“Neurodiversity” in the Workplace: Hiring More People with Autism

workplace-1245776_1280For years, both men and women with autism have faced incredible difficulties in obtaining employment throughout their adult years. There were times when opportunities were virtually non-existent for anyone with ASD. However, with each year, increasing numbers of big companies have delivered on their promises to incorporate more autistic individuals in their workforce. Companies such as Microsoft and EY (formerly Ernst & Young), have seen incredible benefits in their daily operations thanks to more inclusive hiring decisions.

“Neurodiversity” is growing rapidly within American companies. EY, for one, has developed a program that employs individuals with ASD to build a wider, more diverse workforce. Lori Golden, Abilities Strategy Leader at EY, currently leads the program. She states, “this program leverages the skills that people with high functioning autism often have: looking at data, dealing with mathematical concepts, attention to detail, the ability to focus over long periods of time, and looking at large bodies of information and spotting anomalies.” These skills are a huge benefit to various industries, including math/accounting, engineering and information technology.

According to a recent study conducted at Drexel University, a large number of adults with autism are still unemployed: 58%. However, many of them possess desirable skills that could benefit multiple types of businesses. As a result, companies like EY are utilizing the talents of these men and women, while making their hiring process and employment more comfortable. In addition to standard training, EY provides hands-on training in which employees within the program can watch others work in real-time. The program enabled managers to really reflect on their current operations. Golden states, “One thing that happened that I thought was really interesting was that, as our supervisors went through training these individuals every day, they stopped and asked ‘Can this be improved? Are we communicating the right way?’”

Rob Austin, professor at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario states, “[Neurodiversity is a] relatively new thing … but I would say it’s gaining momentum.” The push for neurodiversiy, Austin states, can be traced to Danish origins. A Danish telecom worker, Thorkil Sonne, initiated bringing autistic adults into his professional workplace. Sonne developed the company Specialisterne in 2004 with the focused goal of preparing individuals with autism for the workforce.

Ultimately, according to Austin, these programs have to make sense for the company’s bottom line. These initial programs, such as the one at EY, have produced great results in terms of both finding new and diverse talent, as well as increasing productivity. “Ultimately, it’s not a charity thing because it’s providing far more benefit than it’s costing. Every company I know that’s gone into this in a serious way has gone into it with the idea that this is going to be net benefit positive,” Austin states.

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