According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a “range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” Currently, one out of every 68 children is diagnosed with an ASD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Approximately two million people in the United States are believed to have been diagnosed with an ASD. This is a huge increase compared to the one in 2,500 cases diagnosed just 20 years ago.
“People with autism have enormous potential,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement to mark World Autism Awareness Day. “Most have remarkable visual, artistic, or academic skills. Thanks to the use of assistive technologies, non-verbal persons with autism can communicate and share their hidden capabilities.” Yet despite these talents and skills, many employers don’t believe that those with autism can be productive workers, and many people with autism have given up trying to find a job after being rejected by potential employers.
I talked with Michael S. Bernick and Richard Holden, the authors of The Autism Job Club: The Neuro-Diverse Workforce in the New Normal of Employment, about the challenges those with autism and other neurodiverse conditions encounter when seeking to enter the workforce and efforts by support groups and industry to smooth the path to employment for those with autism.
Q. Please tell me a little about The Autism Job Club. Why did you write the book? What are its goals?
A. Across the United States, hundreds of employment initiatives for adults on the autism spectrum are quietly underway. These initiatives reflect the concerns and energies of family members, advocates, and the adults on the spectrum themselves. The Autism Job Club examines these initiatives, and sets out strategies for building a better employment system for adults with autism. It also addresses how individual adults with autism might find or carve out a place for themselves in the evolving job market.
Q. What challenges do people with autism and other neurodiverse conditions face when seeking employment?
A. The estimated unemployment rate for adults with autism has not changed much since the early 1990s. It was estimated at over two-thirds of adults then, and continues to be estimated at this number. Some of the challenges faced are the same as those faced by all workers: heightened competition for each job, replacement of full-time employment with part-time and contingent employment and independent contracting, and technology’s elimination of jobs. Beyond these are the additional challenges often with limited networking and executive function skills in obtaining employment, and issues that arise in retaining employment. We should emphasize that each worker is different, though, with different skill sets and interests. As Temple Grandin says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
Q. What can those with autism (along with their parents) do to improve their chances of landing a job?
A. Our central recommendation is to seek out and work with a job coach or job counselor with expertise in the autism spectrum. Such a job coach/counselor will utilize the job search and networking techniques used by all workers, but assist the job seeker with autism in implementing these techniques. The number of job coaches who specialize in working with adults with autism is growing, along with the increasing population. In California, the Department of Rehabilitation and Department of Developmental Services will usually pay for such job coaching for their clients.
Q. Are there any industries or occupations that are particularly friendly to job-seekers with autism and other neurodiverse conditions?
A. It is widely thought that persons with autism are uniquely well-fitted to jobs in technology. This is not true for most of the autism community, though it is for a segment of the community. Microsoft recently launched an initiative to hire adults with autism, following a similar initiative by SAP. We expect that other technology firms will follow in the months ahead.
Q. What can employers do to better integrate those with autism and other neurodiverse conditions into the workforce?
A. Workforce integration is a very important issue, and several groups are addressing it, particularly the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership (ASTEP) in New York. ASTEP is seeking to create a different environment for outreach, hiring, and retention. Its efforts, as others, focus on the patience and flexibility needed often in the integration of adults with autism. Walgreens and Best Buy are examples of employers that not only are hiring adults with autism, but are also adopting a workplace culture for their more successful integration and retention.
I highly recommend The Autism Job Club (978-1-63220-696-1, 2015, 256 pages). It can be purchased at www.skyhorsepublishing.com, at Barnes & Noble online, and at bookstores. A Kindle edition is available at www.amazon.com.
Here are some useful job-search-related web links for people with autism, educators, and employers:
Advancing Futures for Adults With Autism: www.afaa-us.org
Autism Speaks: Resource Guide: www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-guide
Employer’s Guide to Hiring and Retaining Employees
with Autism Spectrum Disorders: www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/employer_guide_to_hiring_and_retaining.pdf
Getting Hired: Empowering Individuals & Veterans With Disabilities: www.gettinghired.com
How to Support Job Seekers With Autism: http://jobaccess.gov.au/content/how-support-job-seekers-autism
JAN: Job Accommodation Network: http://askjan.org
Understanding Autism: An Employer’s Guide: www.researchautism.org/resources/reading/documents/UnderstandingAutismAnEmployersGuide.pdf
Copyright College & Career Press