The prospects of autistic workers are dismal. While the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased by 118% over the last decade, only 16% find full-time employment outside of sheltered workshops. And while most employers favor hiring neurotypical workers, this still means that there are plenty of jobs out there available to those on the spectrum.
Unfortunately, due to widespread misinformation about autism and its correlation with employment, some misconceptions stand in the way of high-functioning autistic individuals finding suitable work. The following are some common myths that prevent this demographic from securing jobs they may otherwise be interested in pursuing.
Myth #1: Autistic people can’t hold down a job
Often times companies assume that autistics are unemployable because they believe that those with autism cannot handle the social interaction and responsibilities of a job. This could not be further from the truth. Many autistic people are highly intelligent and have a knack for details, making them excellent employees in fields such as accounting or engineering.
Myth #2: Autistics can’t handle stress
Like anyone, autistics can feel overwhelmed by stressful situations. However, due to their heightened sensory sensitivity, they may react to stressors differently than neurotypical individuals. For example, an autistic person may become extremely agitated by loud noises or bright lights, while a non-autistic person would be less affected. Employers should be aware of this and work to create a supportive environment that will allow autistic employees to thrive.
Myth #3: Autistics can’t handle change
Many autistic individuals are extremely rigid in their routines and dislike changes to their daily life. This does not mean, however, that they are incapable of handling change. In fact, many autistics are quite adaptable and thrive in new environments. It is important for employers to be understanding of an autistic employee’s need for stability and to avoid making sudden changes to their work schedule or routine.
Myth #4: Autistics are socially awkward
While it is true that some autistic people have difficulty with social interaction, this does not mean that all autistics are introverted or shy. Many autistic people have an uncanny ability to focus on one task at a time, making them excellent employees in fields such as engineering or software development. Employers should look past a candidate’s social awkwardness and consider the autistic individual’s ability to get things done.
Myth #5: Autistics are uninterested in working
Some autistics may lack the desire to work due to relatively low levels of executive function. However, many high-functioning autistic individuals enjoy working and doing activities independently or semi-independently. It is important for employers to recognize that not all autistics fit into society’s standard definition of “disability” and instead look at an applicant’s merits on an individual basis.
Beneficial Autistic Traits in the Workplace
In addition to disproving some of the most common myths about autistic employees, it is also important to recognize some of the unique benefits that autistic individuals can bring to the workplace.
1. Excellent attention to detail
2. Strong focus and dedication to tasks
3. Creativity and innovation
4. Excellent memory skills
5. Thoroughness and precision in work
6. Independence and self-reliance
7. Passion for specific interests or hobbies
8. Emotional intelligence
9. Keen senses (e.g., heightened sense of smell, taste, texture, etc.)
10. Ability to think outside the box
It is clear that there are many benefits to hiring autistic individuals in the workplace. By understanding their unique abilities and challenges, employers can create a more supportive work environment that allows these skilled workers to flourish.
Job-seeking autistics should also be aware of the right time to disclose their autism status on their resume or during an interview. It is important to consider the nature of the job you are applying for, as well as your relationship with your potential supervisor/coworkers when deciding whether or not you need to disclose your diagnosis.
Employees who are at risk for social isolation due to a lack of communication skills should only disclose their autism if they believe it will help them gain acceptance from potential coworkers. Those who have excellent communication skills may choose not to mention their autism while applying for jobs in order to avoid the possibility of discrimination.
It is also important for autistics with high-functioning autism to remember that their job performance may be hampered by difficulties in managing sensory overload. Although they are often thought of as being “stuck in their own world,” autistics can use certain coping strategies to help them remain productive employees. For example, wearing noise-dampening headphones or earplugs is an excellent way to block out sound while you work.
Employers who are unable or unwilling to create a more supportive work environment should consider hiring autistic self-advocates who have developed effective tools and techniques for dealing with sensory overload.
The benefits of hiring autistic employees are clear, and with a little bit of understanding and accommodation, these individuals can be successful members of any team. So the next time you’re looking to fill a position in your company, don’t forget to look at the talented autistics out there!