An estimated five million people in Europe are on the autism spectrum. Of those 5 million, less than 10% are employed. And in the U.S., 26 percent (one in 4) of adults have some type of
disability, and only 19.1 percent of people with a disability were employed in 2021. And for those who are lucky enough to get a job, some work in precarious or short-term jobs with very low pay, often in institutions and sheltered settings, and are at high risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Traditional workplace norms have been systematically excluding neurodiverse individuals for decades. Many believe these individuals should adapt to meet societal expectations, but this is an unfair and unrealistic burden to place on them. Luckily, there are advocates for those with autism that work tirelessly to revolutionize the way autistic people are treated in the workplace. In this article, you’ll learn about career coaches and consultants, the types of workplace issues autistic people face, and recommendations to improve your organization to be more accessible and inclusive.
What is a career coach?
Career coaches help autistic individuals succeed in their careers by analyzing their personal and professional characteristics and guiding them through key workplace skills. A career coach may analyze aspects such as strengths, areas of need, and career situations by asking appropriate questions. The coach will then use this knowledge to help autistic individuals enhance their skill sets and create a clear path to success, all while challenging and inspiring their clients to do their best.
Career coaches for people with autism emphasize accessibility, inclusivity, understanding, and compassion to determine the best career plan. They help individuals learn how to be successful in the workplace while using the unique skills and talents they already possess. The career coach creates individualized programs specifically designed for their needs.
An autism career coach can help with all the important aspects of both applying for jobs and thriving in current job positions. They can assist with CVs, cover letters, and social media profiles — and analyze job ads to match their client’s personal and professional skills and strengths. Coaches can even help with key workplace skills like effective teamwork, dealing with anxiety and stress, or requesting specific work accommodations. A coach’s number one priority is to highlight an individual’s strengths and be an advocate for their needs.
What is an autism consultant?
While the career coach focuses more on individual employees, an autism consultant works with employers. The consultants provide expert opinions, analysis, and recommendations to organizations interested in hiring neurodiverse people. There is a difference between the
responsibilities of coaches and consultants, but they work together to meet the same goal:
encouraging more neurodiversity in the workplace.
A real example of career consulting
Logik Evolution, a career consulting agency that helps remove employment barriers for autistic people, provides expert advice and training to help employers give appropriate accommodations for new and existing employees. These considerations greatly enhance autistic employees well- being and work performance.
For instance, to help an organization with creating a more inclusive recruitment process, they suggest all relevant employees attend autism training. The purpose of this training is to help employees understand why the recruitment process needs to change and how these updates will attract a broader group of qualified candidates — as some are overlooked because of traditional hiring practices. Of course, this training can be tailored to an organization’s unique needs and culture.
Logik Evolution doesn’t focus on “changing” or “fixing” people on the spectrum because it is not the sole responsibility of disabled people to “learn” how to adapt to society’s expectations. Instead, Logik Evolution consultants remedy the social exclusion that these individuals face through empathy and communication and strive to dispel myths and misperceptions.
Common problems neurodiverse people face in the recruitment process — and how to
Even though laws are in place to protect their civil rights, autistic people are still neglected and marginalized because of traditional workplace cultures, resulting in a staggering difference between the number of unemployed autistic people and unemployed nondisabled people. The unemployment rate among college-educated autistic adults in the U.S. is staggering —approximately 85 percent — compared to the general population’s unemployment rate of only 4.5 percent. To dig deeper into why this is the case, here are just a couple of examples of common workplace struggles for those with autism.
Problem: Wording in job advertisements
Leigh, a 39-year-old man with autism — and an IQ of 145 — was unemployed for over 8 years
after losing his job at the Boston Library. He had difficulty finding a position because job adverts were not autism-friendly. In the article “The Tricky Path to Employment Is Trickier When You’re Autistic,” Sarah Carr writes, “[Leigh] takes most everything literally, so when a job listing requires only a bachelor’s degree, he neglects to mention his master’s degree on his résumé.”
Besides job adverts that don’t provide enough information or clarification, autistic people can be discouraged from applying for jobs that emphasize skills they sometimes struggle with. Often, wording that pushes for an independent or excellence-driven individual is off-putting. These are some common examples of similar wording found in job listings:
● “A go-getter with a can-do attitude”
● “Driven by excellence”
● ”Excellent interpersonal skills”
● “Self-motivated problem-solver”
These types of phrases send the message that a company is rigid and unaccommodating.
To demand independence and excellence as an organization means you will probably not
encourage asking for help — and will not look kindly on mistakes. Whether this is true or
not, the wording could be interpreted as such by many, discouraging neurodiverse
individuals from applying.
In terms of crafting autism-friendly job listings, less is not more. The best way companies can encourage neurodiverse candidates is to be as specific as possible. Rather than listing
requirements like “verbal skills” or “written skills” explain what candidates will be doing and specifically who they’ll communicate with. Put into practice; an autism-friendly job advert will include the following:
● Skill requirements that are necessary for the job
● Goals or skills that can be measured consistently
● Clear and explicit language not left to interpretation
● Elaboration on certain requirements (e.g., instead of writing “good communication skills,”
writing, “in this position, you may have to converse with customers.”)
