I remember watching a video clip of one of Dr. Temple Grandin’s speeches, one of the statements she made when she gave her speech about connecting all different kinds of minds to work together in society, she was concerned about the fact that, as she stated, “You have smart, geeky, nerdy kids and they are not very social, and nobody is working on developing their interests.” Here is another video clip I would like you to watch as it relates to the conundrum between autism and the challenges with unemployment, and how what Dr. Temple Grandin stated in her speech resembles what is explained in this video clip:
“Autism community struggles with unemployment”- YouTube-Derived from Newsy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zVK3WENMIo. Published Jun 21, 2018.
Reviewing over several resources that discuss autism and unemployment, the statistics range from anywhere between 80% and 90% of adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who are either unemployed, or, underemployed. The problem is that, as stated in this video, “Only a few companies are equipped to hire and work with autistic employees” (Newsy, 2018). How come only a few companies are equipped to hire and work with autistic employees? In my opinion, I think there are several reasons that support this question.
The few companies that were willing to hire and work with autistic employees likely had the education, training, and access to a variety of resources from communities to gain a further understanding into the strengths and the challenges of people living with autism. Companies that were willing to hire and work with employees with autism were willing to take the time and the initiative to realize what accommodations and supports could help people with autism when they encountered difficulties within the workplace. They also likely saw how successful employees ‘people with autism could be when those supports were in place. Companies that worked with people with autism likely adjusted their methods in terms of the interviewing process and with the onboarding and retention of employment. Companies likely focused more on their skills and qualifications than their communication skills. What is interesting to learn from this clip is that often, the unemployment rate of people with autism are higher because, “Adults with autism do not make it through the interview process” (Newsy, 2018). Although people with autism may be qualified to do the job, the problem is that, “their inability to make eye contact; communication challenges; and social interaction difficulties” (Newsy, 2018), and unfortunately, these are, “the standard qualities that employers expect from potential candidates” (Newsy, 2018). Even if people with autism are hired in competitive employment opportunities, “the social and communication skills that employers rely on can make work extremely difficult” (Newsy, 2018). What is stated, however, in this clip, and this is something I do agree with, is that, “Employers who don’t hire people on the autism spectrum may be missing out” (Newsy, 2018). In fact, people with autism promote characteristics that employers should admire such as, “trustworthiness, good memory, and attention to detail” (Newsy, 2018). People with autism are also those that, “like to follow the rules and are reliable” (Newsy, 2018).
Unfortunately, there are still companies that do not hire people with autism. Some companies are reluctant to take the time and the initiative to learn and understand the autism spectrum, and see how although there may be some challenges, there are also a lot of strengths that people with autism have that other people without autism may not have. Some companies, because of the lack of funding and resources, cannot reasonably accommodate people with autism. However, companies that can accommodate people with autism, because they do have the funding and resources, some companies carry the notion that, “the risks likely outweigh the benefits” meaning if companies have to utilize a lot of time looking for resources and a lot of expenses are involved, they might be concerned that hiring people with disabilities like autism will negatively affect the finances and operations of companies. The interview process can be difficult for people with autism because some interview questions can be considered abstract and vague. If you ask one person with autism, “Tell me about yourself”, that one person with autism may go about telling their whole life story while the person without autism will likely just focus on the skills and qualifications as well as education and employment experiences in relation to the job they applied for. Interview questions for jobs should be direct and concrete. I do think a more appropriate interview question in this context could be like, “Could you please tell me about your experiences with school as well as other job opportunities you have held?” I think recruiters and hiring managers are more likely to get more details and solid answers to this kind of a direct and concrete interview question. Some interviews are just asking questions and answering questions that may be irrelevant or not related to the job a person applies for which can be confusing for anyone, not just for someone with autism.
Here are my ideas and recommendations that employers should consider in order to get more people with autism into the workforce, and to reduce the percentage of people with autism being unemployed or underemployed:
- The interview process:
- Any questions recruiters and hiring managers ask should be direct and concrete.
- Questions should focus on the skills and qualifications that are relatable to the job a person applied for (and that they are important in being able to perform the essential functions of the job)
- Although social and communication skills are important, these should not be predictors for a person’s success on the job, especially one with autism who could excel on competency tests or qualification tasks (i.e. a writing sample, coming up with a fictitious computer program, conducting an oral presentation, conducting a mock project) which can assess the skills and qualifications that a person has. Companies that are supportive, and are willing to hire and work with people with autism, can always work with employees on improving their social and communication skills
- As one of my colleagues stated which I hold to be true, like playing a game of chess, you must “Look at the whole board” look at the position, the person’s skills and qualifications, the competencies, the interview, the overall picture. Even if a person does not qualify for one job in that company, could they qualify and be hired for another job in the company? Could adjustments without eliminating the essential job functions be made in order to hire and keep the person with a disability on the job, including autism?
- Onboarding and retention:
- Give expectations and policies of job position and about the company to people with disabilities like autism in advance, allow them to seek clarification and to ask questions
- Be empathetic and considerate of their needs and interests.
- Be supportive of people with disabilities like autism, but hold them to the expectations and demands of the job position
- Give people with disabilities like autism an opportunity to utilize a “trial period” in a variety of different departments within a company (if appropriate) before determining the best fit (especially if the first job is not the best for them and they are on the brink of being terminated, or they decide to consider resignation)
- Listen to the ideas and suggestions people with disabilities like autism bring to a company. They could make all the difference.
- Again, “Look at the whole board”
- How about opportunities to work in competitive employment but to allow remote opportunities or work from home? We have the technology to do this.
Hopefully more companies can work on promoting employment opportunities by becoming “disability-friendly” and “supportive”. People with autism need to have the opportunity to be able to obtain independence and to form relationships with people within their respective communities. It makes no sense for people with autism to sit at home and play video games or watch television all day if they have the utmost capabilities to change society for the better, especially if they went to pursue higher education. I think it is quite disappointing when people with autism, who have worked so hard in higher education, are not able to utilize their skills and qualities within the workforce.