Autism in the Workforce: Companies Hiring Autistic Individuals

As the number of people diagnosed with autism increases it is becoming imperative for companies to understand how hiring these individuals can provide unparalleled value. 1 in 36 children are diagnosed with autism. This leads to a very large population of adults on the spectrum who want to enter the workforce, but often struggle finding opportunities.

Individuals with autism are breaking stereotypes and showing the world what they are capable of across many arenas. Innovative companies are realizing that there are many job positions that make use of the unique strengths that people with autism possess. In fact, many times individuals on the spectrum are a better fit for certain positions than those not on the spectrum.

Technology, Math and Science are Common Strengths

For example, people who have autism can often be highly efficient in areas such as technology, math and science. Positions in these fields can be challenging to fill due to a lack of qualified candidates. This has created the opportunity for companies to begin searching for candidates outside of their usual, predictable pool of talent. 

According to Lou Candiello, head of military and disability recruiting programs at Dell, 1.1 million computing-related jobs are expected by 2024, but graduation rates in the United States can’t keep up.

  • “We need to think differently about attracting talent.” – Lou Candiello

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The Value That Autistic Individuals Bring to the Workforce

Adults who are on the spectrum are often extremely capable of having a successful, fulfilling career. The key is for employers to understand and recognize which positions will highlight the neurodiverse individual’s strengths. 

For example, some people may be visual thinkers while others might not be. Based on this, certain jobs may suit one population of autistic individuals, but not the other. 

Jobs that are suitable for visual thinkers include:

  • Computer programming 
  • Drafting 
  • Commercial art 
  • Photography 
  • Equipment designing 
  • Animal trainer or veterinary technician 
  • Automobile mechanic 
  • Computer-troubleshooter and repair 
  • Small appliance and lawn mower repair 
  • Hand-crafts of different types (wood carving, jewelry making, ceramics, etc.)
  • Laboratory technician 
  • Web page design 
  • Building trades 
  • Video game designer 
  • Computer animation
  • Building maintenance 
  • Factory maintenance 

Jobs that are suitable for non-visual thinkers include:

  • Accounting 
  • Library science 
  • Computer programming 
  • Engineering 
  • Journalist 
  • Copy editor 
  • Taxi driver
  • Inventory control 
  • Tuning pianos and other musical instruments
  • Laboratory technician 
  • Bank Teller 
  • Clerk and filing jobs 
  • Telemarketing 
  • Statistician 
  • Physicist or mathematician 

Jobs that are suitable for non-verbal individuals include:

  • Re-shelving library books
  • Factory assembly work
  • Copy shop
  • Janitorial jobs
  • Restocking shelves
  • Warehouse
  • Lawn and garden work
  • Data entry

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People with autism often possess qualities that are highly valuable to companies such as loyalty, reliability, determination and logical-thinking skills.

The Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders states that neurodiverse people are very intelligent, have an eye for detail, possess the ability to find patterns and anomalies in data, and are able to focus on and perform high-quality repetitive tasks.

It is beneficial for companies to hire a diverse range of employees in order to create a healthy company culture and bring people together who think differently so that they can solve problems using innovative solutions. 

Many Leading Companies Look for Autistic Employees

Forward-thinking companies are making an effort to include those with autism in their organizations. Many companies are partnering with organizations that help businesses hire neurodiverse individuals by placing them in positions that suit their strengths. As this population grows, companies are adopting programs that will allow them to work with those on the spectrum in effective ways that are beneficial for all parties involved. 

Freddie Mac has been active in autism awareness since 2011 when they began hiring college graduates on the spectrum to fill paid intern roles. They also partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

  • Freddie Mac’s first full-time hire from their autism program, Aaron Cohen, is a data analyst. He says, “It’s a good fit for me. I like number crunching; that’s always something I’ve liked doing.”

Microsoft is another company hiring employees with autism. Currently, Microsoft has an autism program with a number of employees who are on the spectrum with a 100% retention rate. They began developing a program to help them make these hires in 2014.

Microsoft created a unique week-long interview process that includes a workshop where candidates can demonstrate their skills.

Microsoft found that this was the best way to determine how these individuals would accurately perform on the job. It took a lot of the pressure off of those on the spectrum.

Another example is Walgreens. The company began by hiring neurodiverse individuals to work at their Anderson, South Carolina, distribution center. This turned out to be their most productive facility so they decided to expand their program to other centers across the nation. Walgreens has also created a mock store where employees with autism can undergo training in a comfortable setting. 

Other companies are beginning to see the benefits of hiring individuals with autism such as Deloitte and Dell, who have both started programs to hire individuals on the autism spectrum.

Six major companies, Ford Motor, DXC Technology, EY, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and SAP took initiative and started the Autism At Work Employer Roundtable. The purpose of this collaboration has been to share best hiring and workplace practices while showing other companies the benefits of hiring employees with autism.

Jose Velasco, the vice president of product management at SAP and the head of their Autism At Work program, comments on SAP’s decision to begin hiring employees on the spectrum to carry out software testing.

  • “If we ship something with a bug, it’s very costly to fix. In 2013, there was a significant software-testing need in India, so we hired four people there as a pilot. Now we’re hiring people on the spectrum in 10 countries.” -Jose Velasco, VP of Product Management at SAP

At JPMorgan Chase it was reported that employees with autism achieve 48% to 140% more work than other colleagues.

  • James Mahoney, executive director and head of their Autism at Work program says, “They are highly focused and less distracted by social interactions. There’s talent here that nobody’s going after.”

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Companies like Google, HP and Salesforce have started their own programs to begin hiring professionals who are on the spectrum as well. 

EY is another company that has made huge strides when it comes to employing individuals who have autism. Hiren Shukla, the neurodiversity program leader at EY, shares a story about one of his hires and how he transformed his life after being hired. Before working at EY the young man was living at home where his parents supported him. When his father passed away, his job at EY allowed him to buy his own home and move his mother in with him so that he could take care of her. The man was able to gain independence and provide for the people he cared about most. 

Home Depot and CVS Caremark work with an organization, Ken’s Crew, that provides job matching, intensive training, job coaching, and community supports. There are more than 1300 individuals who have been employed at Home Depot and CVS stores throughout the nation.

Another incredible story revolves around the New York-based software startup company,  Ultranauts. With more than 60 employees working remotely throughout 20 states, over 75% of them are individuals on the spectrum.  Ultranauts is a living, breathing example of just how valuable neurodiverse employees are. The company grows an average of 50% each year since 2013 when it was founded, 60% of its revenue comes from Fortune 500 companies and Ultranauts has even won contracts away from major companies like IBM and Capgemini. 

These innovative companies have made it clear that there is a goldmine of untapped talent provided by neurodiverse employees. With the right program in place and proper education and training, companies can benefit greatly while providing meaningful careers for those on the spectrum.

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