Are you a BCBA or an RBT? Join The New Golden Steps ABA Fellowship Program
See Open Roles
We do not have a commercial relationship with any of these companies and have not otherwise been endorsed by, are not affiliated with, and do not intend to suggest a connection to, any of the companies listed on the page.

The Job Market for Adults with Autism

Explore rewarding jobs for adults with autism and how to navigate the job market successfully.

Understanding Autism in Adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. Understanding autism in adults is crucial for addressing their unique needs and challenges, particularly in the context of employment.

Prevalence of Autism in Adults

ASD affects over 5.4 million adults in the United States, representing more than 2% of the population. Despite these numbers, only about half of autistic adults are employed, highlighting an employment landscape that is rapidly changing but still offers limited opportunities for autistic individuals. In fact, approximately 85 percent of people with an autism diagnosis in the United States are under- or unemployed, despite 59 percent of autistic individuals having an average or above-average intelligence quotient (IQ).

Moreover, it is predicted that 500,000 adults on the autism spectrum will age into adulthood over the next 10 years, and 85% of college grads affected by autism are unemployed [2]. This indicates a significant gap in employment opportunities for adults with autism compared to the national unemployment rate.

Diagnosing Autism in Adults

Diagnosing autism in adults can be complex. Severe forms of ASD are usually diagnosed early in life, but milder forms may not be recognized until adulthood. Adults may seek a diagnosis due to difficulties in social interaction, communication, or restrictive and repetitive behaviors that impact their quality of life or employment.

Getting a diagnosis as an adult can be a challenging process, often requiring a comprehensive evaluation by a team of specialists. The diagnosis can provide a better understanding of an individual's strengths and weaknesses, helping them to seek the right support and accommodations in the workplace.

It is also important to note that a diagnosis can provide a sense of relief and validation for many adults who have struggled with unexplained difficulties throughout their lives. It can open up new possibilities for support, understanding, and acceptance, paving the way for improved job performance and career satisfaction.

Understanding autism in adults is a critical step towards promoting their full participation in the workforce and society at large. With the right support, adults with ASD can thrive in their chosen careers and make valuable contributions to their workplaces and communities. This underscores the importance of creating inclusive workplaces that recognize and value neurodiversity, as well as the need for targeted job programs and resources for autistic job seekers.

Autistic Adults in the Workforce

The inclusion of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the workforce provides a multitude of benefits for both the individual and the employer. Furthermore, adequate workplace accommodations are essential for providing a supportive and productive environment for these employees.

Benefits of Hiring Autistic Adults

At present, ASD affects over 5.4 million adults in the United States, making up more than 2% of the population. However, only about half of autistic adults are employed.

Companies that recruit and retain workers with autism stand to gain significant benefits. These include fresh perspectives, diversity of thought, and traits such as loyalty, innovation, and high productivity brought in by these employees [3]. Consequently, several major tech companies have launched workplace inclusion programs to make it easier for neurodivergent people, including those with autism, to find good jobs.

Workplace Accommodations for Autistic Adults

Workplace accommodations for employees with autism can include a range of support measures tailored to the individual's needs. These include training, job coaching, mentorship in communication and interpersonal skills, and awareness training for managers and coworkers.

Furthermore, providing accommodations to assist employees with autism in managing stress can contribute to creating a supportive work environment. These accommodations may range from flexible scheduling and quiet workspaces to clear communication and specific break times.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to perform essential job functions. Following ADA best practices can enhance the overall workplace culture and experience for all employees.

By fostering an inclusive work environment and understanding the unique strengths of autistic adults, employers can tap into a talented and underutilized workforce. This not only benefits the individual and company but also contributes to a more diverse and inclusive society.

Legal Protections for Autistic Employees

When it comes to the job market, adults with autism are protected under federal law. This section of the article will focus on the legal protections in place, specifically under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the concept of reasonable accommodations.

Autism and the American Disabilities Act

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) legally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to perform essential job functions. This not only ensures fair treatment for autistic employees but also enhances the overall workplace culture and experience for all employees.

Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from discriminating against potential and current employees based on their disability. This includes all aspects of employment, from hiring practices and wage levels to promotions and termination policies. This means that adults with autism have the same rights and opportunities to succeed in the workplace as their neurotypical colleagues.

Understanding Reasonable Accommodations

According to the Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit, a majority of employees with autism require some type of accommodation in their employment. Accommodations can range from easy and inexpensive ones to those that require a more thoughtful plan. Job responsibilities can change according to business needs, and accommodations may be necessary to both secure and maintain employment.

