Candidates with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are one of the deepest untapped talent pools organizations are overlooking. As Susan Dooha, the Executive Director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) explains, this demographic is filled with loyal employees with strong work ethics; yet they have an unemployment rate of close to 80 percent, and underemployment of 14 percent.
What’s causing this disconnect? Well, among other factors, employers might not know how to attract and retain these workers. We spoke with Dooha to learn what organizations can do to better engage and ultimately hire candidates with ASD.
What misconceptions about people with ASD need to be corrected to help companies understand the value of employing this demographic?
It starts with understanding that not everyone with autism spectrum disorder is the same. There’s a lot of variation within the population. People from NASA engineers to Temple Grandin have ASD, and they all have different strengths. Autism, ultimately, can be associated with a wide array of skills: communication, mathematic, pattern-recognition, problem-solving, research, and more.
How can we make sure businesses in all sorts of industries are aware that this talent pool is a good fit for their companies?
This relates back to my earlier point: Employees with ASD can work in so many different industries because they all have unique interests. They can enjoy working with animals. People with ASD also like performing repetitive tasks and problem-solving. This means they can work in a variety of jobs like farm workers, government research positions, marketing, even singers (like James Durbin). You just need to take the time to find out what their strengths are.
How can organizations create a more inclusive hiring process for candidates with autism spectrum disorder?
The job interview process may or may not need to change for a candidate with autism spectrum disorder. Again, each individual is different. Some people with ASD struggle with social interactions, so a typical question-response interview format is problematic for them. Your team, however, can provide the interview questions beforehand or electronically as a way to remove the stress from the situation. This allows candidates with autism spectrum disorder to answer the questions more robustly.
Solving a puzzle or participating in a team exercise is another interview format that allows these candidates to better showcase their skills. You can see their abilities first-hand and observe the contributions they make when working with others.
What do companies need to do to make employees with ASD feel accepted and comfortable at work?
If a company wants to create an inclusive environment for workers with autism spectrum disorder, there are several ways they can accomplish this. They can provide apps that can help employees stay organized like Monday.com. I have a brain injury, and I use these apps as a way to remind myself of daily tasks. Partitions and noise-canceling headphones also help modify how much noise employees with ASD are exposed to. Trained service animals that accompany workers to their job can be a huge help. The animal is trained to provide comfort and sense when their owner is stressed.
Here are some other accommodations your organization can provide:
● Have an air humidifier in the office to prevent asthma (some people with ASD suffer from it).
● Allow for flexible work hours when the office is least crowded or work-from-home arrangements.
● Modify lighting with shades and anti-glare filters on fluorescent lights for those who are photosensitive.
● Work with Supported Employment to provide a career coach to help reduce stress and eliminate distractions.
If your team wants hard-working employees with analytical and pattern-recognition skills who can solve some of your organization’s most persistent problems, you should hire candidates with ASD.