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April is Autism Acceptance Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over 5.4 million adults in the US have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is explained by the Autism Society as a complex developmental disorder affecting a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. While ASD can cause significant impairment requiring lifelong support, people with ASD may also lead semi to fully- independent lives and are eager to be a part of the workforce.
Autism acceptance in the workplace not only demonstrates an organization’s commitment to a more diverse and inclusive workplace, it also makes good business sense.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) points out that companies like Microsoft, Chevron, Salesforce and numerous others have started or joined successful initiatives to hire and support employees with autism because of the tight labor market and recognition of the skills many with autism can bring to the table.
Autism is actually part of a spectrum of developmental disabilities called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The CDC explains that ASD is a biological and neurological brain disorder with multiple causes, and while most causes have not yet been discovered, with some there is a known genetic condition.
How people with ASD are impacted by the disorder can vary widely. Some are gifted, while others can be severely challenged. Some are able to function mostly or completely independently, while others require significant help with every day activities.
There are a variety of signs of ASD noted by the CDC, such as having trouble relating to others, avoiding eye contact, having trouble understanding or communicating about feelings, preferring to be alone or being interested in people but not knowing how to play or relate to them, difficulty adapting to changes in routines, as well as unusual reactions to sensory perceptions like sounds, smell, taste, look or feel.
Individuals with ASD are an untapped resource
While society in general has become much more aware of autism over the last decade, there is still a lot of misunderstanding. Those with ASD make valuable contributions to the economy and they can be a great part of your team.
In fact, as noted by the UK’s National Autistic Society, while every person with ASD is different, there are some specific skills in which they may excel over their non-autistic counterparts:
- High levels of concentration
- Reliability, conscientiousness, and persistence
- Accuracy, close attention to detail and the ability to identify errors
- Technical ability, such as in IT
- Detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory
SHRM also notes the business case: “Research shows that there can be business benefits to hiring employees with autism. People on the spectrum often demonstrate trustworthiness, strong memories, reliability, adherence to rules and attention to detail. They are often good at coding – a skill that is in high demand.”
Still, the majority of people with autism have trouble finding or keeping employment despite their talents and ability to do a job well simply because employers lack understanding of how ASD may affect communication and social skills. As an employer or manager, you can make a difference by recognizing that persons with autism provide valuable skills and learning how to make the workplace more accommodating.
What employers can do for employees with ASD
So, how can you and your organization successfully support current and future employees with ASD to maximize their potential in your organization?
The United Disabilities Services Foundation (USDF) offers employers some great advice to create a more effective and kinder workplace for employees with autism. Six strategies they recommend are to provide clear directions, make use of outside support such as a job coach, provide consistent and constructive feedback, educate and train other employees on ASD, designate another employee to be a mentor or buddy, and provide reasonable accommodations.
For more information, you can also check out Hire Autism’s Guide for Training Employees With Autism. Most states have vocational resources available for people with disabilities like onsite job coaches and other helpful services. Find your local resources by contacting your state’s vocational rehabilitation office or the American Job Center Network.
Adjusting the hiring process to enable an ASD-inclusive workplace.
Because of the communication and social difference people with autism experience, they may be overlooked by employers. While they may be more than capable of performing a job well, a person with autism may be overlooked because the interview process often favors those with high levels of communication and social skills. Hire Autism provides great information and techniques for an ASD-friendly recruiting and interview process.
About the Author
Adrienne Moberg, LCSW, CEAP is the Customer Experience Manager at Espyr. Adrienne has over 15 years of behavioral health experience including in EAP, domestic violence, community mental health and substance abuse treatment settings.
For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.