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HEALTH

Berlin company counts on the autistic

When German software giant SAP said last month it plans to employ hundreds of autistic people as IT experts, the news was welcomed especially at a small Berlin computer consulting firm.

Berlin company counts on the autistic
Photo: DPA

The pioneering company, Auticon, already employs 17 people who live with autism, the disorder characterised by difficulties with social interactions and exceptional abilities in specific fields.

“Many people say that if a company like SAP said it makes sense… it’s very good for us,” said its chief Dirk Mueller-Remus. “That means it’s something serious, solid.”

SAP, which makes business software, said in May that after pilot projects in India and Ireland, it plans to employ hundreds of people with autism as software testers and programmers.

Its goal is that by 2020, people with autism will make up one percent of its worldwide workforce of 65,000.

Mueller-Remus created his far smaller company in November 2011 with the idea of “investing in the strengths” of these potential employees. His son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a variant of autism, as a teenager, and Mueller-Remus has long known that many people with autism excel

in fields like programming or quality control.

“This is my talent,” one of the employees, 27-year-old Melanie Altrock, stated matter of factly, sitting at her screen in a white-walled, modern top-floor office in western Berlin.

“Other people are interested in languages or math, for me it’s computers. I don’t just search for errors, I see them.”

Auticon now has 25 staff and offices in Berlin, Munich and Düsseldorf, with plans for another in Hamburg. It looks to break even “by the end of the year”, said Mueller-Remus.

“We wanted a normal consulting company, without subsidies, without donations, without funding from a foundation,” he said, adding that the aim was to “combine social commitment and business”.

“Today, after a little over a year, we have good customers like Vodafone, it’s looking good,” said Mueller-Remus.

But he also emphasised that working with autistic people can be “a very

complex issue”.

“We can make many mistakes because people with Asperger are very demanding people,” he said.

“People with autism are very concrete, unequivocal,” added Elke Seng, a “job coach” at Auticon who assists the employees in their relationships at work and with clients.

“There is no innuendo, there is only one or zero. It’s rather nice,” she smiled.

Friedrich Nolte, board member of the Federal Association for the development of People with Autism, said “only five to 10 percent of people affected by autism find a place on the regular job market”.

Mueller-Remus said that “their CVs often have brief episodes of work interspersed with long interruptions”.

Often people with autism “have no situational awareness, may seem arrogant, have no interest in small talk, and are not interested in people because people are not logical,” he said.

All of this can give rise to misunderstandings with sometimes serious consequences, he said. In this context, the SAP initiative was widely applauded at the small company.

“That more people with autism can access a job is simply fantastic,” said Seng, who confessed she finds her work “fascinating”.

An autism specialist, psychiatrist Kai Vogeley of Cologne University Hospital, told a German medical journal that people with autism who work can “develop confidence in themselves”.

He cautioned however that “certain conditions must be met for this to succeed”.

“I hope that SAP knows how difficult it is,” said Mueller-Remus. “If things are done well, you can really achieve great results.”

Altrock, the autistic programmer, agreed.

“I have a full-time job, I take pleasure in it, I earn my own money and I have my own apartment,” she said. “I’m glad it’s like that.”

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HEALTH

Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

A recent increase in diseases related to the eight-legged bloodsuckers in Germany suggests that ticks are on the rise. We break drown what to look out for and what to do if you get bitten.

Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

What are ticks?

Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures that are usually between 1mm to 1cm in size. They generally live in long grass, bushes and wooded areas.

These little arachnids don’t fly or jump but climb onto animals or humans as they brush past. They are parasites, and once a tick bites into the skin, it feeds on blood for a few days before dropping off. 

Are they dangerous?

During this unpleasant bloodsucking transaction, ticks can transmit diseases to humans which can become dangerous. 

The disease which is mostly associated with ticks is Early Summer Meningoencephalitis (TBE) which, in severe cases, can cause permanent damage such as paralysis, or even death. Thanks to the mild winter and increasingly warm temperatures, this disease is on the rise this year in Germany.

READ ALSO: How climate change is threatening Germany’s forests

The other main disease associated with ticks is Lyme disease which, in the most severe cases, can attack the nervous system, joints, and organs. 

What are the symptoms?

Those who develop Lyme disease can get flu-like symptoms a few days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Children might lose their appetite, lack energy, or complain of stomach ache.

But the most obvious sign of Lyme disease is a red circular rash around the bite.

A woman walks her dog through a patch of long grass. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HUK-COBURG | Hagen Lehmann

However, if you remove the tick in less than twelve hours, you usually have nothing to worry about, as it takes a while for the infection to be passed onto humans. 

The situation is different with TBE, however, as the disease is transmitted much faster. But, thankfully, it is also much rarer: according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only 0.1 to 5 percent of ticks in risk areas carry TBE viruses.

Most people infected with TBE don’t have any symptoms, while one in three initially suffers from flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and aching limbs. In rare cases, the spinal cord can be affected, with symptoms such as severe headaches and neck pain, nausea, and impaired consciousness.

In the majority of patients, the disease heals completely, but in an average of one percent of cases, it can be fatal. 

Luckily, there is a vaccination against TBE, which is recommended for those regularly visiting high-risk areas.

Where am I most likely to get bitten?

Ticks can be found all over Germany – even in city parks. However, TBE infections occur more frequently in so-called TBE risk areas, and the RKI has an updated map of these areas

These are found in large parts of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and parts of southern Hesse, Saxony, and Thuringia, but there are also isolated risk areas in central Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland. 

In February, the number of TBE risk areas was expanded by the RKI to include five new TBE risk areas in Bavaria, Saxony and Lower Saxony, so that there are now a total of 161 affected districts.

What should I do if I get bitten by a tick?

Firstly, it is unlikely that you will even feel the tick bite, which is why it’s important to check yourself carefully when returning from a trip to the countryside or a risk area. 

Ticks tend to bite around thin areas of the skin such as kneecaps, groin, armpits, and hairline. In children, they can often be found on the scalp and behind the ears.

Using tweezers is a good way to pull a tick out of the skin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-central picture | Patrick Pleul

If you do find a tick, you should remove it quickly with a special tick remover (available at all pharmacies), tweezers, or your fingernails. The sooner you can do this, the lower the risk the tick will be able to infect you.

The important thing is to make sure you remove the whole tick, by grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and pulling slowly. Then wash and clean the bite, and contact a doctor if you’re worried.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

One thing you shouldn’t do is to put oily liquids on the tick, as this could enrage it and cause it to release saliva potentially containing harmful pathogens.

How can I prevent a tick bite?

If you’ll be spending time in wooded areas, long grass, or known risk areas, you should wear long-sleeved tops and full-legged trousers and tuck trousers into socks. Children should also wear a hat, as ticks can climb to their height in bushes.

In short: have as little skin exposed as possible. 

It’s also sensible to wear light-coloured clothing so you can easily spot a tick if one bites you.

Useful vocabulary

tick = (die) Zecke = tick

tick bite = (der) Zeckenbiss

tweezers = (die) Pinzette

tick pliers = (die) Zeckenzange

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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