1 in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder. But you wouldn’t think so, given the astonishing lack of opportunities for people with autism through most of history.
Even when smart, educated, and well-equipped to do the job at hand, people with autism often find themselves unemployed, underemployed, poorly paid. Some struggle with degrees of social impairment—difficulty making eye contact, responding to their own name, smiling---that impact how prospective employers see them.
David McNabb, who graduated from college in 2001 with a degree in computer science, and was diagnosed with autism in 2014, states that interviews “were definitely a large stumbling block,” that they left employers feeling that he wasn’t “what they were looking for in a person” or “the type of person they’d [want] to work with.”
During year after year of unemployment, McNabb spent his time helping his family with assorted computer problems, and dissecting the inner workings of operating systems and software. It appears that he was not only qualified to work in his field of study, but also that he had the genuine, enduring interest that any employer should be grateful to see.
McNabb’s autism is high-functioning, and he’s able to channel his penchant for repetitive tasks to produce a degree of attention to detail and accuracy that the average person cannot hope to match.
An “employable” skill, to say the least.
Recommended: Landmarks Around The World Are Turning Blue For Autism, And It's Gorgeous
McNabb’s abilities have found a market in the tech industry. Now he works for Ultra Testing, recognizing data patterns and finding bugs in software.
"It's definitely been a very good break for me, just getting traction, being able to show that I can be working and contribute to a team,"
80% of Ultra Testing’s workforce has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
The Webby Media Group, which hired Ultra Testing last year to test some of their software, explained the rationale—and the efficacy—behind this hiring decision.
They found five-to-10 times more things than we found ourselves. We were astonished," said Steve Marchese, executive producer at Webby Media Group. "This is a really smart way to utilize the gifts that people on the spectrum have."
A number of other tech companies have initiated programs for hiring people on the autism spectrum--- from Microsoft, to Freddie Mac, to HP Australia--- and not just because businesses are expected, by Labor Department rules, to hire a certain percentage of people with disabilities. Hopes are high that the trend will continue, and spread through the entirety of the professional sphere.
The director of Specialisterne USA, a nonprofit group that helps people with autism find jobs, stated that
"They have a real passion for detail…They tend to be very good at following a process, improving a process, optimizing a process."
Of course, it begs mention that no two people with autism are the same. Some are high-functioning, some are not. Some are extraordinarily talented. But even these talents vary from person to person.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that many people with autism are equipped--- sometimes uniquely equipped- for certain careers, and it’s about time that industry made the connection.
Sure, it will take a period of adaptation. Employers and fellow employees will need to receive the necessary autism-awareness training. Measures will need to be taken to make work environments more comfortable for workers who struggle with noise-sensitivity, or feel discomfort in face-to-face interactions.
But the outcome is unquestionably worth the time and energy. Not only will the quality of life improve for the previously “unemployable,” but the industry at large will learn a lesson in accommodation, compromise, and diversity.