Autism—an Eye-Opener for Your Company, Not a Nonstarter

By:  Amy Epstein Gluck

Imagine how hard it is to land that awesome, lucrative job when you cannot make eye contact.

Or read body language…at all.

Or take social cues. Or make small talk. Or even appear to be unaware when people talk to you or ask you questions. Or inject completely irrelevant details into an interview.

Or repeat information that has no bearing on the question.

Groom, Father, Autism, Son, Wedding

Let me tell you, it is hard.  Damn hard.

What Exactly is Autism?

Why is it so hard to get a job if you have autism? After all, we know many people who have trouble accomplishing one, some, or all of the above “social” skills—you know who I mean.

According to the Autism Society, autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability that may affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently.

You can see now (right?) why it might be hard to get hired when you have trouble communicating effectively in an interview.

Don’t believe me? Here are some stats:

According to a report released last month by the Drexel Institute, only 58 percent of young adults with autism had paid employment in the years between high school and their early 20’s.

The “National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood” also showed that more than one-third of young adults with autism were found to be essentially “disconnected” from any job or educational prospects by the end of their early 20’s.

These are some jarring and gloomy statistics.

The Wave of the Future?

But at least one cutting-edge company has been treating autistic job applicants as opportunities. Software industry leader SAP initiated a groundbreaking program called Autism at Work, where an autistic applicant receives lessons in social skills and weeks of technical training while hiring managers can evaluate his or her skills in a less pressured environment and find a good fit for the applicant within the company.

It seems that Rich and I both have the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) on the brain this week. While he blogged about the fears and stereotypes associated with disabilities, let’s talk about the potential opportunities your company is not taking to recruit more potential employees with mental impairments like autism.

Remember, the ADA protects employees and job applicants with physical disabilities and mental health impairments from workplace discrimination.  This includes autism.

You might say—“but I would never discriminate against someone with a mental disability!”  Well, I hope not, but studies show that these fears and stereotypes abound.

Rather than engaging in such subtle discrimination, however, SAP embraces autistic job applicants, relishing the value they bring to the company when placed into positions that allow their most natural talents to shine.  According to the company, SAP’s program integrates people with autism into the workforce with a corporate goal of having 1% of the organization comprised of people on the autism spectrum by 2020.

Is this wave of the future? We certainly hope so.

By:  Amy Epstein Gluck






Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 115 other subscribers

Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]