Autistic employees can give companies an edge in innovative thinking

Source: The Guardian / Kate Jones

Global technology group Hewlett Packard’s newest cybersecurity employee spent the past two years grilling burgers at McDonald’s. Like many on the autism spectrum, the young man in his 20s possessed an impressive range of IT skills to match or even outshine most university graduates.

But unlike the average graduate, he didn’t have the social skills to make it past an interview. This is a common stumbling block for those on the spectrum, according to the psychologist Jay Hobbs from Specialisterne – a non-profit agency finding employment for people with autism.

“Being able to communicate and sell yourself was the barrier for him,” he says.

“But he was absolutely excellent. He’s one of those young men who is self-taught, so he was a very capable guy.”

An estimated 230,000 Australians live with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is defined as a developmental condition that affects the way a person relates to their environment and their interaction with other people.

The lifelong condition is well recognised and treated among children, but there is less support for adults with autism. Those on the spectrum describe meeting “the cliff” after secondary school – likening the sudden lack of assistance to falling off a cliff.

Recent research attests to the lack of support: the labour force participation rate is about 42%, compared with 53% labour force participation rate for people with disabilities and 83% for people without disabilities.

Jeanette Purkis, an author and advocate for the autism community, says many people on the spectrum struggle with job interviews as they often find the sensory experience and social interactions in an interview challenging. “Being in front of three people who are essentially deciding their future and firing questions they aren’t prepared for off at them is unlikely to enable an autistic person to demonstrate their skills,” she says.

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