Anthony Pease has always had a penchant for puzzles. Brain teasers, Rubik's cube, Sudoku--You name it, he can solve it.

"I like the complicated stuff, the eureka moments," says Pease, 20, whose eureka moments now come from solving clients' complex software problems. He's a quality assurance analyst for Aspiritech, a software testing firm in Chicago.

"It's like a puzzle," Pease explains, describing the meticulous process he uses to identify software glitches and help clients resolve them. His technical ability, precision and affinity for repetitive tasks are a perfect fit for the job.

Those qualities are also hallmarks of his high-functioning autism.

Aspiritech is among a growing number of companies created to employ people on the autism spectrum. Launching as "social enterprises," these businesses harness the strengths of those whose brains operate differently.

Often, their founders are people who never intended to become entrepreneurs, but have unique insight into the underutilized skills that come with autism: Parents who have watched their children struggle to find jobs.

Strengths before stereotypes

"We as a society cannot afford to waste their talents," says Aspiritech founder Brenda Weitzberg. Her company has doubled in staff size and revenue over the past two years, employing 59 people with autism and passing the $2 million mark.

Weitzberg and her husband started Aspiritech after seeing their adult son "fall through the cracks" when it came to finding and keeping a job. More than 80 percent of adults with autism are unemployed.

Like many people with high-functioning autism--also known as Asperger's syndrome--their son showed above-average intelligence, precision and honesty. But Asperger's syndrome impairs social interactions. These individuals often can't read social cues, keep track of time, engage in give-and-take communication, or understand nuances. Seemingly simple conversations, as well as traditional interview processes, can be excruciating.

"If you think about it, it makes no sense to systematically screen out talented people from your organization who can contribute in real ways, just because they do not fit a pre-determined mold," says Harvard Business School Professor Gary Pisano.

But that mold is beginning to crack, he says, as more businesses realize the value of neurodiversity--people whose brains function differently--in the workplace.

The efforts of smaller start-ups are buoyed by tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Hewlett-Packard, which are embracing neurodiversity and re-vamping their interviewing and training policies to attract, rather than eliminate, skilled workers with autism.

Quality, not charity

Started in a backyard barn in 2011 by the mother of a young adult with autism, Spectrum Designs is a customized apparel company that last year did nearly $1.5 million in sales, a ten-fold increase over the company's first year. Clients include Metro-North, Neiman Marcus and Facebook.

"We're a business first, and we also employ people with autism," says Spectrum's Chief Operating Officer Tim Howe. He says the off-the-charts attention to detail gives the company a competitive edge. "We never want people to say 'My order wasn't perfect, but they employ people with autism, so that's okay.'" he says.

Although 75 percent of Spectrum Designs' workforce is on the autism spectrum, "we're not waving the charity flag," says president and co-founder Patrick Bardsley, who points out most clients don't even know their products were made by people with autism "until the end, when we might say 'By the way, you're supporting a great cause.'"

To accommodate the visual and concrete thinking, Spectrum's workstations are set up with markings on the floor, showing employees where to stand. Each task in the screen printing process is broken down into a series of defined steps.

Different is celebrated

Another business breaking down its process into a series of manageable steps for workers with autism--46 steps, to be exact--is Rising Tide Car Wash in Florida.

The company opened in 2013, washing 35-thousand cars a year. Since then, business has quadrupled, with 150-thousand cars washed last year and sales topping $1.7 million.

"They come to work early, no one talks on their phone, and they follow protocols to a T," says founder John D'Eri, whose adult son has autism, and knows what it's like to feel bullied.

So D'Eri set out to build a team of workers who felt empowered, rather than isolated.

"Here, autism isn't something to be ashamed of," he says. "It's the reason you got the job."

Support for startups

Foundations and think tanks are springing up around the globe with education, training and money to encourage neurodiverse workplaces.

The University of Miami recently announced "Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur," a $510,000 annual grant to help autism-focused businesses get off the ground.

Even the United Nations is promoting autism awareness in the workplace.

Dr. Hackie Reitman, a surgeon who started, travels the country meeting with people interested in starting neurodiverse businesses.

"We all have different brains," he says. "No one deserves to be on the sidelines."