Autism & Employment: Setting the Record Straight.

There is a statistic quoted, 1000 times over, about unemployment and underemployment rates associated with the autistic population. I used to quote it. The quote states: Sources estimate between 75% and 80% of autistic adults are either unemployed or underemployed.

I’ve heard this statistic on news channels. Watched it on YouTube videos. Read it in books. Viewed it on websites. Trouble is only a few places actually provide these mysterious ‘sources.’

The underemployment and unemployment rates for the autistic adults are largely conjecture, as few studies exist, and those that do are biased in nature and are not representative of a general population of autistics. In fact, one commonly quoted statistic is referencing an admittedly biased research of a limited population, such as American, young adults (under the age of twenty-four) who attended special education (sheltered) programs.

Much of the autism and employment research doesn’t include: people of color, females, individuals over the age of 30.

To date there are no all-encompassing statistic in the U.S. that represent the number of autistics who are currently employed (or currently in existence, for that matter.) Autism and Overcoming Job Barriers: Comparing Job-Related Barriers and Possible Solutions in and outside of Autism-Specific Employment, 2016, points out that most recent studies do not present a general overview of the collective of employed adults on the autism spectrum, and typically assess employment only in specific groups.

It’s smart to question where employment statistics are derived from when concerning autistics and to take into account the ages of the participants (and levels of individual support needs). Nowadays, most typical young adults, under the age of twenty-five in the USA, are struggling to find full time employment or a decent paying job (autism aside). And those that were once children placed in sheltered classrooms are historically the adult children that are struggling more in daily life in general and need extra help.

Autistic adults weren’t all in special education classes.

That’s an important fact to remember. Some autistics weren’t even diagnosed until their 40s, 50s, or 60s.

The overall societal perception of autistics in the workplace is that autistics lack the practical skills, social skills, and education to get a job. The overriding thought is if 1) we can just educate them on how to act and fit in, 2) and give them those educational resources to build up their skills, and 3) prep them for the interview, 4) they can do it!

This type of reasoning is deficient on a number of counts—but specifically in the way the conclusion leaves out numerous autistic individuals who have fine-tuned their communication skills, who have had jobs and higher educational experience, and who have tried to fit in with workplace culture. If autistics just needed a booster shot in vocational education skills and social smarts to be able to obtain and maintain a job, autistics would be on their way already.

The truth is that many adult autistics have been hired, and subsequently been fired, or let go, or left the job on their own accord. Most autistics I know reported the number one reason for leaving the workplace was . . . bullying.

Not too long ago, I was on an outreach call with an agency leader. I was representing the technology company I work for, explaining about our neurodiverse hiring initiatives, when the agency leader, when speaking on autistic job seekers, said, “We just need to get them into social skills training.”

At that point, I had to draw from my years of communication, psychology, and Buddhist studies, to calmly reply, “I am a them.”

On the point of education, in analyzing the data from the online survey (admittedly biased), I conducted in 2017, there was one piece of data that was evident right from the start: There are a significant number of autistic adults around the globe who have some form of higher education or training beyond high school. 

More than 89% of the 183 survey participants had some level of training or education after basic schooling (high school) and over 27% held advanced degrees. Another interesting fact was that many individuals had held down multiple full time jobs over the course of their career.

Here is a list of jobs I collected from adults on the autism spectrum in a 2017 online survey; the adults reported their current or most recent job, and reside in various countries, including the USA, Australia, Canada, and the UK:

Animal Care Technical, Archivist Assistant, Artist, Audiologist, Author, Autism Educator, Automobile Garage director, Bookkeeper personal assistant, Business Owner (Not Specified), Cake Decorator, Caregiver of Elderly, Caretaker, Childcare Practitioner (Residential), Child Protective Services, Secretary/Senior Assistant Caseworker, Childcare Provider, Childcare Provider (Substitute), Civil Servant, Community Organizer, Coordinator of Small Autism Support Organisation, Copywriter/Content Marketing, Counselor Intern in Graduate School, County Inspector, Crisis Worker (Licensed Mental Health Therapist), Dean of Students, Delivery Scheduler, Delivery Driver, Disability Advocate/Disability Supports Coordinator, Dishwasher at Restaurant, Editorial Cartoonist, Education Assistant, Environmental Monitoring Assistant, Farmer/Rancher, Fast Food Delivery Driver, Floor Clerk at Architecture Firm, Freelance Consultant & Gardener, Freelance Interpreter, Futures Trader, Grocer, Grocery Cashier, Group Processing Specialist (Insurance Company), Home health aide retail worker, Homemaker and Massage Therapist, Horticulturist, Hospital Linen Department, Housekeeper, Internship at Radio Show, Ironing, IT Support Specialist, Jewelry Maker, Library Assistant, Library Media Technician/Librarian (Elementary School), Marketing Coordinator, Member Service Representative, Medical Scribe, Migration Consultant, (Relief) Milker, Full-Time Mom, Office Administration, Operations Analyst, Physical Therapist, Poet, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Private Caregiving, Professor, Proofreader and Teaching Assistant, Public Accountant, QA Analyst, LMFT, (and Doctorate Student), QDDP/Program Manager, Residential Counselor, Retired from State Service after 38 years, School Aide and School Services Officer, Special Education Director, Senior Hospital Scientist at Children’s Hospital (Oncology), Senior Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical Technology Company, Senior VP of Programming Radio Program, Student Conference Assistant, Social Worker, Social Worker (Retired, Working Voluntarily), Software Tester, Software Tester and Graphic Designer, Special Education Teacher, Tax Preparer, Teaching Artist, Teaching Assistant, Teacher, (Substitute) Teacher, Child Care, Tutoring,Teacher’s Aide (Direct Support Professional & Residential Habilitation Aide), Technician, Transcriber/Editor, Truck Driver, Truck Mechanic (Apprentice), Uber Driver, Virtual Assistant, Volunteer with GCA Centre for Adult Autism, Walgreens, Assistant Wine Maker, Yoga Teacher.

