SHARE
COPY LINK

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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

HEALTH

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

Going to the dentist can be daunting at the best of times and being unsure of the language can make things ten times worse. We’ve put together a guide of the German words and phrases you need to help take some of the pain away.

The vocab you need for a trip to the dentist in Germany

When you arrive at the dentist, you’ll usually be asked if you’re gesetzlich or privat versichert (if you have state or private health insurance) and asked to present your health insurance card. However, for most procedures, you will still have to pay something extra on top. 

The most common reason for a trip to the dentist (Zahnarzt) is having eine Vorsorgeuntersuchung (check-up) or a cleaning appointment (eine Zahnreinigung or eine Prophylaxe) which most dentists recommend having twice a year.

Most health insurers won’t reimburse the full cost of teeth cleaning – so make sure you check beforehand with your Krankenkasse which costs are covered.

In a cleaning appointment, the dentist will remove plaque (der Zahnbelag) and check the health of your teeth (die Zähne) and gums (das Zahnfleisch). If they tell you that they see Karies (tooth decay) then you may be told to come back for another appointment to get a filling (eine Zahnfüllung or eine Plombe).

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

They will certainly remind you at the end of the appointment to use Zahnseide (dental floss) on a daily basis (täglich) and also recommend that you use Interdentalbürsten (interdental brushes) for cleaning in between the teeth.

In the chair

When you actually get into the hot seat, you will be usually asked to do certain things by your dentist or dental assistant (Zahntechniker) so they can do what they need to do.

The first thing you’ll usually be asked to do is ausspülen bitte – to rinse your mouth with mouthwash (die Mundspülung) usually in a plastic cup in a little sink next to the dental chair. They might ask you to keep the liquid in your mouth for a certain number of seconds until they tell you to ausspucken (spit it out).

A woman undergoes a dental examination. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Markus Scholz

When you’re lying down, you’ll inevitably be told Mund öffnen bitte or aufmachen bitte (open your mouth) and likewise, you might be asked to zumachen (close) your mouth at some point. Other typical instructions in the dentist’s chair are: Mundlocker lassen (relax your mouth), Kopf zu mir drehen (turn your head towards me) and Kinn nach oben (chin upwards).

Types of dental issues

There are numerous complaints that could compel you to pay a visit to the dentist, but one of the most common is having a filling (eine Zahnfüllung) or having a crown (eine Zahnkrone).Your health insurance will cover the cost of the most basic kind of material for filling up a cavity, but you will be presented with a price list (or if you aren’t – ask) for the different types of materials for crowns or fillings.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How dental care works in Germany

Another common complaint is having to have a tooth removed (eine Zahnextraction) – a particularly common procedure for a wisdom tooth (der Weisheitszahn). A more serious extraction procedure is a root canal treatment (eine Wuzelkanalbehandlung).

If you have this kind of procedure, you will normally be offered a local anaesthetic (örtliche Betäubung or Lokalanästhesie) and you may also need an X-Ray (ein Röntgen).

More useful phrases and vocabulary

Braces – (die) Zahnspangen

Sensitive teeth – empfindliche

ZähneTooth pain – (der) Zahnschmerz

Dentures – (die) ProtheseI have toothache when I chew/drink – Ich habe Zahnschmerzen beim kauen/trinken

I have light/strong pain on this tooth – Ich habe leichte/starke Schmerzen an diesem Zahn

My gums are inflamed – Ich habe eine Entzündung am Zahnfleisch

I am nervous about the treatment – Ich habe Angst vor der Behandlung

SHOW COMMENTS