Did you know that anywhere from one in 59 to one in 40 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Given this incident rate, most people know someone who has a personal connection to autism, whether through a family member or a friend (or himself or herself).

It is estimated that over the next 10 years, 1 million autistic teens will age into adulthood. While the diagnostic rate of ASD continues to climb, early intervention and support services for children have resulted in a growing number of autistic teens and young adults completing a college-level education and beyond. Given that 44% of people diagnosed with ASD have average to above-average intelligence, it’s not surprising that 35% of autistic individuals go to college. What is surprising is that upon graduation, the under- and unemployment rate for these individuals is about 80 to 85%.

Your Autistic Employees

If you are a large employer, you already have autistic employees, whether you know it or not. Some employers recognize the potential of this untapped workforce and have implemented autism hiring programs as part of their diversity and inclusion efforts. Multinational companies SAP, JPMorgan Chase, EY, Microsoft and DXC Technology have hired the largest number of autistic workers in a variety of roles throughout their organizations.

The experience of these employers has been extremely positive, with upward of 90% retention rates among their autistic workforce. That success is the result of well-thought-out approaches to hiring and integrating autistic employees. While the goal of an autism hiring program is to recruit and retain autistic workers, several steps need to occur before recruiting can begin.

The Importance of Culture

A key step toward making your organization autism-friendly is to understand your existing practices and culture and how they might impact current or potential employees on the autism spectrum. It is critical to understand the importance of:

  • How your organization writes job descriptions.
  • How your organization structures the interview process.
  • Where and when interviews take place.
  • The physical environment where autistic employees might work.
  • How you structure the onboarding/orientation process.
  • How you conduct performance reviews.
  • The demands of the typical work day.
  • Any social demands of your organization.

Assessing all these elements is critical in developing an autism-friendly hiring plan that will incorporate both recruiting and learning and development (L&D).

Training and Education

Once you’ve developed a plan, the next key step is education and training. Employers often want to focus on training for the autistic employee. However, with 35% of them having a college-level education, many are work-ready, and their training needs are the same as those of their non-autistic peers.

Instead, the education and training that is critical at this point is for the employer. Whether an organization is embarking on an autism hiring initiative or is just looking to be more autism-friendly, broad-based autism awareness training is an important step. This training should cover:

  • Work-related issues autistic employees may face when dealing with unfamiliar social situations.
  • Challenges related to executive functioning (which is common for many employees with neurodiverse profiles and other conditions).
  • Sensory sensitivities.

For employees who will be involved in the recruiting process and management of autistic employees, additional training in interviewing techniques and more in-depth management skills is recommended.

Employers who want to remain competitive recognize that attracting and retaining autistic employees is essential. In order to do so, they need to develop thoughtful recruiting and management practices. A critical step is providing education and training to non-autistic staff that allows them to be better communicators and effective managers. Lastly, but most importantly, employers need to ensure that the autistic voice is represented by including autistic individuals in all stages of planning and in the development of autism hiring programs.