And my favorite: “I am a Knight on an ecological farm.”

In managing my Facebook page Everyday Aspergers, there have been numerous times, after I have posted a recent autism study, proclaiming some new finding, when autistic community members pipe up and comment: I could have told them that! Why don’t they ask us?

Why not, indeed.

Here is a fantastic study by Autistic Not Weird  You will note many autistics do struggle to find work.

The next time you read a statistic about autistics, consider going to the source. Better yet, go to an actual autistic person.

 

Side note: There are multiple issues at hand. The point of the article is we don’t know; we don’t even know how many autistics there are. But I definitely believe there are large numbers of disabled people out of work and in need of work, and non-disabled people as well. It’s an employment crisis for many, not just autistics. Perhaps if we had examples of what other autistics are doing, others could find mentors, inspiration, hope. There are no easy answers.

For much more information about autism as it relates to employment, check out myspectrumsuite.com. The author Marcelle Ciampi (aka Samantha Craft) is a lead job recruiter, community outreach professional, former school teacher, published author, speaker, autism advocate, and friend to 1000s of awesome-minded folks around the globe. She has just completed the manuscript Autism in a Briefcase: A leading edge tool for putting diversity into action. Feel free to contact her at everydayaspergers @gmail.com

All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be copied or distributed without written permission from the author.

15 thoughts on “Autism & Employment: Setting the Record Straight.

    1. Great article Samantha. However, I feel a need to add to this topic as I work in this field.

      I cannot speak on the rest of the U.S., but I can say in Los Angeles County there is a high unemployment/underemployment rate among individuals, not just in our community, but people with developmental disabilities as a whole within the Regional Center system.

      I am autistic and I also work for the Regional Center. The Department that oversees the Regional Centers, the Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDS), tracks this data within the State of California.

      I agree that the data probably does not include the members of our community you mentioned. However, it does include individuals who are currently receiving State funded services and supports. These are individuals who require a higher level of support in our community versus the members of our community you mentioned.

      For individuals who require a higher level of support, there is a lack of employment-based services available…at least here in California.

      Just here in North Los Angeles County alone, the only options for people in our community who require these services are only able to choose from “sheltered workshop” type services.

      Up until recent legislative changes, these individuals were taught only how to perform janitorial or landscaping duties and were paid less than minimum wage. The skills taught were not transferable into a community-based job earning a livable wage. Without marketable skills in a field earning a livable wage, these individuals get “stuck” in the system…unable to support themselves outside of State funded assistance.

      I witness this firsthand everyday in my profession. So I have no doubt the data we see in the media is accurate, at least for people in our community who require a higher level of support.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear you. I added a note to the end of the article stating my point is we don’t know the numbers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real issue at hand — for many with disabilities, and those without. However, if we look at other minorities, — like those who utilize mobility devices — there are positive role models, there are examples of people holding down work. We don’t see that in the autistic community media … we need positive role models to see that we, as autistics, can find work and are capable and not in need of charity. I hope that makes sense. And, yes, those that require high levels of support do need assistance and we do need to help them. How wonderful if autistics could help autistics. I’d love to see large companies run by autistics. Thanks for your wonderful and needed comment.

        Like

  1. I love it. And this exactly why I developed a course to help people find and secure legitimate remote jobs. We are beta launching on Monday and I invite all our aspie friends to join beta testing and see if we can get them on the road to earning a livable wage remotely (and without going insane from having to mask every day, like I did until I burnt out). http://www.remoteworkhelp.com

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I often think this about those employment statistics. They fail to take into account all the hidden undiagnosed autistics; all the successfully self-employed small business autistics who are doing it for themselves; all the brilliant, original nerdy quirky female autistics who have thrived in Their specialist areas without diagnosis or support despite tremendous odds against them and often bouts of mental illness and deep self reproach. It would be wonderful if we could look at all those successful Eccentric types and find out how many are on the spectrum, and then work out what, how and why in their family, educational and work histories allowed them to thrive and THEN start giving that kind of support to people across the spectrum rather than trying to force autistic people to conform to a standard of NT “perfection” that only engenders illness, self-loathing and yes, chronic unemployment and financial hardship.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello,

    I would like to add to your findings.

    I am a 34 year old female and was diagnosed when I was 26. I hold a certificate in fashion design. I work as a seamstress for a local shop doing vintage clothing repair and I run an FB page for a company that sells vintage inspired clothing. My passion is in history and material culture.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You can add me – I’m an emergency physician, also worked in general practice and palliative care. I know two other autistic GPs, and two autistic anaesthetists. I have also met a couple of ED docs who are probably autistic, but not diagnosed or interested in being so. Additionally a senior medical biochemist ( and the day I met his dad I was ‘Hoo boy, I know where he gets that from now!’).

    Curiously the one area in healthcare I have not met anyone I thought might be autistic is nursing – though I am sure there will be some autistic nurses out there.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: