A growing number of U.S. companies are employing workers with autism spectrum disorder. CCTV America’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports from Denver, Colorado.
Autism spectrum disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders that affect brain development.
The most common characteristics that manifest in the disorders are difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 percent of the world’s population has some form of autism spectrum disorder. In the United States, that’s about one in 68 children. Such developmental disabilities can be a huge roadblock to jobs as children mature into adults.
“Ninety percent of adults with autism are unemployed or underemployed so that’s a huge market that’s just being left untapped,” Autism Society of Colorado Programs Manager Erica deDufour said.
Michele Newmann, 61, who’s on the autism spectrum, said companies often have caricatures of people like her.
“I think there’s a fear of the unknown out there because they don’t know what to expect. They would rather avoid it,” Newmann said.
“What they know about autism, it’s all behavior-related. You know, meltdowns, tantrums and things like that… If this individual isn’t making eye contact with you, or they’re fidgeting as you talk to them, it doesn’t mean that they’re not listening to you. It just means they process information differently.”
But with a growing awareness of autism, more employers are diversifying their work force and seeking out employees with unique talents.
Colorado’s Blue Star Recyclers has hired 18 employees with autism to work its production lines.
Manager Zach Bowen said that people with autism often excel at recognizing patterns and doing repetitive work. They’re also consistent and punctual, he added.
“Ah they’re great employees. These guys especially. They come in, they’re focused, they know what they’re doing, how to do it,” Bowen. said. “It’s like riding a bike. It just clicks with them.”
Part of hiring people with autism could mean making accommodations, such as dialing down sensory stimulation in the workplace.
Author Steve Silberman on challenges people with autism face
For more about what is the biggest challenge to those with autism, CCTV America’s Rachelle Akuffo interviewed Steve Silberman, this year’s keynote speaker at the U.N. World Autism Awareness Day. Silber is also the author of “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” due out in paperback next week.