People with autism can bring a strong skill set and unique perspective to the workplace. The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace are being recognized by an increasing number of companies in 2020, thanks to awareness campaigns like Autism at Work.
Individuals with Autism typically struggle with social skills, but they often excel with visual tasks and routines. They may have short-term memory difficulties, but particularly good long-term memory abilities. Jobs that highlight the strengths of people on the spectrum benefit from skilled and dedicated employees.
Depending on the level of severity of autism, someone on the spectrum may successfully fulfill the duties of their job with only minor accommodations or coping strategies that go unnoticed by colleagues. People with more severe levels of autism, where they are nonverbal and struggle significantly with social skills, have more limited work opportunities, but there are still jobs that can work well for this demographic.
Career Options for People With Autism
People on the autism spectrum have many unique abilities and talents, though the traditional job-seeking and interview process can make it challenging for those skills to shine through. These individuals often have communication styles that are outside the norm. They do not exhibit typical interviewee qualities, such as an outgoing personality, good eye contact, and strong communication skills.
As a result, over 80% of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unemployed or underemployed. Neurodiverse candidates are often looked over because they do not present in typical ways during formal interviews and are not able to effectively demonstrate their true skills.
Companies and programs, such as Autism at Work, are striving to expand the standard interview process to allow for greater inclusion of neurodiverse employees in the workplace. SAP, for example, implemented the Autism at Work program in 2013. They have experienced great success internationally hiring people on the spectrum and retaining 90% of those hires.
As companies adopt neurodiversity inclusion programs, they experience more variety and innovation in the workplace. Employees on the spectrum provide unique perspectives that encourage creative thinking and problem-solving initiatives across the workplace. With the right supports in place, people with autism can thrive in nearly any career.
Types of Jobs Typically Suited for Autistic People
When looking for a job, it is important to search for positions that will highlight your strengths, whether you have autism or not.
For autistic people, this means looking for jobs that do not require high levels of short-term working memory. People on the spectrum often have a stronger long-term memory than a typical person, but they struggle with tasks that require strong short-term memory.
Similarly, abstract thinking is typically difficult for those with autism. Instead, autistic individuals tend to do better with clear, concrete language.
These types of jobs require little short-term memory and abstract thinking:
- Computer programming
- Commercial art
- Equipment design
- Computer troubleshooting and repair
- Laboratory technician
- Laboratory technician work
- Webpage design
- Computer animation
- Building or factory maintenance
The above jobs are great options for people on the spectrum who are relatively high functioning and strong visual thinkers. People fulfilling these positions are able to visualize the problem they are working with and take their time to execute a well-planned solution, explain experts from the Indiana Resource Center for Autism.
For people on the autism spectrum who are good at math and memorizing facts, but not as strong visual thinkers, jobs in the following areas can be a good fit:
- Library science
- Copy editing
- Inventory control
The right job for someone with autism depends on their personal skillset and interests. Jobs should be selected based on an individual’s strengths and which environment will encourage the person the most.
This means the first step is identifying the autistic individual’s strengths. By focusing on their abilities and interests, they will be better able to secure and hold meaningful and successful jobs.
Levels of Severity of Autism
The level of autism severity greatly influences which jobs will work well for someone on the spectrum. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) redefined a group of similar developmental diagnoses into a single diagnosis now called autism spectrum disorder.
The new comprehensive diagnosis highlights autism as being a spectrum. There are three identified levels of autism. They help to clarify how severe symptoms are in the domains of social skills and restrictive or repetitive behaviors.
- Level 1, requiring support: Level 1 autism means a person likely struggles in social situations, and maintaining conversations can be difficult. Making and keeping friendships can be a challenge, but the person is able to maintain some relationships. Someone with level 1 autism likely needs minimal support to complete daily activities. Established routines feel comfortable, and unexpected changes or events can be challenging.
- Level 2, requiring substantial support: Level 2 refers to the middle range of the autism spectrum. People with Level 2 autism have difficulty with social skills that is more noticeable to others than people with Level 1 ASD. Verbal communication is also a challenge for someone with Level 2 ASD. They may be nonverbal, make little eye contact, and express little emotion through their tone of voice and expressions. They may get upset when their routines are interrupted. They exhibit restrictive and repetitive behaviors.
