How to hire and retain autistic workers (from someone who is autistic themselves)

Infographic describing How to get autistic individuals employed and retained.

Image Description: Infographic with text title “How to get autistic individuals employed and retained Max Korten, M.Ed.” Images of sign with text “now hiring” and Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon.
Heading 1 text “Career Coaching-Have career centers coach autistic students with effectively communicating, body language and eye contact.” Image of an icon of person standing on a box helping pull another person up.
Heading 2 text “Employer Relations-Career Centers should partner with neurodiverse friendly companies that are looking to hire autistic workers.” Image of icons of people inside of circles connected together by lines.
Heading 3 text “Mentoring or HR training-creating a mentorship program or HR training on how employers can work together with individuals on the spectrum.” Icon of person pointing to bar graphs on board with three people looking at board.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn and is reprinted with permission from the author Max Korten.

Imagine graduating from college, you studied hard, you did a plethora of internships; you’ve worked your butt off, and you are ready to hit the ground running. You are excited to make a difference in the world, along with utilizing the talents that you’ve acquired inside and outside the classroom. There is only one problem….you cannot seem to get a job….for a very long time. When you finally get a job, you have to face many obstacles in that particular job that you question of how you are going to remain in that particular company. 

Hello, everyone, my name is Max Korten and I am in the higher education industry, and I identify as having autism. You might wonder how my introduction and my mini biography are intertwined. I am here to talk about autism in the workplace, and the struggles that autistic individuals must face when trying to land a job. But first, let me give you a backstory.

243. 243 was the exact number of jobs that I applied for to get my first job in higher education. When I would go on interviews, people would notice that I didn’t have great eye contact, I was monotone, and struggled with communication in job interviews, which are some of the traits that typically autistic individuals display, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There was one particular interview where I talked about my autism to a hiring manager, and how my autism may positively affect the nature of the position I was applying for. The hiring manager seemed extremely disinterested after I told her about my autism, and cut the interview short. When I finally did get a job, my first hiring manager made comments about my eye contact, and even selfishly said to me one day, “your autism shouldn’t be getting in the way of how you do your work”, which really drained my self-confidence.

So why do I tell this anecdote? According to autismspeaks.org, 90% of autistic individuals are either unemployed and underemployed; 90%! That is not good! Many of these autistic individuals are extremely talented, and could really benefit the workforce. According to Psychology Today, “[autistic] People who are drawn to patterns or puzzles may excel at software testing, quality control, or other roles in the technology sector. Other positions in autism-friendly companies include working on stockroom operations, production lines, data entry, and accounting.” (n.d.) So how do we fix this huge crisis in today’s society?

I made an infographic above that pertains what career centers in colleges and universities can do, along with employers and companies with making sure that autistic individuals are getting hired successfully. The first two pertain to what career counselors in higher education institutions can do, and the last is pertained to what employers, managers and companies can do.

Career counselors in higher education institutions need to get training on how to work with students on the spectrum, so they can have successful interviews. They need to teach them how to use appropriate body language, tricks for eye contact, along with how to communicate effectively during the interview process. This will help autistic individuals to feel more confident when going into the job application process, and more likely to get employed. When I was in college and graduate school, I did not see any neurodiverse-friendly companies when I was at career fairs, or at least that were advertised by the career center. Therefore, Career centers in colleges and universities need to partner and research more companies that are neurodiverse friendly, when doing employer relations. There are some companies like Ernst & Young, SAP, and Ford Motor Company, along with many others, that are very autism friendly. If career centers reached out to these companies, and came to campus to talk to specifically autistic individuals, there would be a higher employment rate for individuals on the spectrum.

Employers in a company, including managers, should automatically get training of how to work with autistic individuals. There are so many diversity and inclusion trainings, so why not create a training by a Human Resources Department on how to work with employers on the spectrum. According to the United Disabilities Services Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities live safely and independently in their homes, they mention strategies on how to mentor and work with coworkers on the autism spectrum. In their blog, they explain how a training guide should be created on how to work with others on the autism spectrum, especially with miscommunications. Additionally, their blog mentions that there should be a person in their office autistic individuals can go to, if they are feeling stressed. This mentor should have special training on what it is like to work with individuals on the autism spectrum. By possibly implementing these two small items, this can help autistic employees to be retained.

When people on the autism spectrum often graduate from the school system, they often fall off a huge cliff into the job world because they don’t have the appropriate services to help them to become successful. If colleges and universities, along with work environments can give the tools for autistic people to be successful, based on what I just spoke about, they won’t have as many challenges finding work. We can also help shrink the number of unemployed and underemployed autistic workers in this country. It is important that we give autistic individuals a chance to utilize their talent, because they have so much to offer that people do not realize. If you are reading this, and you are a hiring manager or a talent acquisition coordinator, I hope you can do the same thing. And while I may the first autistic individual to be talking about low unemployment and underemployment for individuals on the spectrum, I will certainly not be the last.

Thank you.

Max Korten headshot.

About Author: Max Korten, M.Ed.  is the Program Coordinator for the National Science Foundation (NSF-REU-ILLC) at Molloy College. Max has a Master of Education in Higher Education with a concentration in Leadership and Organizational Development from Merrimack College, and a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology from Moravian College. In his free time, he likes running, exercising, watching ted talks, advocating for autistic individuals to get employment, and watching TEDx talks. Max currently resides in Philadelphia, PA. You can contact him at kortenm09@gmail.com

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