According to the Autism Society, more than 3.5 million Americans live with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Worldwide, about 1% of the population is on the autism spectrum. People with ASD can have a wide range of neurodevelopmental disorders. While some face significant barriers when pursuing an education or seeking employment, others are able to find jobs in a variety of workplaces.
However, workers with ASD may still face discrimination, isolation, or exclusion. In the U.K., 43% of people with some level of autism who responded to a National Autism Society survey said they had left or lost a job because of their condition.
Despite these statistics, existing regulations, support, and resources make it possible for people with ASD to succeed in the workplace. Because of this legal and professional support, those with ASD can pursue any career that they want. Furthermore, some professions present fewer challenges to job seekers on the autism spectrum. These career paths offer people with ASD significant opportunities for career advancement and skills development.
Here is what people with ASD need to know as they go about getting a job:
The first step that you need to take as you seek out a job is to understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects the workplace rights of people with ASD. Actually, the ADA offers protections for people with disabilities in all facets of public life.
The first section of the ADA deals explicitly with employment. This section, known as Title 1, seeks to guarantee equal treatment for people with disabilities in the workplace. Title 1 covers civil rights on the job and provides protections for people with disabilities during job search and hiring processes.
In basic terms, Title 1 says that companies, agencies, and organizations with more than 15 employees cannot discriminate against qualified job applicants and employees who have a disability. These companies need to provide reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities can complete the fundamental duties of their position. Employers also need to provide equal benefits and career advancement opportunities to employees with disabilities, including ASD.
People with a disability who feel that an employer has discriminated against them can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ). The DoJ suggests that you file a charge of discrimination promptly, though the law says that you have 180 days from when the incident of discrimination occurs to submit the paperwork.
For most job seekers, the most important part of Title 1 has to do with “reasonable accommodations.” What exactly are reasonable autism accommodations in the workplace? An employer needs to provide support or equipment so that a qualified employee with a disability can perform the fundamental tasks required in their job. For employees with ASD, reasonable accommodations often involve altering processes or policies.
The Job Accommodation Network provides examples of work accommodations for people with ASD. These examples include providing a mentor to offer personalized on-the-job training and issuing apps or other equipment that helps the employee focus, organize work tasks, and communicate with others. An employer might also provide training to other workers, so that they are aware of the needs of employees with ASD.
Employees with ASD have unique needs depending on the specific conditions associated with their disability.
Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations, but they only have to do so if the employee requests such action. In order to request accommodations, you need to tell your employer’s human resources department about your disorder. When doing so, you can provide details about the type of support that you think you will need to perform your job tasks.
While the employer needs to provide this support to comply with Title 1, they do not necessarily have to accept specific requests. For example, someone with ASD may request that the employer not require them to attend meetings or make presentations. The employer can deny this request and instead change procedures so that the employee with autism can prepare written presentations or receive the topics for the meeting beforehand so that they can prepare.
Some employers have policies in place to provide support to employees with disabilities. In some cases, employers and employees can use these predetermined accommodations as a starting point to negotiate specifics.
If you do not need reasonable accommodations, you do not have to disclose a disability to your employer.
Since Title 1 extends to the hiring process, you can request reasonable accommodations for an interview. If you need special accommodations during the interview process, you need to disclose your disability to your employer when they contact you to set up the appointment. This disclosure timeline gives them a reasonable amount of time to make the changes that you need.
The ADA also extends to education, so people on the autism spectrum have the protections to pursue any career that they wish. However, some jobs for people with autism do not have the same challenges or barriers as other professions. Here are some jobs worth considering in that regard:
Resources include job boards that provide listings for job seekers with ASD. Some boards focus on companies that specifically offer spectrum jobs to people with ASD, while others list companies known to hire applicants on the autism spectrum.
Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable is a job board that lists positions specifically available to job seekers with ASD. Each listing includes a job description and application information.
How should a job application with ASD approach the interview process? It depends on your particular needs.
Organizations for Individuals With ASD
If you are aware of the resources for job seekers with ASD and you understand how the ADA protects autism employment rights, you can find a job or choose a career that does not have significant barriers or challenges.