One approach to accommodations is the Universal Design, which aims to make products and environments usable by all people without the need for specialized design. Visual reminders, simplified job descriptions, and "traveling" interviews are some examples of accommodations that benefit all employees, including those with autism, and can enhance productivity.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, confidential technical assistance regarding job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By seeking support from JAN, individuals can explore various accommodation options suitable for their needs in the workplace, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) [5].

Moreover, natural supports in the workplace that are commonly used for all colleagues, with or without disabilities, are deemed more sustainable and cost-effective than formal interventions like job coaches. Some businesses are exploring the concept of the "manager as job coach" to support employees with ASD, emphasizing the gradual phase-out of job coaches when they are no longer needed [5].

Understanding these legal protections and the concept of reasonable accommodations is crucial for adults with autism as they navigate the job market. With the right support and accommodations, they can thrive in a variety of roles and sectors.

Promising Careers for Autistic Adults

Navigating the job market can be intimidating for anyone, and it can be particularly challenging for adults with autism. However, there are numerous career paths that are well-suited to the unique skills and abilities often found in individuals with autism.

Tech Jobs for Autistic Adults

Tech jobs are often ideal for adults with autism, particularly those with high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome. For example, computer programming and web development leverage the attention to detail, problem-solving abilities, and visual skills that many autistic individuals possess. Computer science, in particular, is often a suitable college major for those on the autism spectrum. Other tech-related careers that are often a good fit include IT support and quality control technician roles.

Non-Tech Jobs for Autistic Adults

While tech jobs often come to mind when considering jobs for adults with autism, there are also numerous non-tech career paths that can be a good fit. These include jobs that leverage the attention to detail and focus that many autistic adults possess.

Roles such as accounting, data entry, and office clerk can be suitable for non-visual thinkers, including those who are good at math, music, or facts [1]. For those with visual skills and creativity, careers in graphic design, drafting, and commercial art can be promising. There are also opportunities in more hands-on fields like the building trades, mechanics, and agriculture.

Success Stories of Autistic Professionals

People with autism can and do succeed in life despite the challenges of ASD. There are numerous examples of individuals with autism who have accomplished amazing feats and have had successful careers in various fields. One such individual is Temple Grandin, an expert on animal behavior and author. Despite being on the autism spectrum, Grandin has made significant contributions to the field of animal welfare, and her insights into how her mind works have been widely recognized, including a TED talk and being named one of Time Magazine's most Influential People of the Year.

These success stories serve as a reminder that with the right support, accommodations, and career choice, adults with autism can have fulfilling and successful careers. As society continues to increase awareness and acceptance of autism, it is hoped that more and more employers will recognize the unique abilities and skills that autistic individuals bring to the workforce.

Promoting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Creating a more inclusive job market for adults with autism is a key step in promoting neurodiversity in the workplace. Embracing neurodiversity can lead to a range of benefits, including fresh perspectives, diversity of thought, as well as traits like loyalty, innovation, and high productivity brought in by these employees.

Companies Leading in Autism Inclusion

Several major companies are leading the way in autism inclusion, making it easier for neurodivergent individuals, including those with autism, to find suitable jobs [4].

Microsoft's Neurodiversity Hiring Program, for instance, includes a multi-day hands-on academy focusing on job capabilities, team projects, and skills assessment for autistic individuals. Autistic employees at Microsoft have thrived in various roles, such as software engineers and data scientists [4].

SAP's Autism at Work Program has integrated over 200 autistic adults into the workforce since its launch in 2013 [4].

Ford founded the FordWorks program in partnership with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to hire and support autistic employees. They work with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to understand the talents and strengths of autistic individuals for employment needs.

Johnson & Johnson is another company that is exceptionally accepting of individuals with autism. Angela Andrews, an employee at Johnson & Johnson, experienced strong support and created an autism employee resource group to advocate for self-identification and acceptance of neurodiversity in the workplace.

Strategies for a Neurodiverse Workplace

Promoting neurodiversity in the workplace requires a strategic approach. This includes creating an inclusive work culture, implementing supportive policies, and offering accommodations to meet the unique needs of neurodiverse employees.

  1. Inclusive Work Culture: The first step is to foster a culture of inclusion where neurodivergent employees feel valued and included. This can be achieved through awareness campaigns, training programs, and by encouraging open conversations about neurodiversity.
  2. Supportive Policies: Companies should implement policies that support neurodiverse employees. This could include flexible working hours, quiet workspaces, and the provision of assistive technology.
  3. Workplace Accommodations: Providing reasonable accommodations is crucial to support the productivity and well-being of neurodiverse employees. This could include visual aids for those who struggle with verbal communication or providing clear, written instructions for tasks.
  4. Employee Resource Groups: Creating resource groups can provide a platform for neurodiverse employees to share their experiences, offer peer support, and advocate for their needs.
  5. Recruitment and Hiring Practices: Companies can also modify their recruitment and hiring practices to be more inclusive. This could involve offering work trials instead of formal interviews, or providing clear, jargon-free job descriptions.

