Jessica Miller-Merrell | , , , , , , ,| By
April is Autism Awareness Month. The topic of autism among our youth and adults is something I’m quite passionate about. You might be surprised to know that 1 in 68 births in the United States receive an autism diagnosis with that number increasing every year.
Autism Speaks, a leading autism advocacy non-profit, defines autism as a group of complex disorders of brain development that is often referred to as autism, autism spectrum disorder or ASD. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Thirty-five percent young adults ages 19-23 diagnosed with autism are not employed or received post-secondary education according to a 2012 Pediatrics study. These adults are eager and excited to work but struggle to fit into a hiring and recruitment process that is fundamentally social.
Individuals diagnosed with autism struggle to communicate and interact socially depending on the severity of their autism diagnosis throughout their childhood as well as adults lives. Our hiring practices as well as workplaces for those with autism are not designed for those with this invisible disability. The traditional interviewing and candidate selection process is a social one. Recruiters and hiring managers like candidates to engage and respond to social cues, answer questions and make eye contact. These are not things individuals who are diagnosed with autism can always do. It’s also the reason why employers are establishing special hiring programs designed to engage and hire this workforce.
AUTISM WORKFORCE TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMS
- The Specialists Guild is a nonprofit social enterprise focused on working with people and companies so individuals with Autism can earn a living doing meaningful and fulfilling work based in San Francisco, CA. Click here to apply for training.
- The nonPareil Institute is dedicated to providing technical training, employment and housing to individuals who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. They train high-functioning adults with autism ages 18 and older on different aspects of video game and app design and development at a pace each student can manage. This non-profit is located in Texas. Get more information about admissions here.
- Exceptional Minds is a Sherman Oaks, CA, nonprofit vocational center and animation studio for young adults with autism. Click here to learn more about their program.
- Aspiritech, a nonprofit based in Chicago has a program to train high-functioning people on the autism spectrum to test software for tech development companies.
- Nobis Works is a nonprofit organization in Georgia that specializes in job placement for people on the spectrum. They also offer training programs that last anywhere from three months to a year and are designed to teach the skills necessary to succeed in the workforce.
- Easter Seals is a non-profit organization that offers a variety of employment and workforce training programs for workers with all types of disabilities, autism included. Like all the workforce training programs listed, they also actively hire and recruit autistic workers and those with a disability.
- Autism Speaks offers a variety of tools and resources for families, individuals and employers including a robust employer autism employment toolkit. Employers can also join their LinkedIn Employment Community.
COMPANIES HIRING ADULTS WITH AUTISM
While autism diagnosis is on the rise, an increased number of companies are establishing hiring and recruiting campaigns and building new hiring processes with this large population of workers in mind. I’ve located a list of 23 companies from non-profit to small to enterprise level organizations who are actively hiring adults with autism.
Walgreen Autism Careers Program
Walgreens In 2007, they opened a distribution center staffed nearly 40 percent by disabled employees. The program has been a model for others, including Procter & Gamble, Best Buy and Lowe’s. Click here.
Freddie Mac Autism Internship Program
Through a partnership with the Autism Self Advocacy Network that began in 2013, the mortgage company Freddie Mac has been hiring paid finance interns for those diagnosed with autism. Click here.
Microsoft Autism Programming Pilot Program
Microsoft recently established a pilot program that hires autistic adults for coding, software programming and math jobs.
Spectrum Careers Established to Match Employers with Autism Workers
Rangam Consultants and Autism Speaks teamed up to create Spectrum Careers, a program that matches employers with workers on the autism spectrum.
SAP’s Autism at Work
SAP launched Autism at Work program that is committed to hiring 1% of their employee population with autism. Click here for more information.
Towers Watson’s Autism Hiring Pilot Program
Towers Watson hired 18 autistic workers as part of a 2015 pilot program with plans to expand their efforts. Click here.
HP in Australia Autism Program
Hewlett Packard in Australia announced in 2015 their autism hiring program. However, details around their success, learnings and planned growth are scarce. Click here.
Technology Startup ULTRA Sees Success Hiring Employees with Autism
Technology startup, ULTRA a technology company in New York focuses on hiring people with autism to conduct high quality software testing services. They are finding success in hiring software testers who are on the spectrum. Click here.
Specialisterne Employees Excel at Their Jobs in Consultants in Software Testing & Data Entry
Specialisterne is a Denmark based company where the majority of their employees are on the autism spectrum. Employees work as business consultants in STEM roles. They provide their unique perspective to fields like software testing, programming and data-entry for the public and private sectors. They have operations in many countries around the world. Click here.
Small Company, Autonomy Works Employees Part Time Workers. Many Are Autistic
AutonomyWorks, a Chicago based company offers operation and back office work that companies would have sent offshore in the past. Many of their employees are autism adults. Click here.
