Looking for loyal, hardworking, detail-oriented employees? Hire autistic people. They’ll bring high productivity to your company in a variety of positions.
You don’t need me to tell you that the employment system is geared against autistic people.
In Australia, the unemployment rate for us autistics is over 30%, which is more than three times that of other people with a disability and almost eight times that of the general population.
From the job interview process, through to sensory and cultural accommodations in the workplace, a lot of employer education and change needs to take place before we start to see systemic improvement.
While there are several great ICT-centric programs out there that specifically cater towards hiring autistic people, contrary to popular belief not everyone who is autistic wants to work in information and communication technology.
I have several clients who have absolutely no interest in working in anything remotely related to the IT field.
They’re more hands-on, wanting to work in a trade such as mechanic, builder or chef.
And as great as these programs are, they are but a very small part of a solution to a massive problem.
Some people may lay claim to having “autistic superpowers.” However, not everyone is like that.
That’s not to say they don’t have unique and amazing traits and abilities that they can bring to the workplace.
While problem solving skills and pattern recognition are well-known desirable traits, there are a lot of other traits that could be beneficial for the workplace.
For example, loyalty, attention to detail or the ability to do repetitive tasks on a day-to-day basis are often overlooked as valuable qualities by those who hold them.
A couple of years ago, I had a client who was given a pretty bleak prognosis by a psychologist who said they’d never be able to work or become independent because of their low IQ. [A low IQ is not part of autism, but a person with a low IQ may incidentally have autism.]
I was flabbergasted at this prognosis, provided by someone who had only spent a couple of hours with this individual on what was probably a bad day.
Needless to say, I saw potential in this individual and saw that they had an incredible attention to detail, which they then used in their first job working in an online store filling orders.
This level of attention to detail saw the order error rate in that business go from almost 10% down to 3%, which resulted in reduced postage costs and much happier customers.
Success in this role didn’t happen overnight. There were a lot of hard lessons, especially around communication and setting expectations in the workplace.
A lot of these lessons were of no fault of the autistic individual either.
It was on the employer to provide a safe working environment that encouraged people to thrive, and to understand the needs of someone who may not necessarily be comfortable expressing those needs.
In this day and age, with unemployment rates at lows that I haven’t seen in even my lifetime, combined with inflation that also hasn’t been seen for many years, finding and retaining staff and gaining a competitive advantage is now more important than ever.
And what better way to gain a competitive advantage than to tap into the underutilized talent market that is the autistic community.
This doesn’t give employers the right to exploit autistic individuals just so they can make a few extra bucks.
It’s an opportunity for employers to provide the required support and reap the benefits of having a unique mind in their business: a win-win situation.
Hire an Autistic Person: a Win-Win
Many years ago, I worked as a system administrator where a big part of my role was collecting log files from appliances and generating weekly reports to see how they were performing.
Through my problem solving and pattern recognition skills, I was able to write a program that automated most of the process, reducing the amount of reporting time from a whole day to less than half an hour.
Over time, this resulted in saving more than one full-time equivalent employee from having to do reporting tasks as the system grew.
And this is just one example of how the autistic brain can come up with unconventional solutions to conventional problems.
By thinking just a little bit outside of the norm, employers can leverage this type of thinking by hiring and nurturing autistic (and other neurodiverse) minds to solve problems they might not have otherwise thought were solvable.
Self Plus Plus
Employers don’t have to do it alone. Through government support and neurodiversity employment partners such as Self Plus Plus, there is adequate support to help guide along the way.
This in turn would then give autistic individuals, like the ones I’ve seen all too often, go from sitting in their bedrooms all day playing video games and watching videos to living a life that has a sense of purpose and pride.
Jonathan Laloz is an expert in the field of autism employment and is also an Australian keynote speaker, having spent more than two decades overcoming many hardships associated with being autistic. This has led to a career helping neurodiverse individuals thrive in the workplace; organizations benefit from the competitive advantages neurodivergent minds offer. In 2019 Jonathan started Self Plus Plus where he leads a team of support workers, trainers and coaches to help autistic people gain a better quality of life. In this role, he and his team have trained and coached dozens of people to develop the skills and confidence required to succeed in the workplace.
Top image: Freepik.com/drobotdean