By implementing these strategies, companies can not only support adults with autism in the workplace, but also benefit from the unique perspectives and talents they bring.

Support for Autistic Job Seekers

Assisting in the job hunt and ensuring smooth transitions into the workforce, numerous programs and resources are available to support adults with autism. These resources aim to close the employment gap and unlock the potential of job seekers on the spectrum.

Job Programs for Autistic Adults

Several organizations offer job programs designed specifically for adults with autism. These programs provide opportunities in various industries, ensuring a match between the individual's skills and the job requirements.

  1. Spectrum Careers: Launched by Autism Speaks in April 2015, the Spectrum Careers program addresses the critical employment-related challenges facing the adult autism community. The program is currently utilized by several multinational corporations aiming to tap into the potential of workers on the spectrum [2].
  2. Daivergent: This initiative has created a pool of specialists with autism available for employers in the data and technology sectors. By sourcing talent from universities and autism agencies throughout the US, Daivergent provides unparalleled responsiveness and referrals for in-person hires [2].
  3. Autism2Work: Offered by Computer Aid, Inc., the Autism2Work program provides adults with autism employment opportunities in IT and operations. The company handles all aspects of the employment process, from recruiting to supervision, to ensure successful integration and performance of new team members.

Resources for Autistic Job Seekers

In addition to job programs, several resources are available that provide information and support for job seekers with autism.

  1. Autism Speaks Employment Tool Kit: This tool kit provides information on accommodations and job-related resources for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It can be an invaluable guide in helping individuals with ASD navigate the job market.
  2. Job Accommodation Network (JAN): JAN provides free, confidential technical assistance regarding job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By seeking support from JAN, individuals can explore various accommodation options suitable for their needs in the workplace, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

These programs and resources are crucial in promoting inclusion in the workforce and ensuring that individuals with autism have equal opportunities for employment. They bridge the gap between job seekers with autism and potential employers, facilitating successful job matches and fostering an inclusive work environment.

Practical Tips for Autistic Professionals

Navigating the workplace as an adult with autism can present unique challenges. However, with the right strategies in place, autistic professionals can thrive in their career endeavors. Here are some practical tips for leveraging technology, building work-related friendships, and managing workplace stress.

Leveraging Technology for Job Success

Technology can serve as a powerful tool for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the workplace. Personal digital assistants (PDAs), smartphones, and other technological devices offer task management and organizational features that can help improve performance and reduce behavioral challenges for workers with ASD.

In addition to personal devices, universal design principles, which aim to make products and environments usable by all people without the need for specialized design, can be beneficial. For example, visual reminders and simplified job descriptions can enhance productivity for all employees, including those with autism.

Building Work-Related Friendships

Support in the workplace doesn't always require formal interventions like job coaches. Natural supports, like the camaraderie and assistance from coworkers, can be more sustainable and cost-effective. Some businesses are exploring the "manager as job coach" model to support employees with ASD, gradually phasing out job coaches when they are no longer needed.

Building work-related friendships can also play a significant role in fostering a sense of belonging and improving job satisfaction. In a neurodiverse workplace, it's important for individuals to feel accepted and valued for who they are, as emphasized by Angela Andrews, a data manager at Janssen with autism.

Managing Workplace Stress

Workplace stress can affect everyone, but for autistic professionals, it might have unique manifestations. Recognizing potential stressors and finding effective coping strategies is crucial.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, confidential technical assistance on job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By seeking support from JAN, individuals can explore various accommodation options suitable for their needs in the workplace, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

"Traveling" interviews, which involve observing the work environment and meeting potential colleagues before the formal interview, can help reduce stress and anxiety. Such accommodations benefit not only employees with autism, but all employees, making the workplace more inclusive and conducive to productivity.

By leveraging technology, building work-related friendships, and effectively managing workplace stress, autistic professionals can navigate the job market more confidently and secure jobs that allow them to unleash their unique talents.

References

[1]: https://www.thriveautismcoaching.com/post/10-best-jobs-for-autistic-adults

[2]: https://www.threadlearning.com/blog/job-programs-for-adults-with-autism-roundup/

[3]: https://absencesoft.com/resources/top-accommodations-for-employees-with-autism/

[4]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/top-autism-friendly-employers-4159784

[5]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/tool-kit-excerpt/accommodations-job

[6]: https://iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/choosing-the-right-job-for-people-with-autism-or-aspergers-syndrome.html

[7]: https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/inspiring-stories-on-the-autism-spectrum/

[8]: https://www.jnj.com/personal-stories/meet-a-woman-with-autism-whos-thriving-in-her-job-at-janssen-because-of-it