People who are on the autism spectrum have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental condition that primarily involves challenges with social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication. The symptoms and outward expression of ASD vary greatly in each person, which is why it’s considered a spectrum. People who are on the high-functioning end of the spectrum have milder cases, while those on the low-functioning of the spectrum have more severe cases.
how does being on the autism spectrum impact employability?
People who are on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum are typically able to go about their daily lives like anyone else, and that includes holding a job. People with ASD are typically very intelligent and capable, however, they may struggle with reading social cues or have trouble adapting to new situations. Education and practice can help alleviate some of these struggles, but they are often a lifelong challenge. Unfortunately, underemployment is rampant in the ASD community, as the lack of social skills often makes it more difficult to secure work in spite of their qualifications and ability.
For employers, hiring people with ASD presents both opportunities and challenges. For instance, people with ASD often become specialists in a specific topic or area of focus, which can make them a great resource for jobs that require a high level of expertise and knowledge, such as IT or accounting. However, people with ASD often struggle with social interactions, so they may be less suited for jobs that require giving presentations, greeting customers, dealing with clients, or otherwise require a lot of personal interaction. However, it’s important to keep in mind that every person with ASD is unique and will have different skills, abilities, and requirements that apply to their workplace.
- Many people on the autism spectrum are underemployed. Those with high-functioning ASD are usually highly capable and intelligent and thrive when they secure the right role. However, they may lack the social skills to pass interviews and other barriers to employment in their chosen field at the skill level they’re capable of.
- ‘Hidden’ or mental disabilities are especially challenging to overcome in the workplace. When a candidate does not act as a hiring manager expects in a job interview, it’s easy to write them off as unqualified or unfit for the role, without considering why their behaviour is different.
- Interviewing is a challenging skill for people on the autism spectrum to master, as interviews rely heavily on social skills. When a person with ASD is compared with a neurotypical candidate, it can lead to an unfair comparison based solely on social skills rather than underlying competencies.
- Disability-minded workplaces often focus on physical disability. When workplaces and interview processes are built to accommodate people with disabilities, they often consider people with physical disabilities such as wheelchairs, blindness, deafness, etc. Mental disabilities, such as ASD, are less frequently accounted for.
why hire autistic employees?
Hiring candidates with ASD normalizes neurodiversity. Neurodiversity refers to variations in how people think, socialize, feel, and learn. Having people on your team who approach solving problems and completing their work in unique ways has been proven to boost business performance, much like having people from diverse genders, races, and backgrounds.
According to research by Johns Hopkins, as much as 1.85% of the population falls on the autism spectrum. This percentage has increased threefold since 2000. Neurodiverse people are becoming a larger segment of the population. Many people who fall in this category are perfectly capable of holding jobs and making meaningful contributions to their workplace. However, they often get left behind because employers and hiring managers are unable to see past their disorder to the skills and qualifications they hold.
Beyond it simply being the right thing to do, hiring diverse candidates has been repeatedly proven to strengthen your team and business performance. People on the autism spectrum often have traits that have strong applications in a workplace setting, such as:
- Intelligence - People with ASD, typically test at or above-average IQ. They’re very smart and capable of making valuable contributions in their workplace.
- Expertise - People with ASD often zero in on an area of interest and develop deep expertise in that area. They are a sponge for any information and can provide near-encyclopedic knowledge about it. People with ASD frequently choose to work in their field of interest, making them a deep well of knowledge in their workplace. In industries such as IT, finance, research, engineering, manufacturing, that require workers to memorize or retain a lot of knowledge, processes, or procedures, this deep expertise can be a huge plus.
- Soft skills - Though people with ASD, typically have less-refined social skills, they make up for it in many other areas. Common soft skills among those with ASD include the ability to deeply concentrate on a single task, reliability, and punctuality, persistence, accuracy, attention to detail, error spotting, and the ability to memorize or retain information.
- Very factual - People with ASD tend to be very fact-driven and literal. They typically rely on facts and information, rather than emotions, to make decisions or direct their daily lives. This can make them ideally suited for roles that require objectivity.
- Loyalty - People on the autism spectrum tend not to like change and thrive when they have a set routine. This means they’re extremely loyal, including to their employer. If you treat them well and make reasonable accommodations for their needs and preferences they will be your most loyal and steadfast employees.
making your job descriptions and recruitment process more accessible
To make your hiring processes more accessible, you need to consider the perspective of neurodiverse candidates. What challenges do they face on a daily basis? What are common stumbling blocks they face? Then examine how you can remove these obstacles to make the hiring process more equitable for them. Often when you perform this exercise and make your hiring process more equitable, you make it stronger and more efficient for everyone, not just neurodiverse people. Here are a few first steps you can take to make your hiring process more accessible for candidates with ASD:
- Be crystal clear about what the job entails.
People with ASD are often very detail and fact-oriented, they like to have as much information as possible. Provide as much information as you can about the job requirements and what their day-to-day will look like, as well as what will be expected from them. Providing info on KPIs and how their work will be assessed can also be helpful. Aim to include this information in your job descriptions and repeat it during interviews.
- Explain what your work environment is like.
Their work environment is often very important to people who have ASD. They may have sensitivities to noise or stimuli in their direct area of work and prefer a quiet or more secluded workspace. They may not be well suited to noisy, open-concept environments. So being upfront about your work environment early on in the process can help weed out workplaces that will not be a good fit. Again, include this information in your job descriptions, and reference it during interviews.
- Focus on essential skills in job descriptions.
When writing your job descriptions, focus on must-have skills. Providing a laundry list of nice-to-have skills under requirements can be confusing or overwhelming. People with ASD tend to be very literal. If you say something is a requirement, they will assume it is, and may pass over your opportunity if they don’t have 100% of the requirements. As a general rule, taking a close look at what is truly required for the role is a good practice to ensure you reach a wide pool of qualified candidates.
- Be clear and avoid jargon.
People with ASD often don’t take well to jargon and business-speak. Try to avoid using business slang or terms that are not understood by an average person who works in the field. Be clear and speak in layman’s terms as much as possible. Not only does this make your job descriptions more accessible to people with ASD, it’s generally a smart practice to ensure your job descriptions are clear.
- Provide details at each step of the process.
People with ASD tend to feel most comfortable in situations that are familiar and they know what to expect. This can make them very hesitant to approach new opportunities, such as a new job. To make the process more comfortable, provide detailed instructions and let candidates know what they can expect at each hiring and interview process. For instance, providing a list of interview questions that will be asked, instructions on how to reach your workplace, and what they should do upon arriving can all help make the process less overwhelming.