“Autism is a gift to an employer, not a burden. The few simple accommodations that might be required are worth the punctuality, attention to detail, creative out-of-the-box thinking, problem solving ability, task focus, etc.” Autistic Disability Supports Coordinator, Australia
Autism awareness has been on the rise for decades now, first driven by the onslaught of news headlines outlining the rising autism ‘epidemic,’ and then steer-headed by the parent advocacy groups that formed in search of answers—some of which grew into substantial, modern-day autism agencies. Bringing a moving picture and voice to autism, was the onset of the biopic, groundbreaking film Temple Grandin, portraying the world-renowned autistic author and accomplished professor of science, Dr. Grandin. More news of autism spread with the increase in online social networks, autism self-advocacy groups, and autism support and research agencies.
Today the perception of autism is gradually swinging from something once feared and made to conquer (or hide), to something to learn more about, support, and, in best cases, accept or embrace. As more has been shared and exposed about the truth of living on the autism spectrum and more adults have recognized they are autistic, the word autism no longer serves as a mere diagnostic label. In fact, today autism is an entity in and of itself; a word that has transitioned beyond the clinical world of the diagnostic manual to a holistic representation of one’s individuality and a growing, merging culture.
Riding the shirttails of autism awareness is the concept of ‘Autism in the Workplace.’ In fact, the talk of attracting neurodivergents, such as autistics, to the job market, has experienced exponential growth over the past five years. Partially because tapping into a neurodiverse workforce addresses many of today’s business challenges. Take, for example, some of the challenges business leaders face today.
- Motivating employee
- Staying current
- Maintaining a reputation
- Keeping up with technology
- Finding and recruiting the right talent
- Lack of work ethic in unskilled workforce
- Creating distinction between organization and competitors
Add that to the list, I formulated from my research, demonstrating advantages an autistic hiring initiative can bring to a business organization:
- Loyal and dedicated employees with unique skill sets
- Increase chances of innovative approaches
- Increased work productivity and company loyalty
- Access to a virtually untapped candidate pool
- Elevated business brand and business culture
- Means to make a substantial difference in today’s business landscape
When comparing, it’s easy to surmise the benefits of autism hiring initiatives!
Not too long ago, I spoke with a vocational agency in the states that is now working with PSA (Pacific Southwest Airline), as they are finding autistics make good agents. This was shortly after I attended a call with the former CFO of a large autism agency, who is interested in autism hiring initiatives. Kate Jackson in the article Autism in the Workplace explains: “In recent years, companies such as U.S. home financing giant Freddie Mac, German enterprise software firm SAP, and Alliance Data Systems. . . have made headlines for their commitment to employing individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), often in jobs of a technical nature, such as creating apps, software, and computer games.” As a business objective, tapping into the autistic workforce logically makes sense (and likely more cents!), as the autism hiring aim can feasibly eradicate a number of business challenges.
Many a headline is leading way to a technology article highlighting the skills and attributes adults on the autism spectrum have to bring to the job market—including the capacity for amazing focus and advanced innovative thinking skills. It’s no surprise, given the times and publicity, that organizations focused in the STEM industry (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are recruiting autistics. Over and over autistics and the world are hearing of the tech skills of those on the spectrum.
But is proclaiming that autistics are good in STEM fields all good? Isn’t this a stereotype, not much different than saying Asians are good at . . .
Truth be told, some on the spectrum aren’t that tech savvy and have little to no interest in the latest gadgets, beyond charging their phone and maneuvering social media. For those that have a passion for technology, and do excel in the tech field, good news abounds—at least for those who can make it through the hiring process and effectively demonstrate their knowledge, and surpass the all-encompassing social anxiety, and . . .
