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Autism and Culture Round-up: Paralympic Gold and the Tech Start-up Employing the Adult Autism Community

At the Autism Academy located in Gilbert, AZ, we strive to provide the best education for children with autism. In addition to offering support to our students, we find it important to help them focus on the future, which means educating them about people who are similar to them and have achieved greatness.

In our final culture round-up for the month of August, we take a look at an American runner with autism set to take the gold at next month’s Paralympics alongside a tech start-up  who has found success through employing adults with autism.


First up, while many of us spent a good chunk of August cheering on athletes from around the world at the Summer Games in Rio, it also gave some of us the opportunity to reflect on the athletic opportunities for children with autism. This led us to learning about Michael “Mikey” Brannigan, a 19-year-old runner who is currently training to compete in the Paralympics in Rio next month. He will compete in the 1500 meter race and is expected to take the gold.

Brannigan had broken a world record, can run a mile in under four minutes, and was courted by over 200 colleges from around the country for his prowess as a runner. He was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. “He went from crawling to running, and he’d be running into the walls,” Brannigan’s mom, said his mom Edie. “He had hurt himself.” When he got older his parents enrolled him in Rolling Thunder, a racing club for children with special needs and by the age of 17, was considered by many to be one of the top ten high school runners in the country. While he desired to go to a Division I school, his difficulties with standardized testing led him to community college, but he also is training with the New York Athletic Club. “I love to work hard and have fun. And just beat my personal best and keep improving to that next level,” said Brannigan.


In our second story, we turn our focus to Southern California, home to the tech start-up MindSpark that is a testing firm home to numerous employees who spend their days diligently checking software and websites for bugs and issues. The company was founded by Chris Hahn who has spent his professional career working in technology and consulting, learning the specific skills needed for the different sectors and whose wife works with the developmentally disabled community. As he began to meet his wife’s clients, he soon noticed that those with autism often possessed the exact skills needed of a software tester.

“The talent needed to be a good software tester is strong pattern recognition, strong dreamstime_xxl_6598658attention to detail and the ability to have strong focus,” Hahn said from his office in Santa Monica, a short walk from the beach. “Those are three traits we look for and traits that members of the autistic community have in numbers.” With around 90 percent of the adult autism community believed to be without work, companies like Hahn’s are filling a much-needed gap while providing careers that play to his employees’ strengths. And his business is growing because of it, increasing in size by 50 percent in each of the last three years, with Hahn now looking to outside investors. “We’ve gotten great service from a great vendor who is located right in Southern California with us,” said Ben Hope, chief information officer of Fox Networks. “It’s really providing an opportunity for some bright individuals who might not otherwise have it.”

Only time will tell if other tech start-ups will look to MindSpark’s success and start to employ more adults with autism.

Both of these stories show how important it is to look toward the future for your children. The future starts in education, so make sure you pick a school that will cater to your child’s autism and give him or her the support and social skills students with autism need. At the Autism Academy, we build our curriculum around children with autism, contact us to learn more.