Sunday, November 1, 2020

Autistic talents in the workplace are going to waste

J.T. Buchheit

Autistic talents in the workplace are going to waste

The unemployment rate for autistic people is staggering. There are many differing statistics, but they all show an extremely high level of unemployment. A 2014 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics had only 19.3% of the autistic population working or seeking job opportunities. This is a lower employment rate than that of any neurological disorder.

The worst part about this is that most employers are completely unaware of the benefits autistic people can provide a workplace. Many of us are extremely honest, diligent, and detail-oriented people, and we can flourish in many occupations that are beyond the entry-level status many people pigeonhole us into. The main reason for this lack of jobs is employers' preferred way to select candidates: personality tests and job interviews. I believe both of these are extremely unfriendly toward autistic people. The personality tests emphasize "soft skills" and often ask questions including rating one's ability to read nonverbal communication, and they also sometimes provide short-answer questions about how one would approach difficult situations, thus testing emotional intelligence. These tests either require a person to lie and appear to have a personality perfect for the job or tell the truth and be rejected for not possessing the desirable soft skills. If an autistic person manages to land an interview, the odds are once again not in their favor. A popular study revealed that neurotypicals feel less comfortable toward autistics based on small judgments when met face to face ( In an interview, where first impressions are paramount, this is bad news. The only way I have been able to land jobs was showing the interviewers my skills firsthand. But many autistic people don't have the luxury to show their skills, which is a real shame, because in jobs that require extreme attention to detail, many autistics actually have an advantage over neurotypical people in the natural skills they possess, lending more evidence to the theory that we are different from neurotypicals, not inferior to them. All too often, employers are only aware of the harmful misconceptions of autism, leading them to believe we aren't worth hiring because we would just be a hindrance. If they are aware of any positive traits of autism at all, it is often the "IT nerd" stereotype, which does not help those of us in other fields. I believe the hiring system needs work to better accommodate autistic people and give us more of a chance to show what we can do and how we can provide benefits to companies because of our unique styles of thinking. When companies talk about how they embrace diversity, neurodiversity is all too often left out. That needs to change. Not only will more autistic people benefit from finding gainful employment, but employers will realize that we can be a massive boon to their companies as well.

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