Creating Jobs for Adults with Autism

by Joe McGonegal on July 28, 2014 · 0 comments

in Economics

Placing adults with special needs in fulfilling jobs has often been a pursuit of non-profit organizations. What if for-profit companies tried doing it?

rajeshanandan

Rajesh Anandan ’95, MEng ’96.

Two former MIT roommates, Rajesh Anandan ’95, MEng ’96 and Art Shectman ’95, founded ULTRA Testing in 2012 to try just that.

In their third year of helping adults on the autism spectrum find meaningful work, Anandan and Shectman say this nontraditional business model is working. This year, they expect to produce over $1 million in revenues.

ULTRA Testing capitalizes on talents that adults with autism and Asperger’s syndrome typically bring to the workplace. A testing company that does quality assurance for new software products seemed like a perfect fit for those with traditionally high pattern recognition skills and attention to detail.

The idea to create ULTRA was born out of frustration, says Anandan. “My wife is a child psychologist who has done a lot of work with kids on the autism spectrum. She came home from work one day and wondered why we spend so much effort on what kids were not good at—like social interactions—but so little time on what they could be great at,” he says.

The two alumni started small, working with a small team of adults recommended by the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership in New York.

They found clients who needed website and app testing on their products before launch. ULTRA offered prices competitive with the best firms that do such work, and their testers earned high praise for quality work.

This year, they have employed 10 testers. Anandan says he hopes to see it grow to 300 in the year ahead.

With more than 1.5 million adults in the U.S. workforce who are somewhere on the autism spectrum, 80% of whom are unemployed, the ULTRA founders believe there is a market for this useful service (by justin ). And they believe that for-profits can help the nonprofit sector, where they already have much experience, lower that unemployment rate.

Art Shectman '95.

Art Shectman ’95.

“It will take a combination of for profit and non-profit approaches,” says Anandan. “It will require smarter training and coaching and appropriate work and work environments. The latter is what we’re focused on. We believe that a for-profit model is more likely to achieve impact at scale.”

As a Business Insider interview with an ULTRA employee noted last week, many adults with autism may lack the social skills for traditional job interviews or for working in large teams, but meet and exceed demands in high-functioning roles.

“Ultimately, we’re building a new kind of workplace and corporate culture,” Anandan says, “that effectively combines the talents of individuals with different abilities, whether they are on the spectrum or neurotypical, so that we can deliver a high-quality, easily consumable service that our clients need.”

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