Autistic People and the Workplace

two businessman working on computer

As more adults with autism are entering the workforce than ever before, the issues involving autistic people and the workplace are being redefined to benefit both employees and employers. Find out what autistic people can expect in the workplace and the type of resources available to help achieve a successful employment experience.

Autistic People and the Workplace Overview

Even a decade earlier, the job market was slim for people with autism. Opportunities were scant due to factors such as less awareness about autism, stereotypes about the disorder and communication problems during interviews with potential employers. Today autism awareness and support services for people with autism have led to more opportunities for autistic adults in every level of the job market. More employers are aware that many people with autism have valuable talents that can benefit their companies.

According to a December 8, 2009 MSNBC news story a growing international movement of employers are helping people with autism transform their special talents into job skills. Some companies also provide on-the-job training for people with autism. Two examples of these companies are the American company, Aspiritech and the Danish company, Specialisterne (English translation - The Specialists). The non-profit, Chicago-based company, Aspiritech, has a pilot program that trains people with autism as testers for software development companies. Based in Copenhagen, Specialisterne trains people with autism to be consultants that are contracted out to clients on an hourly basis for data entry work, filing, general office tasks and assembly work.

Employment opportunities are not limited to people with mild cases of autism. Jobs are also available for people with moderate to severe cases of autism, who are able to seek employment and function in a job.

Common Workplace Challenges

Finding a job and succeeding is a challenge for anyone. Yet, for a person with autism, the transition into the job market and into a job environment presents a few more challenges due to communication and social difficulties. Common workplace challenges faced by people with autism include:

  • Problems fitting in the general workplace environment, especially if the workplace is not familiar with the needs of people with autism
  • Misunderstandings due to mindblindness or problems understanding others' emotions and providing inappropriate responses
  • Difficulties understanding verbal instruction
  • Inflexibility to routine changes
  • Repetitive and obsessive behaviors may cause conflict at the work environment
  • Sensory processing issues can sometimes interfere with work performance
  • Some coworkers and employers may not be sensitive to the needs of people with autism

Both autistic employees and their employers can overcome all of these challenges through training. Employers who want to provide a true equal opportunity job environment can learn about autism and creating anappropriate work environment through training programs that are available through many autism support organizations. Autistic adults seeking employment can also enroll in programs available through non-profit organizations and autism advocacy groups that teach life and job skills to help ease the transition into a work environment.

Online Resources for Autistic Employees

The following online resources can help autistic adults learn job skills, get employment advice and seek employment:

  • TEACCH Supported Employment Program: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Department of Psychiatry's TEACCH program has an employment placement program for people with autism.
  • University of Wisconsin's Center on Education and Work: University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center on Education and Work has programs to teach people with autism job skills and helps with job placement.
  • Neurodiversity: The Neurodiversity site has a number of resources about autism employment and links to other helpful autism job advice sites.
  • ian Community: The Interactive Autism Network (ian) Community site has articles about autism job placement.
  • Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook: Roger N. Meyer, who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS), and has achieved employment success, wrote a workbook to assist other people with autism and AS find successful employment.
  • Auties: The Auties site is a resource for people with autism and AS seeking employment. It provides advice, job leads and support.

Employment Success Is Possible with Autism

Many articles about autistic people and the workplace use terms like cope and survive to describe the autistic employment experience. However, people with autism cannot only survive in a job; they can thrive. Autistic adults searching for employment should seek out life skill and job training programs through autism support organizations that help with appropriate job placement. Finding an employer who is sensitive to the needs of autistic employees and does not discriminate is half the battle. It is also important that a person with autism seek a job that meets the right skill set and work environment to accommodate their needs. Autistic employees may also wish remain in a job skills support program during employment to help work out issues over communication and social difficulties. With the right preparation and support, people with autism can find great personal satisfaction and success in a job.

Autistic People and the Workplace