By Pam Dewey • autism, ASD, autism spectrum disorder, autism spectrum, hiring people with autism, employees with autism, jobs and autism, autism strengths, strengths of people with autism • October 07, 2021
As more people are diagnosed with autism, the percentage of the population on the spectrum grows. The CDC states that 1 in 54 children has autism in the U.S. That means that about 6.1 million children who have autism today will grow up to be adults with autism in the future.
Unfortunately, it may not be easy for all of them to get a job. Drexel University states, “Only 58% of young adults with autism (in their early 20s) had jobs.” Some individuals with autism may have barriers like being non-vocal communicators (meaning they have limited or no speech), have difficulty interacting with other people or live with sensory processing sensitivities. Of course, people with autism also have much to offer. Though each individual with autism is unique, certain traits are more common in people with autism.
Some challenges can be strengths
Autism is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder, and typically, there’s been a focus on the things people with autism have difficulty with. In Spectrum News, Kate Cooper, a research fellow and clinical psychologist, states, “Strengths, she points out, are often the flip side of the challenges. ‘Insistence on sameness,’ for example, contributes to reliability, and ‘restricted interests’ can translate to expertise. But because the diagnostic manual describes these traits as deficits, research has followed the same path.” Cooper points out that when viewed from a different angle, many so-called negative traits associated with autism can be strengths. It’s more about how individuals apply these traits and in what context. For example, a person with autism might have a “restricted interest” in neuroscience, and then because of that interest, decide to study it and get a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Attention to detail
People with autism can also have a particular focus on detail. According to Live Science, “Brain regions associated with recognizing patterns tend to light up more in autistic people than the general population, perhaps explaining why those with autism often excel at visual tasks, a new study finds.” They might be particularly good at “discriminating between similar objects and patterns, and spotting details such as letters or numbers in a jumble of similar stimuli.” This attention to detail and ability to recognize patterns are important skills used in many jobs, like tech jobs, math-focused positions and even music, as this can translate to recognizing patterns in musical notes.
Another study found “people with ASD produced fewer answers, but that the answers they did use showed more creative problem solving and were more unusual than people without ASD.” Some people with autism might be better at creative solutions and have ideas that the neurotypical population simply wouldn’t. Employing people with autism can help employers think outside of the box and bring new ideas to their businesses.
Honest and moral
People with autism are often known as very honest. Because of the way their brains work, it just might not occur to them to say anything other than exactly what they think. While that can prove awkward in some social settings, it also can be a strength. An employee who doesn’t make excuses, shows up on time and is completely truthful about their activities would be a welcome addition for many employers.
Strengths are present across the spectrum
In Spectrum News, Steven Kapp, lecturer in psychology, says, “It is essential to recognize that ‘autistic strengths’ are not dependent on verbal ability, IQ scores or so on, and in fact, some may be more common in autistic people with more language difficulties, for example.” People who are non-vocal communicators or have limited speech can still communicate. Some type on a tablet, talk with sign language or use speech-generating devices, which are electronic devices that produce sounds and words when activated. Even though they may not use their voice often, they have knowledge to communicate and offer potential employers.
Likewise, individuals with autism who have lower IQ scores still have strengths to offer employers. Also, it’s important to note that IQ scores may not reveal the full picture. Spectrum News states, “Misleading test results may also skew our understanding of autism itself.” Many types of tests, like IQ tests, are created for neurotypical people, so these tests aren’t always an accurate way to test the abilities of an individual with autism. A person with autism, who has received a low IQ score, may have a much higher cognitive ability than that test indicates.
Though each person with autism is different, there are strengths associated with autism that can be a boon to potential employers. Hyper-focus on a particular subject, ability to recognize patterns, attention to detail and creative problem-solving skills are a few traits common among people with autism. These strengths also exist across the spectrum, so companies should consider broadening their searches to include individuals of all abilities.