Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that 1 in 68 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a 30% increase over its 2012 estimate of 1 in 88 children. Improved behavioral interventions have led to greater optimism for education and employment resulting in increased numbers of young adults seeking a satisfying work life. As this growing population emerges into the workforce, it will be especially important for organizations to be prepared to deal with the unique opportunities and challenges presented.
Although these individuals face some obstacles in communication and social interactions, individuals with ASD have valuable attributes which can enable them to excel in the workplace. In particular, some assets include a keen attention to detail, willingness for repetitive activities, trustworthiness, reliability, timeliness, and low absenteeism. As such, when placed in the right type of job, employees with ASD can be good performers.
Organizations will need to examine how their current HR practices may need to be accommodated to better serve employees with ASD. One of the best places to start is by looking at the selection process. One of the most common elements of a selection system is the interview. Individuals with ASD often do not fully understand social norms and conventions, which may cause misunderstanding during the interview. For example, when individuals with ASD do not provide eye contact, this could be a symptom of their anxiety in maintaining eye contact and not an indication of disrespect. Additionally, individuals with autism might not know that the answer is always “yes” when an interviewer asks if you have any questions. Again, to an unaware interviewer, this may come across as the individual being disinterested. As such, interviewers and hiring managers should not only be more familiar with these issues but also be willing to make some accommodations to the interview, if necessary.
Additionally, it may be even more important to focus on whether the individual is a good match for the job and the environment. As mentioned before in a previous blog, finding a good match between the individual and the job can increase satisfaction and decrease the likelihood of turnover. Matching the interests and strengths of individuals with ASD to a job to ensure fit is especially important because it can prevent discomfort from the individual and promote success by honing in on the skills of the individual. A job which matches their skills and preferences will ease their anxiety by keeping them inside their comfort zone and allowing them to focus more on the task at hand. Additionally, as individuals with ASD often struggle with change, it may be important to find an environment which tends to be more stable and predictable.
Aside from the several benefits that individuals with ASD can provide to your company, there is another benefit that may be overlooked. By recruiting and hiring individuals with ASD, or any disability, you are creating an environment that fosters diversity. Being seen as a company that values diversity can attract many other well-qualified individuals to your company. Overall, this focus on diversity not only can facilitate more positive attitudes towards your company, but it can also create a more meaningful work and life experience for individuals with ASD and other disabilities.
Finally, this update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes at a very appropriate time as the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs recently published compliance regulations revising Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act with respect to individuals with disabilities. The revised compliance rules establish new utilization standards for people with disabilities. As with all protected classes, it’s important to ensure that your organization is fostering an inclusive environment by providing equal opportunities to everyone and not treating anyone differently. These changes in your selection process may be appropriate if individuals self-disclose their condition and request accommodations. However, it’s important to remember that you should continue to focus on hiring based on skills necessary for the job. Awareness is important, but disability status should not drive your decision.