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Improving Employment for Workers With Autism

Employment for individuals with autism is a pressing issue worthy of attention. According to recent studies, the employment rate for adults with autism is alarmingly low. A significant portion of individuals with autism are not able to secure gainful employment which can lead to a host of challenges, including financial difficulties and social isolation.

Fortunately, there are strategies for supporting adults with autism in gaining and maintaining employment. With the right support and accommodations, individuals with autism can succeed in the workplace and help create a more diverse and productive organization.

The reality of finding a job with autism

For those with autism, the reality of finding a job can be harsh. Recent surveys have found that 80-85% of individuals with autism are unemployed or under-employed. This means that of those who can find work, many can only obtain part-time employment.

For anyone, not just autistic individuals, full-time work provides a way of sustaining a happy, healthy life. This includes obvious perks like pay, retirement options (401(k), IRA, etc.), and health insurance. More than just a paycheck though, work can offer a sense of purpose, fulfillment, and social interaction that can be hard to find elsewhere. Yet, because of certain stigmas, those with autism do not always get to have these experiences.

What are these stigmas that make it hard for adults with autism to find work? Unfortunately, many false assumptions exist. Perhaps the most prominent is that individuals with autism are not capable of working or make poor employees. This set of lowered expectations typically begins in childhood and carries through a person’s life. This can affect confidence, making it even harder to find employment.

Working with adults with autism to find opportunities

While there may be challenges to finding a job as a person with autism, there is hope. More and more, companies are looking to help change the way that working with adults with autism is perceived. From local coffee shops to international brands, companies are embracing employment opportunities for individuals with autism. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) organizations who are serving adults need to understand where these opportunities exist to support clients seeking employment.

Several companies have seen success by recruiting autistic individuals as interns and if they enjoy the work and perform well, transfer into full-time employment. One such example comes from the Dandelion Program run by DXC Technology. According to DXC:

“The program recruits neurodiverse people, provides training across various technologies and matches their skills to unique placements within DXC’s customer organizations. Throughout the program, DXC offers comprehensive career guidance, onsite support, and training to give neurodiverse people the confidence to flourish in the workplace.”

Once you have identified organizations that are a match for your client(s), look into the types of support they offer to employees with autism.

One example of how companies do this is by providing multiple means of communication. Studies have shown that somewhere from 50% to 80% of adults with autism also live with anxiety disorders, making communication difficult. A multitude of communication options is crucial to equitable employment experiences for those with autism. Whether through email, instant messaging, voice calls, or something else, reducing the need for face-to-face interactions can help those with autism feel more comfortable communicating.

Additionally, make sure the supervisors at the organization you’ve identified (who will be working with your clients) receive training on properly communicating with adults with autism.

How ABA providers can improve employment for adults with autism

ABA providers and other organizations who help autistic clients also have a role in improving employment for people with autism. While organizations and providers with this expertise can provide help in a variety of ways, the following are good places to start:

  • Offer skills training for teens and young adults: There’s a need for more transition-aged services across the United States. If private and not-for-profit organizations can fill the gap left by government agencies, this could really help teens and young adults with autism to navigate the transition to adulthood, learn how to get and maintain a job, and improve their communication and soft skills.
  • Vocational training services: Like anyone else, the abilities of those with autism vary greatly. Organizations can provide basic training on universal skills and partner with other agencies to help clients learn job specific skills. Great examples of this come from coffee shops that employ individuals with autism to work as baristas and training programs that teach people with autism how to write code. Help connect your clients with local organizations providing vocational training or refer them to your local vocational rehabilitation office.
  • On-site job counselors to help when the need arises: Partnering clients with counselors who can occasionally come with them to their place of work can help autistic individuals feel more comfortable taking on new routines, meeting new people, and overcoming the challenges that employment brings. To make these arrangements, foster partnerships with employers in your area looking to make a difference.

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