Employment is a major area of concern for adults on the autism spectrum. While some companies have targeted employees with autism for various job openings, others continue to cling to past stereotypes and limiting beliefs. Sometimes solutions to a problem are right in front of us, literally, yet for myriad reasons we can’t see them. Such is the case for many employers who can’t fill job openings because they are having difficulty finding qualified workers. There are several contributing factors, when combined, that makes this a thorny issue for companies. First, many of the really hard jobs to fill are part-time positions with no benefits. This is an important point of distinction that often goes unmentioned, when employment statistics are presented by state and federal agencies. Moreover, those same positions are often entry level, offering little or no opportunity for career advancement. The reality is there is a plethora of talent – but very little interest on the part of potential employees.
The robust economy is frequently identified as the reason for a shortage of qualified employees. To some extent this is true, but it does not explain why those positions are available even when the job market slows down. This scenario seems custom made for adults with autism for a number of reasons. The fact that there are a number of part-time job openings available is significant, as it pertains to adults on the autism spectrum. In many instances, adults with autism can only work part-time due to physical or financial restraints. Those who receive Social Security and Medicaid are permitted to earn additional income up to a certain limit without jeopardizing those benefits. The idea of earning extra money is appealing to some people with autism as they pursue living an independent lifestyle. Maintaining government benefits is an integral part of the equation that offers flexibility and income. In addition, part-time employment is often best suited for autistic adults because of secondary physical conditions which preclude working full time.
Managing underlying medical conditions is an accepted part of life for some people with autism. Time consuming obligations such as standing therapy appointments, mental health counseling, regular doctor visits regarding digestive issues, and coping with myriad sensory challenges are all common. The truth is so many autistic adults simply can’t work a full time job because of the time required to manage health concerns. The timing could not be better for both adults on the spectrum and companies seeking to fill part-time positions. This is the ultimate win-win for all involved as businesses can fill hard to place, and often repetitive, entry level positions. On the other hand, this is a legitimate chance to constructively address the dismal unemployment rate among autistic adults, which currently hovers around 80%.
The argument could be made that this is highly speculative as there just isn’t a large body of evidence to support this theory. However, the present course we’re on clearly is not working – at least for the majority of autistic adults. Society is not the shining example of inclusion when we have people with autism who possess amazing talent not participating in the labor market. Some modifications within the work place will be necessary, but such adaptations have proven extremely successful in the past. Moreover, the long range goals are encouraging as employers learn more about the nuances of autism and the unique skills they offer. For companies willing to invest in training and a supportive environment for autistic workers, the outcome can be very rewarding. Sometimes the solutions to problems that appear to be monumental are right in front of us, just waiting for an invitation.