1 in 68 people has been identified on the autism spectrum in the United States. Despite the fact that it is often associated with higher than average intelligence and traits such as the ability to focus, passion, honesty, and attention to detail, individuals with autism are often seen as unemployable due to their problems with social skills.
Thanks to increased pressure to innovate, however, companies are finding that accommodations in their hiring and onboarding processes can result in significant growth for their organizations. Indeed, these new hiring initiatives are less about inclusion and more about their impact on the bottom line. In fact, two giant multinationals that have specifically created neurodiverse hiring initiatives and reported generating significant innovations as a result--in one example, innovations led to a $40 million savings.
Higher productivity, better problem solving, and more creative innovation doesn’t have to be limited to just a handful of companies. In fact, other organizations can learn from their examples and adopt one or both of the following changes to increase neurodiversity in their workforces.
1. Change the Hiring Process
Traditional hiring processes rely heavily on the interview, which is skewed towards extroverts and people with high levels of emotional intelligence. While it’s not uncommon to find autistic candidates with one or more high-level degrees in the application pools, these candidates tend to do very poorly in interviews, as they often struggle with things like eye contact and conversation tangents.
Instead of the interview, companies might consider adopting a different kind of application process. In its pilot program designed to hire people with Asperger’s, Ernst & Young ditches the interview and uses informal settings and tasks (building a robot) to assess candidates.
2. Provide Support Across the Board
If the company's’ goal is to drive results, creating support teams to assist neurodiverse candidates through the hiring and onboarding processes (and beyond) is important. Companies can often work with nonprofit or government agencies (such as the Arc) to provide social skills training and make minor workplace accommodations (such as providing headphones to limit auditory overstimulation). Additionally, commercial landlords are responsible for accessibility in their properties, which ensures that those with special needs can move around comfortably within the building. It is up to employers as tenants to ensure that these regulations are up to standard.
It’s also important to engage managers and coworkers, who benefit from up front communication about accommodations needed by neurodiverse new hires, and who find themselves needing to manage for the individual, instead of managing compliance to a set of rigid standards.
Finding and accommodating neurodiverse talent might require operational changes, but its benefits far outstrip its costs. Organizations that want to actively recruit and hire employees with autism can make tremendous progress by changing how they hire and providing support across the board to coworkers and managers, as well as the employees themselves.
By Lucy Wyndham, freelance writer