Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Digital Workforce

In June of 2015, Emily Concannon (BC ’15) and Professor Kane co-authored a blog detailing the expansive and progressive role that social media plays in incorporating more individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) into the workforce. This blog post outlines initiatives enacted by two large scale technology companies, Microsoft and SAP. In both cases, it is recognized that the 3.5 million Americans who live with ASD are highly employable, and have more to offer to a dynamic workplace than has been traditionally recognized.

As the original blog post points out, a study out of Boston University (I know, I know, I hate to admit the Terriers are doing cool things just as much as the next Eagle) individuals with ASD have uncanny capacity for attention to detail, excel at mathematics and detail oriented tasks, and often possess superior data analytics skills and computer coding. This makes ASD individuals not only highly employable, but perfect fits for career paths in technological and digital workforces. And as we’ve discovered over the course of this semester, in today’s marketplace, those workforces that are not considered digital are becoming increasingly few and far between.

As a student in LSOE, I learn on a fairly consistent basis about the various technological initiatives set forth in order to attain inclusivity for ASD students as far as education is concerned. However, development and progress in terms of employment for ASD individuals isn’t something I have previously explored, and  as I have discovered, digital business and social media are at the forefront of this charge for ASD inclusion.

ASD & Technology Employment

To continue down the path of the case studies that Emily and Prof. Kane detailed, large technology companies are becoming increasingly involved in the employment of individuals with ASD, many companies having joined the initiative even within the past year. Autism Speaks, a foundation dedicated to advocacy for individuals across the spectrum, releases a yearly large business report in which it outlines companies who ensure that disabled individuals are included in their recruitment initiatives. Among these businesses are the previously mentioned SAP and Microsoft.

There are others on the list, however, including Cisco, EY, CVS Caremark, P&G, Target and Walgreens to name a few. These are companies in which harness technology in order effectively incorporate a disabled workforce. For example, part of Walgreens mission statement includes the assertion that “Walgreens found that with the right mix of training, technology and awareness, their newest generation of distribution centers employing people with disabilities runs more efficiently and productively than older counterparts.”

And Walgreens is not alone. The report continues on to identify Media-specific technology companies that have also made it their mission to employ individuals with Autism in technology jobs. Along with SAP, these companies include Computer Aid Inc., OfficeMax, and TIAA-CREF. For example, “CAI [Computer Aid Inc.] plans to employ over 3% of its consultant workforce with people who have autism in technology roles in software testing, data quality assurance, programming, data mining and data entry, before the end of 2015.” Similar to the other companies listed above, the goal CAI hopes to achieve is one of development, education and efficiency.

That’s not all…

Furthermore, in collaboration with Rangam Consultants Inc.. Autism Speaks has initiated a digital business called The Spectrum Careers (thespectrumcareers.com) which serves as a type of middleman service. Spectrum Careers connects ASD individuals looking to be employed with inclusive hiring businesses and employment service providers. The website also serves as a forum for people to share their experiences with ASD and how it has affected them and their career efforts. This sort of community building through the promotion of inclusive recruitment techniques is something that I predict we’ll be seeing more of in the future, especially considering that 92% of Americans prefer companies who engage in hiring people with disabilities to those that do not.

In the future

Obviously it is impossible to modify every business model to reconfigure in order to cater to the recruitment of higher numbers of ASD individuals. That being said, it is clear that progress is being made in this field as a result of the rise of technological and digital-centered industries. I foresee this type hiring trend to continue to rise with the rise of digital maturity and innovation in all industries. This is without a doubt an encouraging trajectory, especially considering “employers have seen a positive impact on morale, retention, and corporate culture” as a result of hiring employees with disabilities, according to Autism Speaks’ Employer’s Guide to Hiring and Retaining Employees With Autism Spectrum Disorder.

My predictions in terms of a few critical considerations for the future as it pertains to these trends are as follows:

  • Interview structure modification. I don’t see the traditional behavioral model for interview structure as particularly applicable or effective when it comes to individuals with ASD. Because social interactions are much more difficult as a result of the disorder, and because they are being hired into positions much less centered around consistent face-to-face interaction, I foresee a reorganization becoming necessary for interview approach.
  • Education initiatives. Education not only in so far as onboarding individuals with ASD is concerned, but also education to those working with these employees and how the disabilities may materialize in the workplace.
  • Engagement. Once again on all fronts- avoiding an “us” and “them” mentality and promoting a collaborative work environment will not only serve the goal of efficiency, but will also help to maintain a positive organizational culture and cohesion among all employees.

7 comments

  1. Thanks for the followup on this topic. I do have to say that Emily Concanon’s presentation on this topic was amongst the best I’ve seen in #IS6621. It was one of those times where you say, “that makes so much sense, why didn’t I think of that?” Great followup!

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. It is great that individuals with ASD will have more employment opportunities emerge as businesses shift to the digital space and develop these new hiring initiatives. The Spectrum Careers service seems like an effective way to connect individuals with ASD to businesses that may not have the resources to develop recruiting programs on their own. The forum on the page should be a valuable resource. As people interact and share employment experiences they will be exposed to a larger amount of employment opportunities than they were previously aware of. They should also have a better feel for what job would make the right fit. It would be a smart business decision for companies to follow the hiring trend if they are able to do so.

  3. fernaneq4 · ·

    This is something that not a lot of people talk about. I worked at a big corporation and they are always emphasizing diversity, inclusivity and perspective and not once have they mentioned this. Education and awareness are always the first step in tackling these problems and it’s great that you took this focus for your article. I hate to say that I am ignorant on it but to be honest I never really think about it. As more and more companies take notice and raise awareness it will spread across the larger firms and hopefully change minds and stigmas. Great post!

  4. dabettervetter · ·

    Great post. I recently read an article about people in the workplace with dyslexia. Autism may be a more visible thing, yet working with any disability is infinitely more challenging and complicated than not. Something surprising in that article and your blog is how recently companies started working with people with disabilities to make the general work force a better place for them. As advanced as our world is, it is crazy how long it has taken us to get here and how much further we need to go. I think your predictions for considerations for the future are accurate and insightful.

  5. This was a really interesting post (and thanks for linking the original blog, a similarly interesting read!). I’ve known of some ASD family friends being placed into low-tech positions, but it was very interesting to see their potential in the high tech and digital sectors. I would, personally, be curious to learn more about the ways that these companies have increased their distribution efficiencies with ASD employees. Sounds like a very cool initiative!

    I like that you addressed the pertinent challenges that lie ahead, and I definitely agree that engagement and avoiding the “us” and “them” mentality will be keys to making this successful. Hopefully these workforce implementations will also work to improve stigmas against people with ASD in society at large!

  6. mikeknoll98 · ·

    I always knew people with Autism had extreme attention to detail but never did it cross my mind that things like coding and other digital jobs would be the perfect fit for their unique skill set. I wonder BC offers any tech positions, that someone in the Campus School could potentially get? This is one of the cooler blogs I have read all year, and really great post.

  7. magicjohnshin1 · ·

    Awesome post! I interned at Mattel two summers ago, and I was aware that Mattel hired individuals with ASD to support day to day activities, such as the mailing and distribution center. I applauded Mattel’s efforts to integrate these individuals and company employees made sure to greet these individuals or support them in their activities. Seeing these acts of kindness throughout the office was heartwarming and I’m glad to hear that companies around the nation are making a conscious effort to support more ASD employees. This will have added positive effects, such as fighting the stigma surrounding such disabilities and gaining a greater awareness on the existence, and ways to support those with disabilities. I can certainly see how the digitization of many work streams are paving more work for those with ASD, and this is an encouraging trend. Cheers!

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