Approximately two-thirds of autistic individuals are looking for a job. Autistic people have lower employment and social isolation rates than people with other disabilities. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated the issue as the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is now almost twice the national average.
“Today, more than 80% of autistic people are unemployed or are in a low-skill level role that doesn’t fully leverage their talent,” said David Friedman, Founder/CEO of AutonomyWorks. “High unemployment rates significantly impact these individuals’ lives and usually result in inadequate financial resources and limited housing or educational options. These conditions force many autistic adults to rely on government programs or families for basic necessities. Beyond the economic costs, they damage their self-image and a sense of purpose.”
While not widely known, the autism community is an untapped resource of diverse talent. The real challenge is connecting the many skilled individuals with the proper role.
“Autism Hiring programs don’t really matter unless there is a cultural shift,” explains Andrew Komarow, a Financial Planner and Creator of The Neurodiversity Index. “Neurodiversity is part of diversity, your diversity efforts are not charity, they are good for business.”
What Are The Barriers
Research dating from 1957 to 2016 inferred those in charge of hiring might be one of the biggest barriers to hiring neurodivergent employees.
“The interview process presents challenges for autistic adults as they’re often evaluated on their ability to answer questions – some of which are random or unexpected – and their ability to engage in a casual conversation,” said Friedman Unstructured interactions such as these are a common struggle for those with autism, and as a result, causes them not to be considered for the job before having the opportunity to demonstrate their skills.”
“We are trained to recognize patterns and make decisions based on pattern matching.,” adds Charlotte Dales, Co-Founder and CEO of Inclusively. “In hiring, this means the same people get hired over and over. Companies’ current technologies filter people out for reasons like having a gap in your resume. If you’re not being filtered out there, you are being put through an interview process that is the exact same for everyone, meaning some people are set up for success but not all people. Forcing all candidates to partake in a panel interview means that candidates who do not perform well in large social settings will not be successful. Companies do not need access to more pipelines. Candidates are already applying for their jobs. Companies need to be able to customize their interview process and working environment so that everyone can be included.”
Autism and the Potential It Holds
It is essential to understand that being autistic is not “good” or “bad”; it’s just different. In fact, 44% of individuals with autism have intellectual abilities that are average or above average. Autistic individuals can often recognize their differences and embrace them. There are also ways to leverage their unique talents, especially in the workplace.
While some may have learning disabilities, mental health issues, or other concerns, with the right kind of support and training, all can live a fulfilling life of their choosing. This includes pursuing a career.
Temple Grandin is a well-known example of an autistic individual who found their unique view of the world advantageous. Diagnosed at age four, Dr. Grandin views things visually through pictures and symbols. Visual thinkers are similar to how animals perceive the world. This exceptional talent helped Dr. Grandin become the world’s leading expert on humane animal handling, and her approach ultimately transformed the meat industry.
Like neurotypical people, those on the autism spectrum can have various interests, abilities, and skills. The goal is to match their interests and talent to the best job fit for them, and this can span multiple types of job roles and industries.
Some aspects of autism that can lend themselves to a workplace are:
- An incredible level of concentration: Not only do people with ASD have an increased capacity for extended focus, but they also tend to have an ability to hyperfocus on areas of interest.
- Able to memorize factual knowledge and reference it easily: A study in the Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews that showed a single brain system could compensate for numerous and diverse deficits in autism. This brain system is called “declarative memory,” a type of long-term memory that involves conscious recollection of particular facts and events. As a result, those on the spectrum often approach situations logically, which can help from a business standpoint.
- Attention to detail or visual thinkers: Those on the spectrum can quickly spot things others may miss, ensure accuracy and excel at intricate work. As mentioned above, this was the case with Temple Grandin.
- Technical abilities: For very detail-oriented individuals, technical skills often come quickly.
- A comfort with animals: Since some of the spectrum may not be as verbal or don’t make eye contact, they can particularly bond with animals where social components are removed.
These facets can be a tremendous and uncommon resource. When your company understands autism, it can not only widen the talent pool you can choose from, but it will open up new possibilities for your business.
Benefits of Working With Those on the Spectrum
Right now, there’s a renewed commitment to Diversity and Inclusion programs regarding hiring. These efforts should also include neurodivergent and autistic individuals. Hiring those on the spectrum demonstrates your genuine commitment to diversity and displays a profound acceptance level for all.
Komarow, however, is quick to point out, “When you tell managers to hit quotas, without changing the culture to one that is inclusive, just for the headlines and just to check a box, you don’t get real results. In the long run, this backfires. Any gains are merely a temporary placebo effect.”
“Autistic workers can be better at certain types of work, and three attributes largely drive this,” Friedman explained. “First, they are great at processing discipline, thereby consistently completing every step in the process. Second, they have an amazing attention to detail and can fully engage in the specifics of data and processes. Lastly, they are constantly pursuing mastery, which means they have a passion for in-depth learning and understanding. Further to these attributes, people with autism work exceptionally well in partnership with automation and AI.”
There are also proven benefits as well. An in-depth analysis by Josh Bersin tracked the business performance of 450 companies alongside 128 talent management. The study proved “that companies with great diversity outperform their peers by a significant margin.” Diverse companies demonstrated:
- 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee
- 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready and be innovation leaders in their market
- 3.8 times more likely to be able to coach people to improve performance
“More neurodivergent workers bring a diversity of thought,” said Komarow. “Proven organizations committed to diversity generate higher profits. That is why we created The Neurodiversity Index; to prove that companies with higher autistic workers benefit with higher profits. Plus, if you have a talent shortage and want to be a more profitable company, you need to hire neurodivergent workers. It is that simple.”
The Harvard Business Review shared a study that showed businesses that employ people with autism and intellectual or developmental differences would see a positive impact. This can include increased morale, improved products and services, higher productivity, and ultimately increased bottom lines.
In addition, several studies show that autistic consultants find, on average, 10% more bugs than their non-autistic colleagues when checking software code for errors.
Lastly, a study done by Accenture, AAPD, and Disability found of the companies they researched that hired those on the spectrum, they achieved, on average, 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins compared with other companies in the same sample.
Why You Should Consider Hiring Autistic Individuals
“Companies should consider hiring more diverse employees because they have to,” said Dales. “Companies will need to demonstrate they have a culture of inclusion to be able to attract and retain the best employees and not fall behind their competitors who are doing so. Secondly, having a more diverse workforce increases a company’s ability to innovate and either provide better products to the communities they serve or open up the ability to target new segments.”
Overall, Mr. Friedman believes that autistic workers are an untapped talent pool eager to work and systematically excluded from the workplace. Yet, employing their dynamic skillsets will immediately impact the individual, the business, and our society at large.