go out together in town. We know we all have that twist.”
Of course, some experts have identified autistic traits in people such as Mozart, Da Vinci, Newton, Einstein. If they were alive today, perhaps they would be recognised as having Asperger’s, and look at what they achieved. Unfortunately, there is such an emphasis on being a team player and social skills in the workplace that there is still this resistance.
Comments? We should draw our own conclusions, but I could not help noticing that the attributes of the corporate culture that the Specialisterne Aspergers' people found unbearable are the same that _I_ find unbearable! They are the same attributes and habits that most of my fellow engineers find unbearable!
More articles, links and comments on the subject of corporate culture, "baby boomers'" etc., can be found under "anthropology" search term .