• Cory Morrison

OPINION: Companies should hire people with autism

Updated: Jun 13

Finding employment is not easy for a lot of people. For people with autism, however, job hunting can be even harder because of social communication challenges. The numbers are indeed, quite staggering and absurd. Despite the communication difficulties, people on the spectrum can be great assets to the workplace.

Two women look at a computer screen together in a large office
(Photo Credit: Mimi Thian on Unsplash)

With the difficulties, according to verywellhealth.com, people on the spectrum may have

symptoms that prevent successful interviews, managing a workplace’s physical requirements, or working well with teams. Since people have to compete for positions, those who have problems with communication skills such as good eye contact and non-verbal communication may find it tough to stand out in a good way. With these barriers in mind, employers need to understand the challenges autistic people face to ensure they can successfully find and keep a job.

As a result of the challenges, according to CBC News, 86 per cent of autistic adults were unemployed in April 2019. With the general population, ontario.ca indicated that only 5.7 per cent of Canadian adults were unemployed at that time. According to Trading Economics, if you put COVID-19 in the picture, 10.2 per cent of Canada’s general population was unemployed in August 2020. Eighty-six compared to six to 10, is a big deal. This is not something that one should ignore. People on the spectrum want to provide their skills to the real world just like anyone else. They can do that. Like most people, many of them do not want to sit at home all day.

Fortunately, in recent years, some organizations have helped autistic people try to beat the statistics. For example, according to HuffPost Canada, Microsoft launched a pilot program to hire people with autism in April 2015.

Fast forward a couple of years, according to CBC News, Spectrum Works Autism Job Fair started in 2017 and has made great progress since then, with locations in Toronto, Montreal and Richmond, B.C. The fair has allowed attendees on the spectrum to sit down with employers in a more conversational way, making them more comfortable with interviewing people. Hundreds of people attended the job fair in 2019. It’s a good start. Hopefully, once COVID-19 is over with, this will help the unemployment rate decrease.

More recently, last Sunday, Anderson Cooper, from CBS News 60 Minutes, reported that more companies are discovering the potential and unique skills that people on the spectrum can offer to a workplace. Cooper interviewed five autistic people last winter. For instance, Dave Friedman, who owns a company named Autonomy Works in Illinois, has 32 employees on the spectrum who all now work virtually due to COVID-19. Employees proofread digital content and monitor more than 2,300 websites a month for accuracy and quality. “Clearly,

they have talents and skills,” Friedman says. “Their extreme attention to detail has led to a 90 per cent reduction in product and pricing errors.” Like anyone else, autistic people just need to find something they are good at and passionate about. After doing so, they can function well in the workplace if employers give them opportunities.

Although people on the spectrum may struggle with communication and social skills, employers should not focus on this too much because these people can provide great skills suited for their jobs. Too often, employers might get wrong first impressions from autistic candidates during interviews. When Cooper asked Sarah Klaich, an autistic adult who works at Autonomy Works, what she would like people to understand about autism, her response was, “The lack of or the ability to communicate doesn’t equal intelligence.”

Maybe these inspiring stories about employees recruiting those on the spectrum could finally help other employers follow suit. Employers just need to work hard to make a difference, be patient and focus more on strengths than weaknesses with autistic candidates.

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