In 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 59 children in the United States have been diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and over one million in the United Kingdom.
Those numbers are expected to rise significantly over time. When these children reach adult age and begin to seek employment, they will discover the limitations communities have with socially accepting those with autism.
According to the Autism Society briefing of 2018, 58 percent of young autistic people acquire work experience after high school and into their twenties, while adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities have an 85 percent unemployment rate. This information is alarming!
My now 26-year-old son achieved his college degree and worked for a nonprofit prior to and following graduation. Although he was successful in that position and they were aware of his Asperger’s syndrome, in December 2019, his job ended, and his position was abolished due to company reorganization.
Before embarking on future employment opportunities, Thomas decided to again share his autism spectrum disorder with prospective employers, as he’d had success in doing so with his prior employer. This information was carefully and strategically added to his cover letter.
Thomas set up a plan to find new employment and worked with a job coach. He spent three hours daily on the Internet applying for jobs in areas of his interest. In fact, he applied to 10 companies each day that for which he felt qualified.
Although Thomas did this for an entire month and received few responses, he was unsuccessful in gaining employment. Despite working with two employment recruiters and registering for LinkedIn to gain exposure, Thomas realized that employers were fixated on the perceived stigma attached to the word autism, which inhibited his efforts. This discouraged him.
At the same time, coincidentally, I stumbled upon an article about autism and employment. What was instantly intriguing to me was they used the term “neurodiversity” in place of autism spectrum disorders. It took me by such surprise, and I immediately showed Thomas the article.
When he Googled the term neurodiversity, he was flabbergasted at the information he found. It was like a secret world opened up. He found so many job listings openly seeking the neurodiverse. He read about companies that appreciated the gifts of those with autism spectrum disorders, otherwise known as neurodivergent.
Defined by Google, neurodiversity “is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s, ADHD, as well as Autistic Spectrum Disorders.” According to Wikipedia, “the term neurodiversity refers to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions in a non-pathological sense. Neurodiversity was coined by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer.”
Thomas began to apply for employment opportunities under the term “neurodiversity” online. I was dumbfounded. Thomas found companies that understood the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace. These companies were actively seeking neurodiverse employees. Here are the top ten companies he found:
- Freddie Mac
- Ernest & Young
- Home Depot
- Ultranauts (formerly ULTRA Testing)
- Autism focused businesses
Other job types for neurodiverse individuals were researchers, application developers, various analysts, computer technical positions, and so forth. They were seeking employees who were focused, punctual, worked independently, and followed directions. The advantages gained by hiring neurodiversity were surprisingly useful. Some people with neurodiversities have abilities that match or even exceed their more typical counterparts. And from what has been published, many companies have begun to recognize this.
Although the words autistic spectrum disability are currently in the DSM-5 Autism Diagnostic Criteria, and continues to be necessary to qualify for services for those eighteen and younger, the term “neurodiverse” is seemingly the new “autism spectrum disorder” in the workplace for adults. The word “autism “doesn’t equal disability. Society must embrace the gifts and talents of those gifted in the arts, music, sciences, and more. These companies allow strengths to shine and challenges to be minimized.
The neurodiversity movement has transpired out of the need for social acceptance of the autistic population and others, in contrast to neurotypical culture in the workplace.
Those who are neurodiverse are often very literal. Senses are heightened, which often creates false perceptions from neurotypicals in the work environment. This is changing! The good news is…the word “neurodiversity” versus “autistic spectrum disorder” opens up new avenues for many to explore in terms of employment. It offers hope. It’s a tool. Use it if it’s useful.
Tips for Neurodiverse Employees
- Verbalize needs
- Share difficulties
- Recognize strengths
- Highlight advantages
- Share limitations
Acceptance and understanding will increase the support needed. Neurodiversity opens up a whole new existence. Differences are always challenging. The goal: joining forces with companies that have broadened their perspectives and provide new opportunities, as ALL people deserve the same access to employment.
The standard norm is changing. Society is slowly realizing people are different, but all can contribute. They are broadening their framework to receive the neurodiverse. Why? Companies are now looking for the curious, the gifted, and the resilient.
What does the knowledge of neurodivergence mean to someone who has lived with the concept of autism his entire life? For neurotypical individuals, some might say it enlightens them to a new world of possibility. But for us, it’s vocabulary that can make sense not just to us but to others. It’s a term that can be used at your choice, but one with distinct advantages.
I found some companies that recognize they need our unorthodox thought methods, and now you know them too. Follow what you think is right, and don’t give mind to the perspectives of the neurotypical. You may not fully understand them, but I can guarantee that only you know you on the level that matters. My employment search continues…stay tuned.
A system without inclusion and diversity has no durability. Let’s change that.
This article was featured in Issue 103 – Supporting Emotional Needs