Father Started a Car Wash to Help His Autistic Son
Rising Tide Car Wash in Parkland, FL, hires autistic workers for his car wash. Watch this amazing video below of their family’s story.
Retailer, Home Depot Hires Autistic Workers Since 2010
Retailer, Home Depot was one of the first organizations that committed to hiring autistic workers. SHRM’s article mentions their commitment in 2010. Click here.
North Carolina Coffee Shop Creates Opportunity for Those with A Disability
Wilmington, North Carolina, coffee shop Beau’s Coffee opened in 2016. The owner is the parent of two children with Down Syndrome. Beau’s Coffee isn’t limiting their hiring to those with Down Syndrome or autism but individuals with disability. Click here.
Global Research Company Sees Success in Hiring Adding Autistic Employees to Workforce
ZenithOptimedia is another company who has a commitment to hiring individuals with autism and experienced great success. They are continuing to grow these efforts and are working to increase opportunities for employees with autism in the future. Companies don’t need a formal program autism at work program to hire great employees.
North Carolina Non-Profit Puts Autistic Workers to Work
Extraordinary Ventures is a non-profit in North Carolina that provides hires autistic workers for jobs including event set up, laundry service and delivery, data entry, packaging, mailing, dog walking, cat sitting, city bus clean up, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football parking.
Small Business Commits to Qualify of Life Employing Those with Autism
Spectrum Designs is a Long Island company committed to enhancing the quality of life of people with autism, who often face barriers to employment. The company was started in 2010 by Stella Spanakos, whose son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and is now 22. Spectrum Designs already employs 30 people as of 2014. In 2013, the company doubled its service capacity and tripled its sales, nearing over half a million dollars. Click here.
Ford Announces Michigan Training Program for Those Diagnosed with Autism
In May of 2016, Ford announced a training program in partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan offering a pilot program called FordInclusiveWorks kicking off June 1, 2016. The pilot involves the creation of five positions in product development. Click here.
UPDATING HIRING PROCESSES & TRAINING PROGRAMS FOR ALL EMPLOYEES
It’s not enough to create and establish hiring programs focused on autistic employees, a number of companies are working to adapt and change hiring processes, drive awareness and establish employee training programs due to their autism hiring initiatives.
German Company Vodafone Hiring Autistic Workers
Vodafone is actively hiring autistic employees while also taking steps to training managers and business leaders on the best approaches to communicating with different types of workers including those diagnosed with autism. Click here.
The Badger Mountain Orchard Adopted New Interview and Training Processes
The Badger Mountain Orchard in Kennewick, Washington has found that adapting their interviewing and training process to be more autism-friendly has resulted in hiring many people on the spectrum who are dedicated to their jobs.
Hidden Hiring Benefits of Autism and Those with Disabilities
Hiring a diverse workforce including those with autism offers hidden benefits outside of longer tenure, less turnover and improved employee engagement. Ninety-two percent of people view companies who hire individuals with disabilities MORE favorably according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.
As companies look to diversify their talent pools, hiring programs like those you see above are an effective way to engage a very eager and engaged group of workers. Companies in the United States who are government contractors are seeing benefits specifically related to the OFCCP and their Affirmative Action Plan good faith efforts.
Other Considerations When Employing Adults with Autism
Companies participating in these programs will need to go beyond adapting hiring and interview processes. Autism is considered a disability meaning that requests for accommodation by your employee population fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act which impacts employers with greater than 15 employees. Many of the companies are leading the charge in hiring this hidden talent pool. I am in agreement that adding leadership and manager training is also a step in the right direction, however, companies need to consider making additional accommodations they might not have considered:
- Relocating autistic workers to quieter areas of the office. Open office environments can lend to sensory overload which can create challenges for your autistic workers who can become overloaded with all the sensory distractions an environment like this can make.
- Honoring, anticipating and re-evaluating employee requests for accommodation. Take a look at your accommodation program as under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These are often small requests such as noise canceling headphones or wearing hats for light sensitivity inside the office.
- Adding autism to your corporate diversity and respect training programs. Employers spend a great deal of time and effort on diversity training, respect and awareness programs. They need to consider updating their existing programs to include information and resources on autism for their employee and leadership teams.
- Providing additional training, resources and coaching for your autistic workforce. Establishing an employee mentor program where employees have a trusted peer they can build a relationship with, learn from and help integrate with the company culture is important regardless if team members are diagnosed with autism or not.
I applaud these 27+ companies and their approach to hiring and retention. They are approaching their workforce efforts and reaching candidates who are eager and excited to work while also reinforcing the cultural importance of diversity, inclusion and respect not just for their employee population but for their customers and shareholders alike.
Is there a company I missed? Please leave a comment and I’ll add your organization to this list.