While it is true that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often face many social and educational challenges, it’s still possible for children to grow into employed adults with the help and support of parents and caregivers.
Autism employment rates
A report published by Drexel University reveals that only 14 percent of adults with autism had paid employment within their communities. The study states that it does not represent all adults with autism, but only those who had access to DD (Developmental Disabilities) services. It was also not specified whether the paid work was part-time or full time.
Nevertheless, this leaves the remaining 86 percent without paid employment, a statistic that is now pushing autism support groups to create drastic change starting with the government.
Another study states that 53.4 percent of young adults with autism become employed after high school—the lowest rate among all disabilities. The average compensation of those who do find work is $8.10 per hour.
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities, including those with autism. To be considered for ADA coverage, the disability should be a major one that hinders a person to talk, hear, walk, and breathe normally. Unfortunately, not all employers hire people with autism, and the chances of landing jobs can be a challenge.
To counter this problem, some schools and colleges offer a transition period from school to work, giving autism employment opportunities to their graduates. While this improves the future of children with autism, it is not implemented in every school.
Paul Shattuck, associate professor at Drexel University’s School of Public Health, says that students who graduate high school face the “services cliff,” which means they are cut off from the support system that the school has given them during their stay.
He adds that although federal law requires special education schools to develop a transition plan, it doesn’t always happen. In fact, only 58 percent of students with autism have a transition plan by the time they reach 14 years old.
Shattuck also adds that people with autism may have challenges in social skills, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to hold jobs. He says that “although the core of the disability is an inability to relate easily to other people, the majority of people on the spectrum do have some amount of social appetite.”
Autism career opportunities
The roadblocks to a successful career can be daunting for people with autism, but with the right support and systems in place, it can be overcome.
In recent years, multiple companies have opened their doors to people with autism. Microsoft, SAP, Ernst and Young, and Ford are just some of the corporations that are hiring qualified candidates who are on the spectrum.
Some of these companies to consider:
- Ernst and Young
- Freddie Mac
- Spectrum Careers
- HP (Australia)
- Tower Watson’s
- Spectrum Designs
Nathalie Vanheusden, who started an autism hiring initiative at the global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, recognized a person with autism could perform specific tasks exceptionally well.
Nathalie had problems getting her tedious expense reports done. When she realized the nature of this task, which included attention to detail and patterns, she thought of hiring a person with autism.
The same ability to sustain interest in repetitive tasks and pay close attention to patterns and details is what Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, was looking for to fill specific jobs.
Lay-Flurrie reveals that they don’t subject candidates with autism to uncomfortable interviews. Instead, they go through an intense vetting process that can take weeks.
“Every day, in any company, in any role, you’re going to be asked to work with someone else to figure out a problem or a challenge, or a project. And yet in that scenario, they’re not as self-conscious that they’re being observed for a job–they’re just doing a task,” Lay-Flurrie explains.
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With these changes taking place in big companies, there is a brighter outlook for adults with autism to find a job that they’re good at despite their disability. The fact that employers are removing barriers and going out of their way to open autism jobs can spell a world of difference for unemployed people with autism.
Benefits of employing people with autism
People with autism can hold regular, full-time jobs just like neurotypical people. In fact, autistic employees might perform better than their peers.
A study conducted in Australia reveals that there are no additional costs incurred when employing someone on the spectrum. It also concludes that the quality of work and the employee’s work ethic is higher in autistic employees than their neurotypical counterparts.
Chargeback, a Utah-based company that investigates credit card disputes, hired Carrie Tierney, an analyst with autism, to handle technical data and repetitive tasks. Tierney gets the work done in laser-like accuracy and in half the time as new analysts. Its president, Khalid El-Awady, says he’s been very impressed and plans to hire more candidates like Tierney.
Based on these and other companies’ feedback, the benefits of employing people with autism are:
- Better quality of work
- Excellent work ethic
- Obsessive approach when it is needed
- Fast turnaround times
- Passion and enthusiasm
- Unique perspective
- Less distracted by social interactions
This emerging phenomenon of integrating people with autism and other disabilities into the workforce is called neurodiversity. It is a new concept that has slowly taken off in the past few years.
Job classifications for different types of autism
According to the authors of A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive, a child with autism can choose from three types of employment:
- Competitive employment—the employee should be independent, and no support is offered
- Supported employment—the employee is part of a support system, and jobs are usually created for him/her
- Secure or sheltered employment—the employee is given a job at a facility
The kind of employment would depend on the person’s abilities. For example, a high functioning adult can be independent, so he/she can be in competitive employment. On the other hand, if your child needs care most of the time, then a supported or sheltered employment might be more suitable.
Jobs for non-verbal autism
People with non-verbal autism may have a few job limitations, but it doesn’t mean they are not valuable in the workplace.
Jobs for non-verbal autism may include:
- Factory assembly work
- Restocking shelves
- Recycling plant
- Warehouse management
- Lawn and garden work
- Data entry
- Fast food crew
- Flower arrangement
Jobs for People with High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome
People with high functioning and Asperger’s syndrome have a special set of skills and therefore will excel in jobs that require them.
Some great job choices for people with Asperger’s syndrome are:
- Computer programming
- Equipment designing
- Car mechanic
- Taxi driver
- Animal trainer
Tips on choosing the best jobs for people with autism
Autism jobs can be scarce and are sometimes harder to land, but it’s still important that a person with autism is matched to his/her ideal job. This would ensure that he/she stays on the job long-term.
Here are a few points to consider when choosing a job:
- Pick a job that complements interests and personality
- Be sure to work on improving social skills
- Practice your talents to gain confidence
- Pick a company that understands and respects your disability
- Be honest and upfront with your employer about your disability
Getting a job and building a career is an adventure for all people. For a person on the spectrum, it’s a whole new milestone to reach—one that requires perseverance and support from family and friends.
The employment opportunities for adults with autism are yet to meet the needs of those who are transitioning from high school to adult life. Hopefully, more companies follow the lead for neurodiversity in the workplace. This and a great support system can help a person with autism start a career and make a difference in society.
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National Autism Indicators Report: Developmental Disability Services and Outcomes in Adulthood. (24 May 2017). Retrieved from https://drexel.edu/autismoutcomes/publications-and-reports/publications/National-Autism-Indicators-Report-Developmental-Disability-Services-and-Outcomes-in-Adulthood/#sthash.P948eP3P.dpbs
Our Employment Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/tmi/employment.aspx
Young Adults With Autism More Likely To Be Unemployed, Isolated. (21 April, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/04/21/401243060/young-adults-with-autism-more-likely-to-be-unemployed-isolated
Top 10 Autism Friendly Employers. (9 April, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/top-autism-friendly-employers-4159784
Why more companies are seeking autistic workers. (28 February, 2018). Retrieved from https://medium.com/cxo-magazine/why-more-companies-are-seeking-autistic-workers-9d9dd8914b9
Companies open doors to talent with autism. (2 September, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/companies-open-doors-to-talent-with-autism/
Postsecondary Employment Experiences Among Young Adults With an Autism Spectrum Disorder. (September 2013). Retrieved from https://www.jaacap.org/article/S0890-8567(13)00377-8/abstract
Employers’ perception of the costs and the benefits of hiring individuals with autism spectrum disorder in open employment in Australia. (18 May, 2017). Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0177607#sec018
Choosing the Right Job for People with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. (November 1999). Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Choosing-the-Right-Job-for-People-with-Autism-or-Aspergers-Syndrome
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