German company seeks to hire 650 autistic people

German software developer SAP is searching for employees with autism, a disorder that often yields "outside the box" thinking.

Hoping to acquire the next generation of innovators, German software giant SAP recently announced plans to actively recruit people with autism to work on software programming and testing projects.

The company expects 1 percent of its 65,000-person global workforce to be people with autism by 2020, the BBC reported. SAP has already employed six autistic persons as software testers in Bangalore, India, as part of a pilot program.

To be ahead of the curve, the developer of business-management software said it aims to bring on talented people who think outside the box.

"Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century," company executive Luisa Delgado told the BBC.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes defines autism as "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior."

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Autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger's Syndrome, characterized by social impairment and repetitive and restricted behaviors, are thought to affect 1 percent of people worldwide, according to the BBC. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability, according to the Autism Society, which also reports that only 56 percent of students with the disorder finish high school.

Many autistic learners are extremely intelligent and display incredible attention to detail, however.

“[People with autism] have strong attention to detail and an ability to identify mistakes. If they look at a program code they are able to see very quickly if there’s a mistake,” Auticon, a German consulting firm which exclusively hires people with autism as software testers, told the FT. Four of Auticon's consultants with autism were recently used on a project with Vodafone, FT reported.

According to Bloomberg, SAP will team with Danish foundation Specialisterne on the initiative. The headhunting organization seeks to find jobs for 1 million autistic people worldwide, especially in data entry, testing and software programming positions.

“I would like to see more companies follow SAP’s lead,” Steen Thygesen, chief executive of the foundation that oversees Specialisterne, told the FT. “There’s nothing preventing others from taking this approach.”

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