Covid-19 has turned the world upside down with huge numbers of people — 11.1 million in October — joining the ranks of the unemployed. However, finding workers with the best fit is still a challenge. At the same time, a spotlight has been on the importance of diversity and inclusion, whose lexicon has expanded to include equity and belonging.
The Autism Society of America released a toolkit on “competitive integrated employment” for people on the autism spectrum. “Competitive integrated employment” is full-or part-time work at minimum wage or higher with wages and benefits similar to those without disabilities performing the same work and fully integrated with co-workers without disabilities.
Although each person is unique, the toolkit listed some common characteristics of people with autism spectrum disorder:
- 50% of people with autism never develop functional speech and those who do may have difficulty with social aspects of language. Many have difficulty understanding the meaning of what others are saying through both spoken works and expressions and body language.
- Sensory processing differences. Some individuals with ASD may be more hypersenstivie to certain sounds, sights, smells, tastes, textures or touch. A good job match is one in which a person is not overwhelmed by stimuli.
- Social difficulties: A good job match for those with ASD are those that tolerate individual differences. Some ASD workers may do better in situation where less social interaction is required, some may want to interact but simply have difficulty with the mechanics of social interaction.
- Organizational demands: Many workers with ASD require some level of predictability, to know what is going to happen and when. Good job matches are often ones in which there is a high degree of structure, predictability and routine. Responsibilities and schedules should be spelled out in great detail. Employees should be notified well in advance of changes.
In this climate, contingent workforce programs are focusing on developing a more diverse talent pool while finding the best talent to do the job. One often-overlooked segment of the population offers contingent workforce programs a great opportunity to meet critical skills needs while enhancing their program diversity as well — workers on the autism spectrum.
The US Department of Labor defines autism as a neurological developmental disability, although the impact of autism on each individual differs and clinicians diagnose it based on a spectrum. Key traits in autism include “atypical language and communication, social interaction, motor coordination and sensory processing and executive functioning.” Autism occurs in about 1% to 2% of the US population.
While hiring people with autism is a good thing for those who are on the spectrum, it’s also good for the enterprise.
“It’s not about altruism, it’s not about being do-gooders; it’s about hiring people who can do the work and giving them the chance to succeed,” Christopher Banks, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America told SIA.
Still, hiring those on the autism spectrum can make a company’s culture richer as inclusion leads to belonging. And employment is a human right; giving everyone a chance matters.
Banks says employers can be wary over what types of accommodations they will need to make for people with autism, although a vast majority of accommodations are minimal — if they are even required at all. For example, a worker may only require a printed list, or flow chart, of mandatory tasks. In fact, unlike a neuro-typical person, a person on the autism spectrum will continue to follow tasks on their list and not take short cuts.
Those on the autism spectrum can have lower error rates, their absenteeism is lower and their retention rates are high. Often, they can do repetitive tasks without fatigue.
Banks says employers have nothing to lose. “It’s good for the economy, it’s good for our community.”
Employment of those with autism is gaining attention. CBS’ “60 Minutes” featured a segment on it in October; a transcript is online.
Programs in Action
Some large firms have programs in place to employ those with autism; one example is Ford. The automaker began a pilot program in 2018 to bring in people with autism and allow them to gain on-the-job experience. Participants take part in IT, product development, credit and manufacturing teams.
Kelly Services Inc. in November announced the Kelly Discover program, which includes a partnership with IT staffing firm Rangam to use its SourceAbled solution for hiring workers on the autism spectrum. There are also specialized job boards for individuals on the autism spectrum, including hireautism.org and spectroomz.com.
“Neurodiverse talent (specifically, individuals on the spectrum) can energize a workplace culture by offering creative ideas and insights beyond the expected,” said Kathy Hardy, VP of Kelly Discover. “Their customer understanding and community connections can also expand organizational knowledge. When support programs and coaching are available to help candidates succeed and grow in their careers once placed, the average retention rate of talent on the spectrum exceeds 90%.”
In October, the Society for Human Resource Management announced it and the SHRM Foundation partnered with the Entertainment Industry Foundation to bring awareness to the contributions of people with autism, intellectual and/or developmental differences. SHRM research found that 97% of HR professionals and 92% of people managers say employees with disabilities regularly perform the same or better than peers without disabilities.
“Research shows individuals who are differently abled bring tremendous perspective, talent and value as they help create a more inclusive workplace,” Wendi Safstrom, executive director of the SHRM Foundation, said in a statement at the time. “In other words, inclusive hiring isn’t just a nice thing to do. It’s a good thing for society, our communities, families — and the business, too.”