Bringing Neurodiversity into the Workplace

By  0 Comments

Finding the perfect employee can almost seem like discovering the Holy Grail. Hiring managers know this struggle well. But what if someone shows up during the hiring process with super skills?

What if it’s a prospect who presents hard-to-find traits such as reliability, attention to detail, strong memorization, excellent research skills, high levels of concentration and trustworthiness? Sure enough, these are the exact skills that autistic job candidates usually bring to the table. They are even good at coding, which is in high demand in the workplace now.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurobiological disorder typically characterized by challenges with communication and socialization. People with autism often engage in repetitive behaviors, have restricted interests or both. The 2009 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that one in 110 children had a disorder somewhere on the autism spectrum, and the numbers were growing.

Social media, television and books have had a great effect on making autism known, as well as improved diagnostic tools. As a result, more health care and disability advocates are working to improve connections for people with autism. They believe connecting these individuals with the workplace is critical because it builds confidence, independence and a better quality of life.
Hiring these individuals creates neurodiversity, and it is fast becoming a competitive advantage for hiring managers. Instead of believing that candidates with autism need training, they are embracing the very skills that make them uniquely suited for certain positions.

About 1.5 million people in the United States have some form of autism, according to the Autism Society of America. Most are under 18 years of age, and men outnumber women by four to one. But only about 15 percent to 20 percent of adults with autism are currently employed, and it stands to reason a great percentage of those who are not employed, want to be. Latest statistics show that about 40 percent of young adults with autism are not finding jobs.

So how does one go about finding these super employees?

First, an organization needs to change the way they approach their hiring and marketing practices, much the same way they have done in achieving gender balance. Recruiters can find qualified prospects with autism from referral agencies and local vocational organizations that are tasked with community outreach. For example, national retailer Kohl’s has a KidsAbilities program that partnered with Children’s Specialized Hospital, Mountainside, New Jersey, to educate businesses and the community about autism. Other companies have jumped on the bandwagon too. Walgreens, Home Depot and CVS Caremark have diversified and reached out to people with autism as part of their corporate hiring strategy.

Microsoft has an Autism Hiring Program, a recruitment, retention and career development strategy related to diversity and inclusion. It is a multi-day academy that gives candidates an opportunity to showcase their talents and meet hiring staff. Microsoft says that people with autism are often well suited for software, service, build and lab engineer careers, as well as data analyst or scientist.

Of course, companies must have ongoing and appropriate accommodations to help workers with autism. For example, during the interview process, it helps to employ a modified script that eliminates language barriers such as abstract questions or hard-to-understand instructions. They also benefit from assistance with the hiring paperwork and orientation after they are hired. People with autism most often need clear and direct instructions.

If a company is aware of the challenges, the opportunities can be immense. But it’s not always easy. Other employees may resent the special treatment afforded those with autism, so those employees need to be trained on the benefit and to understand that it’s not so much special treatment as it is accommodation.

After a while, current employees may come to appreciate their autistic colleagues and feel firsthand the positive impact they can have for everyone. Indeed, having an employee with autism in the workplace can result in a more diverse and progressive, not to mention interesting, organization.

In realistic terms, there’s an increasing need for autistic workers. In addition to the skills mentioned above, individuals with autism are passionate about their work and are able to find solutions to problems that have proven elusive to their co-workers. Companies can also benefit from workers who prefer repetitive work. Small businesses are even growing around the strengths of autistic workers due to the influx of young adults with autism trying to enter the workforce, including software firms, car washes and food manufacturers. And let’s not forget the entrepreneurs with autism who are making their own way!

Inclusion and diversity in the workplace prove that not everyone is cast from the same mold. And nurturing neurodiversity can bring such enormous rewards to organizations that it seems negligent not to do so. ■

Sources:, and