April is Autism Awareness Month, and for many adults with autism (an estimated over three million), there is nowhere they’d rather see progress made than in the workplace.
With only 14% of adults with autism holding paid jobs in their communities, according to the National Autism Indicators report published by Drexel University’s Autism Institute, unemployment is high for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Some entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are making an effort to change these statistics. Every year, at least 50,000 individuals with autism will enter adulthood, according to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks. Autism is referred to as a spectrum because the disorder can manifest itself more mildly with Asperger syndrome which is characterized by social awkwardness, to more intense manifestations of limited to no verbal skills, severe sensory sensitivity, and tendencies toward self-injurious behavior.
Those on the spectrum who are able to work and interact with their communities often struggle to land a job in the first place because of the emphasis placed on being outgoing, confident and team-oriented in interviews. Social interaction and communication skills can be a challenge for people with autism spectrum disorder, but it doesn’t mean the individual is any less capable of executing the required job tasks. Those with autism are unusually detail-oriented, highly analytical, and able to focus intensely on tasks, making them valuable employees.
Creating a diverse workplace that’s inclusive of those on the autism spectrum starts in two places: the hiring process and the work culture.
When interviewing candidates with autism, keep these questions in mind:
- Does the job position description require excellent interpersonal skills?
- Is the application clear in what it’s asking for, and is there space for applicants to ask for help or special requests during the interview?
- Are your interview questions practical?
- If the applicant has no previous qualifying experience, do they show aptitude to learn quickly?
When creating a modern work environment, consider these points:
- “Job crafting”: Matching tasks to staff strengths rather than forcing employees into preset job descriptions. This is not an “I only do whatever I feel like” mindset, but rather a way to strengthen your company as a whole by utilizing everyone’s strengths. This can be applied to all employees, not just those with autism.
- Management styles: Managers can learn a lot about delegating and communication by supervising those with limited social skills. It encourages a relationship to be built to provide feedback and understanding where the employee is struggling and thriving.
- Size doesn’t matter: Small businesses have an advantage because they have the flexibility needed to create unique positions, as well as the close environment that encourages helping people who are different. Corporations, notably Microsoft, are able to integrate a diverse workforce because they have so many open positions to fill. Being tech and logic oriented helps, too.
Businesses need a diverse workforce, and that can be fulfilled by employing adults with autism. Some businesses have a social mission built into their business model, such as Our Coffee with a Cause which creates tasks like packing shipments and taking customers orders to give individuals with all types of disabilities a feeling of accomplishment and achievement. Other companies, like Words Bookstores are implementing the “job crafting” technique to form a happier work environment for their mixed employees, autistic and not.
Being inclusive is possible for any size business, it just might take a different amount of time and planning depending on the open job positions. Those who have hired autistic individuals can attest that those employees perform just as well, if not better, than their coworkers, and the social interaction is easily workaroundable.
How could your company open up to enhance the life of an adult with autism?