This coming Wednesday, April 1, marks the beginning of National Autism Awareness Month 2015. (And no, this post has absolutely nothing to do with the fun side of April 1. This post is absolutely serious.)
The following day, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day, in case you need double impetus to give this more than just a passing thought — kind, indifferent or otherwise.
This United Nations site announces the 2015 theme for the World Autism Awareness Day as “Employment: The Autism Advantage.” It cites a surprising (to me) statistic, that more than 80 percent of adults with autism are unemployed.
Which is a shame for employers (maybe even shame on employers), considering this that follows from the U.N.:
“Research suggests that employers are missing out on abilities that people on the autism spectrum have in greater abundance than ‘neurotypical’ [a.k.a., neurologically typical] workers do — such as heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning, as well as a greater attention to detail.”
We’ve certainly found similar evidence of special gifts employees with autism can bring to the workplace in features and news stories we’ve published in the near and not-so-near past. This 2013 feature, “Diversity of Thought,” quotes Marcia Scheiner, president and founder of the New York-based Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership, which helps college graduates with autism obtain professional positions.
As she puts it, individuals with autism can demonstrate excellent skills in a variety of areas when given a chance; many are incredibly loyal, tend not to leave their jobs, are detail-oriented and can be tremendously focused, which often leads to high productivity.
This feature, from 2010, “Aspies in the Workplace,” also highlights the gifts autistic workers can bring and the business sense it makes to hire them, as well as the adjustments employers can easily implement to ensure they’re comfortable and allowing those gifts to shine.
More recently, this piece by Mark McGraw from early last year provides proof of the therapeutic value employment brings to those with autism, and some very specific ways employers, and HR, can ensure the “win-win” for all. Clear communication and lots of structure, all three stories indicate, are key.
I’ve heard from experts — and from my oldest son, who teaches autistic high schoolers at a special school outside Philadelphia — that all too often, federal and state funding and services for autistic kids dry up, or at least substantially shrink, once they turn 21. It’s called “Aging Out,” as this piece in the New Jersey Monthly eloquently explains.
Those are the teens my son is teaching, the ones who will — in a few short years — be far more on their own than they are now, just trying to survive in a grueling, grown-up world. Many have great parental support, but parents don’t live forever and money for therapy, services and education doesn’t grow on trees.
For them, getting the chance to prove their value in a work environment that augments that chance has to be the biggest boost imaginable. Such a step toward security would surely quiet their parents’ nightmares as well.
Add to that the boost to the employer — not just in terms of work ethic and productivity, but reputation too — and the goal of turning that 80-percent unemployment figure on its ear becomes a big, beautiful no-brainer.