A recent article in The Atlantic reviews the success of programs launched by large companies—Microsoft, EY (formerly Ernst & Young), SAP and HP Enterprises—to hire more neurodiverse employees. This article follows several others written last year (see below) chronicling the growing trend of companies reaching out to people with autism. These adults often make dedicated, productive employees and frequently get called based on their resumes. However, people on the autism spectrum may also experience challenges with traditional interviews or office communication skills, which may prevent them from getting or keeping jobs.
The article quotes a recent finding from Drexel University that 58 percent of young adults with autism in the United States are unemployed. The movement by some companies to identify, hire and sometimes change their office culture for employees with autism started with a frustrated father in Denmark. Thorkil Sonne, whose son has autism, founded Specialisterne specifically to employ people with autism in technology jobs. Sonne soon realized he couldn’t effect enough change with one company, however, so he began reaching out to other large corporations to communicate the success of his program. His own company has also grown and now includes a U.S. outpost, in addition to offices in Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Spain and Switzerland.
Rob Austin, a professor at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario, claims that the model benefits companies as much as employees because young adults on the spectrum bring talent, dedication, detail and hard work to their employer. The factors most often holding them back from professional advancement involve complicated, intense hiring processes or an office culture they find too stressful.
“Ultimately, [these programs aren’t] a charity thing because it’s providing far more benefit than it’s costing,” Austin states in the article. “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.”