● A direct offer for accommodations (and not waiting for the candidate to request them)
Problem: The interview process
Some employers are getting this right. For example, in Autonomy Works, a tech firm with a
team of over 30 autistic adults and some big-name clients like Nike, employees can wear noise-canceling headphones and take breaks in a quiet room where lights are dimmed to reduce sensory overload. During an episode of 60 Minutes, Dave Friedman, the company’s founder, says the most important accommodation companies can make is to change the way they interview applicants who are on the spectrum.
Friedman, who has a twenty-six-year-old autistic son, told 60 Minutes’ Anderson Cooper that for a person on the spectrum, the first 15 to 30 seconds of social interaction are by far the worst. Autistic people often have high anxiety about meeting a new person, trying to interpret interpersonal cues, and planning out a conversation to have with that person. “Hiring managers just aren't taking the time to go past that first 30 seconds and understand the skills, the talents, and the capabilities that exist within those individuals,” he said.
This interview struggle is because of several factors. An autistic software tester in the USA was among a group that provided personal accounts of their struggles. They explain, “Most
interviewers assume that my lack of eloquence and the fact that I often take a long time to
formulate a verbal reply (and sometimes can’t come up with one at all) mean that I am
incompetent. Our lack of interview skills does not necessarily mean we lack job skills.”
Besides the social stress that comes with interviews, autistic individuals may also struggle with getting one in the first place. Though they have valuable and applicable skills to apply to many roles, they might not have a work history or a formal education, or they might not have stayed at jobs for very long. It is very common for autistic adults to lose jobs due to employers not offering appropriate accommodation or the autistic person’s behavior being misunderstood by others due to a lack of knowledge about autism. Employers often judge applicants using these types of benchmarks, which gives autistic candidates no chance of even getting past the initial meeting with HR, let alone getting an interview.
Some other struggles an autistic adult may find challenging include:
● Maintaining eye contact and focus
● Formulating verbal responses
● Transitioning between topics
● Reading between the lines
● Vocal tone
● Engaging in small talk
To refine the interview process, it might help to refer to an autistic individual to help you
implement an interview formula that fits with your culture, mission, and vision statement while accommodating neurodiverse job candidates. While evaluating current practices, turn to autistic employees in your organization or elsewhere for feedback. Their perspectives are extremely valuable to the way you revolutionize your recruitment process and will give key background on the real struggles these individuals face. As James I. Charlton of the Disability Rights Movement said, “Nothing about us without us.”
A great hands-on way to scrutinize current interview practices is to roleplay a typical job
interview conducted at your organization. During the mock interview, create a chart like the one below that lists the challenges and barriers an individual might face and how employers can adjust to be more inclusive during the interview. Here is an example:
Besides this chart, employers can find alternative ways of exhibiting skill sets that don’t rely so heavily on social interaction and offer more hands-on skill analysis using hands-on project days. These types of accommodations can greatly decrease stress and remove some of the unknowns that come with the interview process.
Why some companies don’t give autistic people a chance — and why they should
Society is on track to understanding that neurodiverse individuals are just as qualified for the workplace as ones that are not disabled, but we still have a long way to go. There are a few reasons why employers have not considered neurodiverse people’s needs in the workplace and in the recruitment process, such as:
● Lack of understanding of what autism is and is not, and pervasive myths about autism
● The misconception that it is expensive or inconvenient to make accommodations in the
● Fear of the unknown for employers and fear of expectations for individuals
The truth is that companies benefit by hiring autistic employees because of the unique skill sets some bring to the workplace, including:
● Innovative problem-solving
● Honesty and straightforwardness
● Pattern recognition
● Respect toward rules
Despite these benefits, autistic people are still fighting to be taken seriously in the workplace. And the constant rejection is taking its toll. In fact, researchers in the film Reject “…found that regions of the brain that regulate the distress of social exclusion were similar to the regions that regulate physical pain. In other words, being socially rejected might directly affect our physical well-being. According to Kat Holmes in her book Mismatch, “This rejection has many consequences: anxiety, insecurity, anger, hostility, feelings of inadequacy...”
There is hope for these long-neglected individuals. Holmes writes, “Often, the people who carry the greatest burden of exclusion also have the greatest insight into how to shift design toward inclusion.” This means that we can finally listen and use the perspectives of autistic adults to make a difference. This is where career coaches and consultants come in: to help fill the gaps, answer questions, and continue advocating for people on the spectrum.
It’s time to give autistic people a seat at the table.
In the past, society believed that neurodiverse individuals must “fix themselves” to become
fit for the workforce. The truth is autistic individuals have just as much to offer in job settings as other candidates. But despite their value, they face much more rejection — because of a neglectful system that needs to change.
If you want to make a difference, start by taking careful inventory of what your organization is doing to help autistic current and future employees. Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.
Does your organization…
● ...wait for individuals to come forward to request accommodations, or are these offered
to them from the beginning?
● ...base candidacy on unmeasurable skills, or does it provide clear and specific skill
requirements that are necessary to the job?
● ...scrutinize interviewees for body language cues like eye contact, or does it consider the
possibility of the candidate being autistic?
Chances are, there are things your organization can do better — but it’s easier said than done. That’s why autism career coaches and consultants are vital to making lasting change.
If you’re ready to revolutionize the way your organization treats neurodiverse individuals, you need a consultant that understands autism — and knows the struggles those with autism face. Logik Evolution is a global consulting firm with 18 years of experience working with autistic people. They educate companies to give autistic individuals exactly what they need to succeed and thrive — so that your business can do the same.
If you're interested in making a difference with Logik Evolution?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the site at www.logikevolution.com.