Embracing Neurodiversity in Tech

Inspired by their son, Aspiritech’s founders nurture the unique talents of the neurodivergent community.

The Weitzbergs

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It was a harsh encounter with reality for Oran Weitzberg’s parents, Moshe and Brenda, when their son repeatedly lost jobs due to the challenges associated with his autism. 

Determined to create meaningful employment opportunities for neurodivergent individuals like Oran, in 2008, the Evanston, Illinois-based couple founded Aspiritech – a nonprofit specializing in tech quality assurance (QA), testing, and data services.

Neurodivergent individuals possess special skills

With a background in psychology and special education and more than 40 years of experience in social service administration and the nonprofit sector, Brenda took the initiative to reach out to Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University near their home, whose students had once helped her with fundraising. She wanted to explore the possibility of collaborating with MBA students to develop a social enterprise that could tap into the unique strengths of neurodivergent adults. 

(Oran) lost these jobs one after the other, and it was clear to us that these jobs were not well suited to his strengths. In fact, they played into his weaknesses. Something’s got to be done. There’s got to be some business that will bring out the strengths of someone who is neurodivergent.

By December of that year, Brenda had almost forgotten about her request when a professor wrote back to say that she would take on the project.  “That January, I took Oran down to Northwestern University, and we met this group of brilliant students. We sat together and started researching possible employment projects.”

Together, the Weitzbergs and the students decided to create a software QA company that would tap into a skill that a large portion of neurodivergent individuals excel at: working with computer software.

A training process brings out the potential of neurodivergent adults

Moshe, a professor of organic chemistry who is certified in software testing at SigmaSoft, embarked on extensive research. He studied two QA companies – Specialisterne in Denmark and Passwerk in Belgium – who employ individuals on the autism spectrum, using them as a starting point to develop a training program tailored to the skills of individuals on the spectrum and craft the business model for their future company. 

Over the next few years, students, professors, and other parents with children on the autism spectrum gathered around the Weitzbergs and contributed to their cause. In 2008, Aspiritech was born.

Instead of relying solely on theoretical instruction, the training program at Aspiritech, which typically spans two weeks, took a hands-on, experiential approach. Potential employees worked on real software projects, allowing them to learn better through practical experience. 

"The training process is also a screening process," Moshe explains. "Because with the training, giving them a hands-on project, they get to figure out if they can do the work and if they like it, and we get to see if they are a good fit for our organization, and also what type of project is the right fit for them. Once we finished the training, we would put them side by side with a more experienced employee so they can learn the skills needed for the job.”

As the company grew, Moshe hired professional trainers to develop a more structured training program. Additionally, five specialists – including a special educator, a social worker, and a psychologist – were brought on board to provide ongoing support to the employees.

Aspiritech's inclusive work environment.

Social activities help neurodivergent individuals with confidence

However, the true key to the training lies in the social activities integrated into the company's fabric. Aspiritech recognizes that many individuals on the autism spectrum tend to spend a significant amount of time alone. To address this, the company organizes social events to foster socialization and employees with autism at Aspiritech have been promoted to managerial positions; those who enjoy social interaction have opportunities to present their work and interact directly with clients. 

Working at Aspiritech is a transformative experience for many adults on the spectrum, with some leaving to start their own companies. Bobby Dowling, who serves as a job coach at Aspiritech, shares, "Since working at Aspiritech, I can say that I’ve gained self-confidence, especially in my communication skills. I have found that once you understand the experience that each person has had, you can better comprehend how to communicate, especially with neurotypical individuals.”

The Weitzbergs retired from their roles at Aspiritech in 2022, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that showcases the incredible potential and abilities of neurodivergent individuals. Aspiritech continues to thrive under the leadership of its current CEO, Tara May, and its partnerships with prominent companies including Google, Microsoft, and IBM, which serve as a testament to the exceptional quality of the company's services.

May describes Aspiritech as a place that “not only celebrates neurodiversity, but it is (also) a place where you can come and be exactly who you are. And there aren’t a lot of places like that in the world.”

The Weitzbergs‘ Advice for Parents

  • As a parent, you have to know your child at each point of their development. It’s OK to have expectations, but don’t push them too much.
  • Help your child develop a good work ethic when they are young by giving them jobs like walking the neighbor's dogs or doing chores around the house.
  • Education is crucial as it can help a child on the spectrum to develop healthy self-esteem.
  • Social activities are crucial to  successful vocational training for young adults with autism. It is helpful for individuals who typically spent a lot of time alone to get together with others and socialize.