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A Hidden Talent Pool: Employees with Autism

About a year go, we featured a fascinating video presentation of Temple Grandon, one of the world's most well-known adults with autism. If you missed it last time around, we can't recommend it highly enough - it's an excellent 20 minute overview that aims to make you think differently about people with autism. She makes the case for employers, particularity in the tech industry, to think about hiring people with autism. She says that "... the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids."

As an employer, there are at least two good reasons why autism should be on your radar. First, it is an issue that concerns you as an employer and your obligations under the ADA. Second, autism is a significant issue that faces many of your caregiving employees who have a son or daughter with autism.

During the next decade, more than a half million young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will turn 18 -- and many will be looking for work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants because they have autism. As with many disabilities, autism is much misunderstood but some employers who take the time to enlarge their understanding of ASD are finding a rich pool of talent. USA Today recently featured an article about Aspiritech, an Illinois start-up company that has found a successful niche in hiring autistic adults as software testers, harnessing excellent attention to detail.

This success would be of little surprise to Specialisterne, a Danish company that employs 35 high-functioning autistic workers who are hired out as consultants to the tech industry throughout Denmark. This remarkeble company is profiled in the excellent New York Times article The Autism Advantage, which notes that, "Specialisterne has inspired start-ups and has five of its own, around the world. In the next few months, Sonne plans to move with his family to the United States, where the number of autistic adults — roughly 50,000 turn 18 every year — as well as a large technology sector suggests a good market for expansion."

Thinking differently starts with greater understanding
Steve Silberman is an investigative reporter for Wired and other national magazines. Autism is a theme that he writes about often. During last April's autism awareness month, he authored the excellent Autism Awareness is Not Enough: Here’s How to Change the World. He notes that while, "the lion’s share of the money raised by star-studded “awareness” campaigns goes into researching potential genetic and environmental risk factors — not to improving the quality of life for the millions of autistic adults who are already here, struggling to get by. At the extreme end of the risks they face daily is bullying, abuse, and violence, even in their own homes."

Silberman talks to ASD self-advocates, parents, and teachers, including "Nick Walker, an autistic aikido master who founded his own dojo in Berkeley; the first openly autistic White House appointee, Ari Ne’eman; Emily Willingham, one of the sharpest science writers in the blogosphere; Lydia Brown, a prolifically articulate and thoughtful 18-year-old self-advocate at Georgetown University; Todd Drezner, director of Loving Lampposts, a groundbreaking documentary on autism and neurodiversity from a father’s perspective; and the editors of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism."

They offer ideas ranging from, "outlines for education and public-policy reform, to calls for more 24-hour businesses and innovative assistive technology, to persuasive arguments from the trenches for transformations of attitude — are a road map to a more equitable neurodiverse society that will help all 88 out of 88 kids to maximize their creative potential."

This roundup of interviews is thought provoking and continues along the Temple Grandin mission to "think differently" about people with autism.

Related
Don't Get Locked Into Labels - by Temple Grandin.

Employment Opportunities for Individuals with Autism

ASCEND (Autism Asperper Syndrome Coalition for Education, Networking and Development)

Young Adults With Autism Seek Out White-Collar Careers For First Time

The Autism Project - a multi-media effort by Toronto Star reporters, photographers and videographers - in print, online and social media - to document autistic lives in all their many stages.

The Autism Society - Employment


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