October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
It’s a growing employment trend that has made recent headlines: big name companies are announcing new initiatives to hire autistic employees. The development is cause for cautious optimism, said Paul Louden, autism awareness advocate and host of the Theories of Mind radio program. “As we reflect on the current state of employment for those with autism and other conditions during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we’re starting to see a change in the workplace that is encouraging.”
This past April, Microsoft announced a pilot program aimed at bringing on board autistic individuals to fill fulltime positions at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington. German software heavyweight SAP and British telecommunications corporation Vodafonealready have similar programs in place. “These are real hiring efforts, not acts of charity,” said Louden. “Companies are investing a great deal of time and money to recruit and train autistic workers because it makes business sense. The very skills that are innate to their disability make them a valuable asset.”
Louden, who was diagnosed with autism as a young adult, said that logical and analytical skills, acute powers of observation and a dedication to seeing a project through to the finish are just some of the reasons those with higher functioning autism are able to fit into white collar roles for which they might never have been considered until recently. These employment advances are happening as specialized training programs help to shine a spotlight on the assets that autistic individuals bring to the workplace. Texas-based nonPareil, which opened a campus in Houston this year, and Aspiritech, based in Illinois, are two organizations that train young adults for work in software-related fields.
It’s not only the high-tech industry that is finding ways to utilize the skills of autistic employees. “It’s a misconception that all people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have an interest in technology,” said Louden. He said Walgreens has created a facility especially for training its growing number of autistic employees and mortgage giant Freddie Mac has its own internship and hiring program geared to those with autism.
The current evolution in employer perspective comes at a pivotal time, as the U.S. experiences an unprecedented jump in the number of children diagnosed with the condition. It’s estimated that over the next decade, more than 500,000 young adults with autism will turn 18. Once they reach adulthood, Louden said many services and resources are no longer available to them. The ability to live as independently as possible and to take part in meaningful work becomes crucial.
“These kids can achieve, just with a different set of abilities than their neurotypical peers,” said Louden. “My hope is that companies in Houston and across the nation will grab onto this employment trend and reap the benefits of hiring outside of the box by giving someone with autism a chance.”
To find out more about the mental health challenges in the news today and how differences shape our lives, visit www.theoriesofmindradio.com and listen to Theories of Mind Tuesdays from on Business Newsmakers Radio 1110 KTEK-AM, a Wall Street Journal Radio Network, Bloomberg Radio Station in Houston.