Where is Autism Employment Heading?

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, December, 2016

The December 13 edition of Forbes.com contained an article titled, “Where is Autism Employment Heading in 2017?” (Click here to read it.)

Ten years ago, when I began coaching individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, I couldn’t have imagined such an article. In fact, when I told people what I did for a living most would ask, “What’s Asperger’s Syndrome?” Now, the majority say that they know, or know of, at least one person who is on the spectrum.

The first breakthrough in employment people with Asperger’s and similar autism spectrum profiles happened in 2004, when Thorkil Sonne founded Specialisterne in Denmark. The concept was brilliant: train individuals to test software (one type of job that matches autistic strengths), then outsource the services to corporations. Other social enterprises followed in the technology space, such as Aspiritech and ULTRA Testing. According to the article, the model has expanded to include a shirt design company and chocolatier. Self-employment, including Internet-based creative collectives such as Art of Autism and Picasso Einstein, also offer opportunities.

However, it is particularly significant that corporations such as Microsoft, SAP, Hewlett Packard, Willis Towers Watson, Ford Motor Company, and others are creating programs to recruit employees who are on the spectrum (Specialisterne, now headquartered in the U.S., consults with some). Although the initiatives are small – Microsoft’s pilot consisted of 10 individuals (1) – they demonstrate that people with autism make valuable employees. SAP considers its program an opportunity to utilize the abilities of skilled workers.

The wide publicity such initiatives generate can be the impetus for other organizations to pilot similar programs. Sometimes it is a parent who helps to create internships or job opportunities at his or her company.

There is another critical component to better employment outcomes: preparing individuals with skills for jobs that are in demand. When deciding on post-secondary education or training, I strongly encourage individuals and parents to research the type of jobs that will be available, and the aptitudes and skills required to manage the tasks. In my coaching practice, I see many young people who pursued advanced education based on their interests. A large percentage struggle when they realize that they are unsuited for the available jobs.  “The mismatch of jobs and education – 1:2:7” is a very informative article from a local business journal that discusses the need for more technically trained workers.

Even though the change is slow, things are very different than a decade ago. My prediction is that more and more companies will tailor jobs to utilize the intellect and creativity of people on the spectrum.

(1) Source: Washingtonpost.com, “Microsoft Launches a Pilot Program to Hire Autistic Workers” (read article)
Copyright 2016, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching