For years, autistic people across Canada have been marginalized when it comes to the workforce. It’s a concerning statistic that over 80% of autistic adults in British Columbia alone are either unemployed or underemployed, where their hours and pay don’t match their skills and experiences. However, large corporations such as JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft and SAP have changed their hiring approaches in recent years to tap into the strengths of autistic workers. This change in attitude from some of the biggest players in the economy is starting to trickle down to smaller organizations, so it’s to examine if your company is ready to harness the power of autism.
Barriers To Autism Employment
There are many reasons why autistic workers aren’t more visible and present in the workplace. Some of these are on the behalf of the autistic individuals such as a lack of skills for the workplace and not knowing where to start. More these reasons lie on the shoulders of the majority of companies, and include:
- Biased hiring processes – many autistic job seekers drop out before they even apply for their first job as the typical hiring process of written application and face to face interview is designed with neurotypical workers in mind. The written application requires applicants to generalize from their current skill set to the job description, and there are often parts of the new job that they don’t know or have yet, which can be a stressor for a concrete thinker. The face to face interview relies on individuals being able to read subtle body language cues and think quickly on their feet, both of which are not common traits in many autistic individuals.
- Unfriendly working environments – most office based working environments heavily favor neurotypical employees. Examples of this include loud, open plan office spaces, quick stand up meetings and informal conversations being used as a way to get help or get ahead. All of these are typical practices in most workplaces, but they present challenges to autistic workers with sensory needs and social and language challenges.
- Fear of stereotyping – even if they do get to grips with the hiring process and find a way to navigate the working environment, a major decision facing autistic employees is whether to disclose their diagnosis. On the one hand, it helps them to advocate for accommodations to their work, but on the other, there are plenty of negative stereotypes around autism in mainstream society. The fear of being penalized or losing a job because of their condition can prevent autistic workers from even seeking employment in the first place.
Strengths of Autistic Workers
Despite all these barriers, companies are starting to realize some of the incredible benefits to hiring autistic workers. While it’s true that no two autistic workers will present with the same symptoms, some of the more common strengths of autistic workers include:
- Out of the box thinking – it’s common knowledge that many autistic individuals see the world in different ways to their neurotypical colleagues. In the workplace, this often translates as an ability to see new solutions to old problems, and to find ways to streamline processes and find more efficient ways of working. With the right autism employment support, you can get some true out of the box thinking from your autistic employees.
- Highly analytical thinking – many low support needs autistic workers have a great eye for detail. If this comes in a logical form, it can make them great at software debugging, forensic accounting or scientific research as they are more able to examine data, patterns and trends without emotional attachment.
- High levels of concentration – one of the hallmarks of autism is the ability to intensely focus on one specific topic, often to the exclusion of all else. This helps them to excel in repetitive tasks where high levels of accuracy are required, as well as in jobs that allow them to work independently on checklists of tasks such as IT system maintenance or software programming.
Tapping into these strengths makes sense for just about any company, but making the transition to becoming an autism friendly workplace takes time and effort from all staff members. This is where joining up with an autism employment support agency will pay dividends over and over again. They will work with local autistic job seekers and train them for your workplace, and work with you and your staff to get them ready for the challenges of integrating an autistic worker into your existing structure. The benefits outweigh all of the costs, so make today the day you start your autism friendly journey.