There has been a great deal of debate related to the types of jobs people on the autism spectrum are capable of doing. Suggestions have been made that include the areas of engineering, software testers, medical research, accounting, and computer programming. These types of jobs all have one thing in common, that being a low level of social interaction and people skills. Granted, many individuals on the spectrum have found success in these fields, there are other career areas that have not been explored. One of the primary reasons other areas of employment have not been considered as viable options is a lack of opportunities on the part of employers. Businesses, like individuals, form opinions about autistic adults and their abilities to perform certain types of jobs. Biases are often based on partial truths or misinformation without the benefit of personal interactions or previous experiences. Some have relegated autistic workers to the service sector completely, while dismissing the diverse talents found on the entire spectrum. While we are indeed appreciative for employment numbers in all categories, there is concern that the professions are not sufficiently represented with members from the autism community.
The picture is about to change in dramatic fashion over the next decade as approximately 500,000 teens with autism transition to adulthood. Moreover, a significant number of these young people are currently enrolled in colleges and universities around the world. They are ambitious, bright, articulate, and eager to shatter some of the prevailing myths surrounding autism. In short, today’s young adults on the spectrum are defying the odds in pursuit of living independently. It is unreasonable to assume college graduates will permanently accept being unemployed and underemployed at levels nothing less than shameful. Corporations worldwide must acknowledge the fact that there is fierce competition for the best and brightest minds. Ignoring the rich talents found on the broad autism spectrum is tantamount to career suicide for executives desiring relevancy moving forward. Society needs the contributions of all its citizens to realize our full potential – that includes those with sensory and perceptual differences. The argument could be made that the workplace is not prepared to accommodate workers with sensory issues, as this will only lead to a decline in productivity. However, the strongest rebuttal can be found among the ranks of global brands such as Microsoft, Walgreen’s, SAP, Vodafone, and insurance giant TIAA-CREF. These industry stalwarts have found diversity in talents and perspectives is best for business, serving as pioneering examples of what is possible.
The business community recognizes the inclusion efforts of multinational corporations that command the world’s stage, and rightfully so. The real opportunity, however, lies within the walls and production floors of small to medium sized businesses employing 50 – 250 workers. This is the fertile ground which needs cultivating as opportunities lie in abundance for both companies seeking qualified employees, as well as those needing a chance to prove themselves. Further, identifying mid-sized companies allows for greater potential flexibility and connectivity with autistic workers, as management is not distanced by layers of bureaucracy. Statistically, small and medium sized companies employ more workers than large corporations and this sector may emerge as the leader in job creation for adults on the spectrum. Perhaps the greatest advantage these companies offer is the ability to maximize creative ability in non- traditional ways. Often the result of necessity, the argument could be made that smaller companies allow employees the chance to hone and develop skills outside of job description duties. Those skills can transfer to other positions within the company, or lead to advancement opportunities down the road. Finally, we applaud the efforts of large corporations in hiring autistic workers and embracing broader diversity. However, the key to future growth of autism employment trends lies with educating smaller companies regarding the merits of embracing candidates on the spectrum.