- Level 3, requiring very substantial support: Level 3 is the most severe level of autism. Someone with Level 3 ASD displays significant problems with social skills and communication. Restrictive and repetitive behaviors often interfere with functioning independently and completing everyday activities. Some people with Level 3 ASD are able to communicate with words, but others are nonverbal. Substantial support is required for people with Level 3 ASD to learn life skills that support everyday living.
The level of autism that someone has greatly impacts their ability to perform different jobs. Some people with Level 1 ASD have symptoms that are unnoticeable to the people around them. They can complete complicated jobs with minimal support or by using their own coping strategies.
More severe cases of autism have a greater impact on what jobs can be successfully completed. Again, however, there is a wide range of jobs available and many programs in search of people with ASD who can bring unique skills to the workplace.
Companies That Aim to Hire People With Autism
As awareness grows about boosting neurodiversity in the workplace in 2020, an increasing number of companies are proactively hiring employees on the autism spectrum.
Companies can benefit greatly from strengths that are specific to autistic individuals, such as intense focus, strong commitment, creative abilities, and passionate productivity. These attributes in employees can be a boon to any company when they are directed appropriately.
Here is a selection of companies participating in the Autism at Work and other neurodiversity initiatives:
- Computer Aid, Inc.
- Dell Technologies
- Freddie Mac
- InnoSys, Inc.
- JPMorgan Chase & Co.
- Rising Tide Car Wash
- Spectrum Designs
- Travelers Insurance
- U.S. Bank
- Willis Towers Watson
- DXC Technology
- Blue Star Recyclers
- Bank of America
- Capital One
- AMC Theatres
- The Home Depot
These companies have been public about their intentions to hire more people with autism.
The list is always changing and growing, shares Autism Speaks. Each year, new companies and organizations join the effort to support autism awareness and inclusion.
Job-Finding Tools for People With Autism
Various organizations across the country have focused their efforts on supporting people with autism through the job-finding process. Resources have been developed just for people with autism who are eager to join the working community.
Autism Speaks is one such organization that provides a free downloadable Employment Tool Kit. Through this resource, you can learn about a variety of job search tools, employment information, and skill development, including:
- How to introduce yourself.
- How to advocate for yourself on a job.
- How to find the right job for you.
- How benefits and funding work.
- How to search for jobs.
- What transportation options are possible.
- How to write a resume and cover letter, and complete a job application.
- How to interview well.
- How accommodations and disclosure work.
- What social aspects are involved in specific types of jobs.
- How employment rights and resources work.
The Spectrum Careers is an online database of jobs for people with autism compiled by Autism Speaks and Rangam Consultants, Inc. Together, these organizations promote inclusion of people with autism in the workplace. The job portal is a free search tool to match job seekers with businesses and local employment service providers, such as job coaches and employment agencies.
Worth the Effort
While people with autism have to put more consideration and work into the process of finding a job, it’s well worth the effort. The benefits of employment go far beyond the financial realm.
A person with autism can thrive in the right employment environment, setting them up for a long-term career that can be incredibly rewarding.
- Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable. Disability: IN.
- Autism at Work: Encouraging Neurodiversity in the Workplace. (October 2019). SAP.
- Choosing the Right Job for People With Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. Indiana Resource Center for Autism.
- Benefits of Hiring People With Autism. (July 2015). International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards.
- Job Seekers With Autism. Autism Speaks.
- Levels of Autism: Understanding the Different Types of ASD. (November 2019). Psych Central.
- Trajectories of Autism Severity in Early Childhood. (March 2014). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder: Diagnostic Criteria. (August 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The Spectrum Careers. Rangam Consultants, Inc.
- The Benefits of Recruiting Employees With Autism Spectrum Disorder. (July 2016). Forbes.
- The Costs and Benefits of Employing an Adult With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. (October 2015). PLoS One.
- Advice About Work. National Autistic Society.