Employers Need Autistic Employees to Fuel Innovation

Evenbreak has enlisted an expert to write about the barriers to employment faced by candidates with neurological conditions. Will van Zwanenberg has exceptional attributes in the fields of law and technology, but has found that most recruitment processes are incompatible with his reality of living with the double whammy of both Asperger’s and Dyslexia, and so employers are unable to access his talent. This, the first of three articles he has written for us, explains why employers should be exploring this particular pool of talent.

Some call it acknowledging neurological diversity, others see it as autism’s fight back. Whatever the reason, people diagnosed as being “on the autistic spectrum” are increasingly in demand by employers seeking a competitive advantage from autistic workers more used to being considered disabled than special. The reason being that employers are coming to realise that far from being a burden, autistics do in fact have many innate talents that are a positive asset for many companies which serve to distinguish them from their non-autistic peers.

Expressing a belief that “innovation comes from the edges”, German computer software giant SAP launched a recruitment drive in 2013 to attract people with autism to join it as software testers. It did so in the belief that autistics are, as a consequence of their neurology, ideally suited for such jobs. It has since spread to include all its offices worldwide. A year later, U.S. home financing firm Freddie Mac advertised a second round of paid internships aimed specifically at autistic students or new graduates.

These multinationals both say they hope to harness the unique talents of autistic people as well as giving people previously marginalized in the workforce a chance to flourish in a job.

The notion that autism bestows specific advantages upon those affected by it may be controversial, but it is nonetheless true. Irrespective of where you stand on the question of whether autism is in fact an impairment or a disability, what is indisputable is that autistics exhibit a qualitative advantage over non-autistics in terms their social interaction as manifested by a majority or all of the following traits:

  1. peer relationships characterised by absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability which are free of sexist, “ageist”, or culturalist biases;
  2. an ability to regard others at “face value”;
  3. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs;
  4. an ability to pursue a personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence;
  5. consideration of details; spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest;
  6. listening without continual judgement or assumption;
  7. interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation; preferring to avoid ritualistic small talk or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation;
  8. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humour

Moreover, they present with a social language that is characterized by at least three of the following:

  1. a determination to seek the truth;
  2. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda;
  3. an advanced vocabulary and interest in words;
  4. an advanced use of pictorial metaphor.

Although it is always difficult to generalise, there are areas where people with an autism may excel. These include:

  • tasks where attention to detail and accuracy is required – e.g. research work, data input or word processing;
  • tasks involving numbers, statistics and facts – e.g. finance or accounting;
  • tasks where there is a clear procedure to follow – e.g. dealing with incoming and outgoing post, archiving, library work or filing;
  • highly structured tasks with a right and a wrong way of doing something – e.g. IT support, computer programming or systems testing;
  • spotting patterns or errors in data that are invisible to most non-autistics, making them attractive employees for software firms.

Even less gifted autistic people often have an extraordinary capacity to focus and an eye for detail that makes them very effective workers. They can excel at jobs that require precision and repetition, such as updating databases, stocking shelves, organising libraries or tinkering with broken cars.

It’s foolish to ignore such people. New ways of thinking often lead to discoveries that consequently discard their outdated predecessors. Similarly, the change from seeing autism as a disability to a person with unusual skills and abilities, holds interesting implications and opportunities. It could result in employers rethinking their responses and rescuing a missed opportunity to take advantage of the contribution autistics make to culture and knowledge.

Will van Zwanenberg © 18 April 2016

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