Nearly 66 percent of adults with autism are unemployed. A vast majority of autistic individuals cannot get a job – and when they do, bullying in the professional space seems to be on the rise. An estimated 500,000 young adults with autism are due to enter the US workforce in the next decade, and a majority will struggle to land their first job.
Research scientist Anne Roux, of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, studies young adults with autism and was the lead author of National Autism Indicators Report: Transition Into Young Adulthood report. Young adults on the spectrum are just as eager to live independently and work. However, social services aimed at helping children overcome problems with communication and social skills become less available as those students get older.
Autism and Employment
With baby boomers heading into retirement in droves, and with talent in increasingly short supply, companies are all starting to actively hire and recruit autistic adults and those with a disability. At the helm of autism employment initiatives are several prominent tech companies like Cable Labs, Capital One, Freddie Mac, HP, Microsoft, and SAP. Non-tech employers, which build on the employment strengths of autistic employees, are Best Buy, Deloitte, Ford Motor, Freddie Mac, Walgreens and Willis Towers Watson. While these businesses aren’t yet putting a lot more people to work, their recruiting and training programs are becoming elicit models for other firms.
Ampleforth Plus chocolate factory in North Yorkshire, UK, trains and provide work experience to adults with autism, enabling them to better access to employment.
For autistic individuals, ongoing support for employment is critical to their success. People with autism have a higher unemployment rate, and their skills are going untapped as many jobs sit unfilled.
Specialisterne Canada specializes in working with businesses to hire people on the spectrum or who face challenges accessing employment. Illinois-based AutonomyWorks, is a tech company that hires people with autism for their unique talents and abilities. Each employee receives a custom-tailored working environment. In addition, autistic employees also receive job coaching, occupational support, and life skills training.
Reasonable Adjustments in the Workplace
Cara, 29, from Austin was diagnosed with autism in 2013 which causes her extreme anxiety. She was at an IT desktop analyst job and didn’t even know there was a problem until she was fired because she “didn’t fit in” there.
“I know that my employer is not responsible for how I reacted to my autism, but they failed to provide me any support at all,” she said.
Researchers at the Rutgers and Syracuse universities found that employers are more likely to discriminate against highly qualified job applicants who disclosed disabilities in the cover letter. A lot of companies discriminate, and it is even more prevalent among private companies.
“I felt worthless. I was very worried about the future, and I was convinced that I was unemployable,” recalls Cara.
When Cara spotted an advertisement for an IT job in Downtown Austin, she applied with low expectations of success.
“I still find interviews quite hard and for me, the best way to do it is if I can write down my thoughts on a piece of paper. I feel employers could be a little more flexible in their hiring processes and possibly offer alternatives to interviews, which those with autism, including myself, often find very difficult to express themselves in.”
Autism can bring some very useful skills at the workplace. Employers who get this right have found that workers with autism are the most focused, productive, and talented employees. Once they see a hard worker, and once they’ve invested some training cost, they are usually more than willing to retain autistic employees.
Even though their interpersonal skills may be weak, autistic workers bring unique strengths and interests to the table. A lot of companies hire autistic individuals for jobs that require repetitive tasks, the ability to concentrate on long, a knack for detecting patterns, or strong mathematics and coding skills.
Autism can be an Asset
Internet-based platforms like Picasso Einstein, the Autistic Creatives Collective, and the Art of Autism showcase the works of adults with autism who are artists, musicians, painters, photographers, and writers. Universities and foundations are experimenting with grassroots initiatives to increase the work rate of adults on the autism spectrum. Autism doesn’t go away when people turn 18. We need to figure out how to eradicate institutional biases which play a big role in the employment of people with autism.
What’s something employers might not know about your experience with autism, and what would you say to guide them to work effectively? If you have a story to tell, please send a blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and a short bio.