“Autistic people have skills in many different things. I would like to see more opportunities for all autistics looking for work in all realms of the workforce and not just in tech.” Educational Assistant, Canada
While it’s been proven through research that some autistics share overriding general attributes, such as pattern recognition, each autistic is an individual. Everyone on the spectrum learns, processes, retains, and recalls information in their own unique way. Some have challenges (and gifts) of dyslexia and ADHD. Some have talents in artistic trades, and some are literary scholars. On the same note, autistics aren’t all young, white males eager to enter the tech field. Some are silver-haired grandmas, who made it through college, with only a typewriter, who are just now getting acquainted with their first smartphone, and underemployed and in search of meaningful work.
Dr. Stephen Shore, a prominent autism advocate and educator, asked some poignant questions along the same lines of this subject, during a webcast at Autism Animated, when he shared, “There is a certain sector of us, on the autism spectrum, who are IT geeks; and for those of us who are, we can make incredible contributions to the world of information technology . . . but my question also is what about everybody else? What about people who have skills in other areas? And what about people who are perhaps more significantly affected with autism? What type of employment are we going to find for these individuals?”
Ashlea McKay, an Australian autism advocate, confided her own frustrations during our conversation, when she explained: “I am a user experience (UX) designer, researcher and writer working in a creative field that is driven by human behaviour. I speak at industry leading conferences both overseas and at home and am a highly respected thought leader in my field. When I see and hear things that suggest that autistic people are only suitable for science, engineering and technological type roles, I feel quite frustrated. I’m not just living in a creative world; I’m thriving in it! I also couldn’t do any of those tech related roles because that’s just not how I think. It’s also not what I want. Autistic people are just like anyone else in that we can do any job in any profession. In fact, I think we do it better.”
I’ve corresponded with over 10,000 autistics around the world over the last half-decade. I’ve noted some commonalities in career choices. But these commonalities aren’t across the board. While some members of the autistic community excel at jobs that satisfy a personal need to intellectualize, others fancy manual labor. Some flourish by being their own boss in a self-employed venture. Some find solace in the field of community-based or civil service. Some autistics crave the predictability of pattern and routine. Others find pattern-seeking jobs mundane. And, while some autistics might navigate toward a competitive field, others prefer a docile role behind the scenes. Some are better suited for success in a sheltered work environment, such as specifically created jobs for persons with disabilities. Some give 150% to a job without any support systems in place. Other autistic require reasonable accommodations or workplace adjustments to excel. And many an autistic desires to find a workplace where the company culture is as equally beneficial as the trade at hand.
Don’t just put us in a box and think we’re only capable of one type of work, we’re all so vastly different. ~ Unemployed, UK
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud organizational leaders that are actively seeking ways to provide jobs for autistics. But how fantastic if autistics were actively pursued by other agencies and organizations for jobs and internships, such as school districts, hospitals, publishing houses, libraries, autism training agencies, childcare industries, artists guilds, to name a few. What if managerial jobs were filled by autistics and not primarily entry-level jobs? What if part-time work with benefits was made available? How might autistics succeed? What if some of these bigger-named agencies, that have a gigantic audience, opened up their doors to placing autistics in HR roles, such as job coaches, diversity and inclusion specialist, community managers, and educators? How might that change the landscape?
What would happen if autistics weren’t seen as a stereotype and more doors were open? What would happen if ‘Autism in the Workplace’ became ‘Autistics in the Workplace’?
How can you help spread awareness?
- Share this post.
- Join me on LinkedIn (article here).
I’ll be continuing to share excerpts from my 55,000-word manuscript, Autism in a Briefcase, to raise awareness.
For more information and resources check out myspectrumsuite.com or other articles by Marcelle Ciampi, M.Ed (aka Samantha Craft) on LinkedIn. I have served as a community manager, senior recruiter, and an outreach specialist at a company with a neurodiversity hiring initiative. I am the author of the well-received book Everyday Aspergers and helped to co-author Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism.
I also give awesome diversity and inclusion trainings and consultations.
This is a portion of the manuscript Autism in a Briefcase. All rights reserved.