People with Autism Represent 'Untapped Reservoir of Talent'

Desda Moss By Desda Moss October 25, 2017
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Today, more people are being diagnosed with autism (1 in 68 children in the U.S. as of 2014). But as they complete college and enter adulthood, many of these individuals struggle to find work. Young adults with autism experience the highest unemployment rate of any group of individuals with disabilities, according to An Employer's Guide to Managing Professionals on the Autism Spectrum (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2017) by Marcia Scheiner with Joan Bogden. By the time they are in their 20s, only 58 percent of young adults with autism have found some form of paid employment.

Scheiner is the founder of Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, which she launched in 2010 to increase employment opportunities for college graduates with autism. Her book provides HR professionals with concrete tools to understand and guide employees with autism and their colleagues through the daily challenges an individual on the autism spectrum may experience on the job.

Whether prompted by a desire to create an inclusive workplace, to meet regulatory compliance requirements or to understand how to accommodate employees who have neuro-diverse profiles, organizations have much to gain from identifying, recruiting and retaining workers with autism, Scheiner contends. She cites research that underscores the business reasons for hiring individuals with autism, including:

  • Reduced staff turnover.
  • Increased productivity.
  • Consumer appeal to a large affinity group.
  • Competitive advantage.
  • Regulatory compliance.
  • Minimal cost for hiring and accommodations.

Scheiner advises organizations to encourage employees who have autism to disclose that fact so they can be supported with strategies and accommodations that can help them perform their best. But that can only happen when employers create an autism-friendly environment that results from training HR staff, managers and colleagues; providing multiple channels for disclosure; and creating mentoring programs that pair newer neuro-diverse employees with seasoned ones.

Here are five steps HR professionals can take when someone in the workplace discloses that he or she has autism:

  1. Don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what the individual's particular challenges related to autism may or may not be. Every individual on the autism spectrum is different and will experience the impact differently in the workplace.
  2. Learn why the employee is disclosing to you the fact that he or she has autism, and discuss if and how the individual wants to disclose the information to others.
  3. Check your local laws regarding proof of disability, accommodation requirements and disclosure to others.
  4. If you are unfamiliar with autism, learn about it.
  5. Work with the employee to develop a plan for accommodations, if needed.

Individuals with autism are "an untapped reservoir of talent," Scheiner writes, and overlooking them may deprive your enterprise of someone who is "highly analytical, very focused and very task-oriented."

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine. 

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