Autistic Workers: Capable of More Than Menial JobsApr 10, 2014
Many companies, especially in the high-tech sector, have discovered hiring individuals with autism is smart business. They are realizing the condition isn’t necessarily a disability, but instead brings some very desirable skills and abilities to the workforce. Scott Wright talks about hiring someone with autism and some simple things you can do to tap into their unrealized potential to help them succeed and benefit your business too.
Interviewer: As an employer, what you need to know about having an employee with autism. That's next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Perhaps you've been thinking about it. Perhaps you are going to hire someone who's on the spectrum, somebody who has autism. What do you need to know? We're with Scott Wright from the University of Utah. Let's talk about that for a second. First of all, are more companies hiring people with autism?
Scott Wright: Well, a lot of companies in the United States are finally coming around. It's really quite recent and we're seeing this take place quite dramatically in the Silicon Valley area of the United States where tech companies are responding to this. And I have to say in a very positive way. Where a lot of companies can say, 'Well, we want to show compassion. We want to show how we're open to diversity issues.' But here the notion is that maybe companies are looking at this in a different way, like they want to hire adults on the autism spectrum because of their strengths and abilities that they can bring to the company.
Interviewer: Yeah. And what are some of those, just quickly?
Scott Wright: The traits would be attention to detail.
Scott Wright: Fine issues of quality control. I mean individuals who have an interest in coding, programming. When you're in tech companies that's really highly desired.
Scott Wright: That is something that companies are looking for so those are strengths and abilities that are going to be looked for.
Interviewer: So what I'm getting from this conversation, which I didn't think I would get when I came into it, is people with autism, it's not just necessarily menial jobs. I think a lot of employers think, 'Oh, we'll higher somebody and we'll give them this kind of menial task. These individuals are able to do much more than that.
Scott Wright: Great point. This is the potential that we're right on the cusp of, that let's be honest, and this is really the challenge in our society. The overwhelming majority, up to 70% unemployment for those adults on the autism spectrum. That's really unacceptable. And the jobs that might be out there, the bar is set, perhaps maybe too low.
Interviewer: Yeah, like at a grocery store; you might hire them to bag, but they might be just as effective, if given a chance, doing the books.
Scott Wright: Given a chance to shine, but a lot of this has to do with the work environment. If the work environment that neuro-typicals might be very used to where there's a lot of the eye stimulation, look at the office that we're in with glaring florescent lights and where the environment just isn't right. It can be very distracting or it can be, in a sense, can lead to stress. But if companies would make adjustments and realize that this individual can really thrive and make those adaptations, then I'll show you a company that's probably going to compete and do well. Which just goes back to my point, I think, where Silicon Valley companies are beginning to appreciate that. Now, can we get that to happen here in Utah, right in our backyard? I think that that's the great potential that we need to have more awareness of.
Interviewer: Yeah. Sounds to me like the challenge for somebody that might even be considering hiring an individual with autism is they do have some skill sets that you might not have ever considered. Whereas you bring in another employee and you might have to teach them how to do the job, you might just have to teach a person with autism some social skills instead. We all need to learn stuff to be better at our job, right?
Scott Wright: That's correct. Either there's something that we have to learn to fit in which will take some time to do.
Scott Wright: But you just brought up the great point that this is showing where a company will adapt and say, 'Well, we need to be more aware of the physical and social environment for this who is highly skilled.
Interviewer: Yes, exactly. Any final thoughts on this?
Scott Wright: There's a huge challenge in our society about greater numbers of adults on the autism spectrum entering into really, in effect, their adult years. The key is how we're going to respond to that in a very effective way with, I call it, transition services toward adulthood, and allowing opportunities for self determination and really, in effect, functioning adulthood with vocational opportunity. This is going to be the big topic in the next ten years.
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