Hiring people with autism has never been so relevant to corporations and small businesses throughout America than it is today. For three decades I have taught, conducted research, assisted youth in career preparation, designed innovative supports for employment success, and created tools that highlight job/careers corresponding to one’s strengths. I have a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from University of Louisville.
In collaboration we can:
1. Notice unique strengths: Read examples of three autistic employees.
Tim a friendly, kind man with autism works at Mill Steel. His manager proudly shares how Tim drives a $20,000 sweeper machine to clean the floors. After Tim’s parents died, having a job at Mill Steel opened up his world, to overcome grief, find purpose, autonomy, and people connection. To read Tim’s story
Watch Tim at work, scroll to 3:30.
Tim at work
Trent has autism with a strong attention to detail. Using a unique team approach, at Meijer, INC., he overcame anxiety with a predictable routine, and supportive management and coworkers. Over eleven years, Trent successfully adapted to numerous departments: lawn and garden, pets, customer service returning items to their place.
Trent at work.
Roger has Aspergers with strong accounting skills. As an IRS intern, Roger reviews and codes tax returns for accuracy. He has difficulty giving direct eye contact, yet interacts best when not under the demand to give eye contact. The management fully accepts his challenge and recognizes his value to the department.
2. It is a smart move to hire employees with autism.
Individuals with autism want to work and have capability to perform on well matched jobs to their strengths.
Unfortunately, most young autistic adults leave high school or graduate from college to sit at home, often with effects that limit their well-being. Half of all autistic adults feel a low sense of well-being.
In a recent survey only 16% of participants with autism were in paid work and about 77 percent who were unemployed say they wanted to work.
These studies reveal a waste of human talents.
3. System Failure.
Why is the joblessness rate so high for this group? As a collective system, we have: a) misunderstood autistic challenges, b) missed evaluating their strengths and, c) lacked preparing youth to use techniques that develop their strengths in order to meet their challenges and adapt. As for individuals with greater autism challenges, most have strengths to work, yet are not likely picked for job development.
The focus of educational and vocational programs have been teaching executive functioning skills for college preparation. But preparing individuals for a career runs much deeper than learning executive functioning skills or getting a college degree. Classroom skills have merit. But youth do not easily transfer these skills to real life work settings because the workplace is not static, it is ever changing. Individuals adapt much better with strength recognition and self awareness development. I call this ‘deep water learning’ because discoveries are found with increased self awareness.
4. Support on-the-job capabilities.
‘Deep water learning’ builds upon on-the-job capabilities, personal safety, and are life sustaining. Actions include:
-create safe settings with those who acknowledge challenges and understand strengths. I define strengths as “anchors to one’s contributions. Strengths are opened windows to creating life satisfaction.” (p.v) Most adults can become valuable employees to departments, teams, and company success.
-support self-awareness of one’s strengths, emotions, and challenges.
-allow the use of tools to build predictability for greater ease, and to reduce anxiety.
-understand unique ways individuals may respond to positive or abrupt change. Prepare individual with necessary explanations before workplace changes are made. Employee’s with autism may need preparation, readiness, and alternative steps to adapt.
5) We can change the status quo
Building an Interdependent Employment Models (IEM) can promote on-the-job capabilities for all employees. I define ‘interdependence’ in the workplace as ‘a mutual reliance of each employee’s contribution within creative employment structures that enhances the whole workplace.’ In other words, the whole [environment of workplace] is greater than the sum of its parts [each employee’s contribution]
6). Create an Interdependent Employment Model (IEM) for the purposes of meeting company’s goals and to fulfill its mission.
7). Promote innovation and creativity for the hiring of adults with autism. Brené Brown’s work applies to innovation in workplace environments. She writes,
“To reignite creativity, innovation, and learning, leaders must rehumanize education and work.” (p. 184)
8). Recognize that building the IEM is not only for autistic employees but for the betterment of all company employees resulting in increased engagement and appreciation of each person’s contribution. The goal for workplace settings is a win win for all.
9) Evaluate the company’s process for determining potential of its employees. When leadership strives to reveal employee potential, the employee is likely to feel valued and motivated to do the job well.
Brené Brown defines a leader. “I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.” (p. 185)
I conclude, there are company benefits to having employees with autism in the workforce. Many want to work and have the strengths that are valuable to a company. Louis Efron suggests that business leaders, “Make every effort to understand what your candidates and employees do best.”
Jackie M. Marquette Ph.D.
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