You are currently viewing A Bright Future of Neurodiverse Employment for Children with ASD

A Bright Future of Neurodiverse Employment for Children with ASD

Dynamic changes on multiple fronts are aligning for the professional future of children with ASD.  The future is brighter than ever, thanks to groundbreaking research on job training with ABA therapy, increasing neurodiversity in the workplace, and even COVID!  

The Power of Job Training with Applied Behavior Analysis

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a remarkable study with high school students with autism.  With intensive jobs training supported by ABA therapy, nearly all of the graduates were able to obtain and maintain meaningful employment.  

Within three months of graduating, 90% of the participants obtained competitive, part-time jobs.  One year after graduating, 87% of the participants still had a job.  

In contrast, in the control group, only 6% were employed three months after graduating and 12% one year later.  

The study was the first randomized clinical trial to demonstrate “if young people with significant autism, who have historically been unemployed at a very high level after high school (greater than 75 percent), receive a combination of nine months of immersion in a business setting internship, plus supports such as applied behavior analysis, that their chances for becoming competitively employed are much better than those who do not receive these services,” said Paul Wehman, Ph.D. 

He is the director of both the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Successful Business Practices Leading to Employment of Persons with Disabilities and the VCU Autism Center for Excellence, which led the study.  

The nine-month, employer-based program built upon Project SEARCH and added applied behavior analysis (ABA) to aid in communication, social, and behavioral support.  “Applied behavioral analysis techniques played an extremely important role in teaching new work behaviors and developing appropriate social skills,” Wehman shared.  

Importantly, the participants found work to be an autism therapy medium that helped improve their social skills, independence, and self-esteem.  

Without intervention, the employment statistics for young adults with autism are concerning.  Only 58% of those with ASD worked during their early 20s.  In contrast, 74% of young adults with an intellectual disability and 90% of young adults with a learning disability, speech impediment or emotional disturbance were employed in their 20s.  

COVID Paving the Way for More Career Options 

The environment of traditional offices can be very jarring for those with ASD.  Fluorescent lights and ambient noise cause sensory overload.  The social pressure of conversations can be anxiety-inducing.  Interruptions common at work can be very difficult, as it is for both adults and children with ASD.  

Thanks to COVID and the new normalcy of remote work, there is now an entirely new realm of possibilities.  Now people can work from their own sensory-friendly spaces and control their routine and interactions.  Social stresses are mitigated, and using technology like Slack allows people with ASD to control how and when communication occurs.  

This comes in perfect timing as companies are growing more aware of neurodiverse strengths.  

Companies Supporting Employees with ASD 

This summer, Google Cloud launched their Autism Career Program.  The intention is to strengthen Google’s current autism community through “hiring and supporting more talented autistic individuals in the rapidly growing cloud industry.”  

The project is working in conjunction with the Stanford Neurodiversity Project.  The Stanford University School of Medicine is consulting on success metrics and opportunities to support neurodiverse employees, including coaching applicants and providing ongoing support for the new hires and their neurotypical colleagues.  

As part of the program, Google is training 500 managers to understand how to best support and work with those with ASD.   Part of this is changing their hiring process, which includes sending interview questions in advance, longer interview times, or initially interviewing via writing before verbally. 

“These accommodations don’t give those candidates an unfair advantage. It’s just the opposite: They remove an unfair disadvantage so candidates have a fair and equitable chance to compete for the job,” shares Rob Enslin, President of the Global Customer Operations at Google Cloud.  

The project is working in conjunction with the Stanford Neurodiversity Project.  The Stanford University School of Medicine is consulting on success metrics and opportunities to support neurodiverse employees, including coaching applicants and providing ongoing support for the new hires and their neurotypical colleagues.  

As part of the program, Google is training 500 managers to understand how to best support and work with those with ASD.   Part of this is changing their hiring process, which includes sending interview questions in advance, longer interview times, or initially interviewing via writing before verbally.  “These accommodations don’t give those candidates an unfair advantage. It’s just the opposite: They remove an unfair disadvantage so candidates have a fair and equitable chance to compete for the job,” shares Rob Enslin, President of the Global Customer Operations at Google Cloud.  

In 2012, Freddie Mac was the first in America to start an autism internship program, with the understanding that “At Freddie Mac, autism is seen as a difference and not a detriment.”  

Other corporations have been leading the way in expanding neurodiverse jobs through the Autism at Work initiative, including Ford, JP Morgan Chase, SAP, Microsoft, PWC, VMWare, and Salesforce.  The Autism at Work initiative employed 800 people in total at the start of 2021, and we are hopeful the number will rise as the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce are understood.  

Benefits of a Neurodiverse Workforce 

The benefits of neurodiverse programs are not just for folks on the spectrum.  A Harvard Business Review study found that businesses with neurodiverse employees experienced boosts in morale, better products and services, increased productivity, and growth in profits! 

In fact, analysts believe that people with ASD may be able to solve the cybersecurity skills shortage.   Their ability to think differently, including spotting patterns, problem solving, and attention to detail are invaluable.  In a recent annual report by Crest, an international non-profit information security accreditation and certification body, “The cybersecurity industry recognises that people on the autistic spectrum can provide invaluable skills to the sector and are often the best performers in technical roles.  “For example, GCHQ is one of the biggest employers of autistic people in the UK. The National Crime Agency has revealed that many teenage hackers have been found to be on the autistic spectrum.”

Finance is another area in which those on the spectrum could thrive.  Steve Silberman noticed how many successful professionals in Silicon Valley were autistic and wrote the book NeuroTribes about it in 2015.  He elaborates on the benefits of having a workforce with employees on the spectrum.  “For example, many autistic people also have great long-term memory, pattern-spotting, and systematic thinking, which is useful in finance.”  

He advocated that companies need employees who see things from different perspectives, especially pointing out that those with autism “don’t go along with peer pressure as readily. Valuing that is a revolution.”

 We agree.