Top 10 Autism Friendly Employers

Options Are Growing for Autistic Job-Seekers

Somewhere from 66 percent to 86 percent of adults with autism are unemployed or seriously underemployed. While the precise percentage varies based on study parameters, there's no doubt that employment is elusive for adults on the spectrum. This reality, however, is changing fast.

In December 2016, an article appeared in Forbes entitled "Where Is Autism Employment Heading In 2017?" Such an article would have been impossible a decade prior, as the answer would have been "nowhere." Instead, the article pointed to a number of major initiatives by top tech employers such as SAP and Google as well as specialized supportive work programs for adults on the spectrum.

Why More Autism-Friendly Employers?

The reasons for this rapid expansion of opportunities aren't absolutely clear, but it seems clear that there are at least four.

  • First, there is vastly increased awareness of autism in general. A huge increase in diagnoses (for whatever set of reasons) means that 1:68 Americans is autistic.
  • Second, the increase in diagnoses is, at least in part, the result of much broader diagnostic criteria for autism. Instead of including only severely disabled individuals, the autism spectrum now includes individuals with high intelligence and significant skills.
  • Third, there is an increasing need for workers with the skills, thought patterns, and work ethic that are common among people on the autism spectrum. Autistic adults are, in general, dependable, routinized, focused, detail-oriented, and passionate about their work. Many have outstanding technical and/or math skills. And quite a few are able to find unique solutions to problems that have eluded their more conventional colleagues.
  • Fourth, people with autism often prefer repetitive work and may not have a strong desire or need for novelty. This can be an asset in many jobs and can be hard to find within the general community.

Knowing that autistic workers are increasingly in demand, where are the best jobs? Here's a run-down of some of the top opportunities for adults on the spectrum. As you'll see, some of these companies are open to people with a wide range of abilities; others are looking specifically for high-functioning individuals with particular skill sets. Some see autism as just one of many disabilities while others are focused on autism because of the skills most prevalent among folks on the spectrum. In every case, however, these companies are more than willing to hire people with an autism spectrum diagnosis.

1

 Microsoft's dedicated Autism Hiring Program is described as a "recruitment, retention and career development strategy related to diversity and inclusion." Inspired by an employee with an autistic son, the program includes a multi-day hands-on academy "that focuses on workability, team projects, and skills assessment. The event gives candidates an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and meet hiring managers and teams while learning about Microsoft as an employer of choice." Microsoft notes that people with autism are often (though not always) best suited for careers as Software Engineer, Service Engineer, Build Engineer, Lab Engineer, Data Analyst or Data Scientist.

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2

SAP is a very large tech firm based in Germany but with offices located around the world. The company has a strong diversity program which includes "Autism at Work." According to their website," SAP's groundbreaking Autism at Work program, launched in May 2013, integrates people with autism into the workforce. We have a corporate goal to employ 650 colleagues on the autism spectrum by 2020. The initiative currently includes nearly 120 colleagues filling over 20 different positions, and is active in nine countries.

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3

Freddie Mac is the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, a government-owned corporation that buys mortgages and packages them into mortgage-backed securities.

Unlike many other companies, Freddie Mac specifically reaches out to people with autism because they see autistic traits as being positives for their particular needs. To do this, they actually partnered with a group of autistic self-advocates–something that is most unusual in the corporate world.

According to their website, Freddie Mac partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2012 to create an Autism Internship Program designed to match our business needs with the unique capabilities of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The program is geared to highly qualified individuals who have had a hard time finding or keeping work due to problems with social communication. The team at Freddie Mac works with each individual to match abilities to jobs and help build "soft" skills.

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4

Ford partnered with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to found a program called FordInclusiveWorks with the specific goal of hiring and supporting employees on the autism spectrum. According to their website, Ford "worked with the Product Development Vehicle Evaluation and Verification supervisors and the Human Resources department to review jobs. After that, we teamed up with the Autism Alliance of Michigan. They sent staff to Ford to shadow jobs and determine which would be suitable for the particular strengths of those with autism, and to help address the issues related to both getting and keeping a job."

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5

Ernst and Young is a huge international accounting firm that has discovered the value of neurodiversity to its bottom line. According to its website, "Companies are finding that people with autism approach problems differently and that their logical, straightforward thinking can spur process improvements that greatly increase productivity."

As a company that is actively trying to recruit people with autism, Ernst and Young determined that "though many people with autism are intelligent, well-educated and eager to work, they often face interpersonal challenges that make it difficult to get in the door." To address this and related issues, the company created a project team to find, train, and place autistic employees. They also created a unique "Center of Excellence" in Philadelphia specifically geared to making the most of autistic employees' particular strengths.

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6

Walgreens runs a program called "REDI," which stands for Retail Employees with Disabilities. Working with local agencies, they provide externs with training in specific skill areas and then evaluate each individual to place them appropriately. According to their website: "Those who graduate REDI and attain an evaluation score of 3.0 or higher earn a “recommended for hire” designation, can bypass the standard Hourly Selector assessment if applying for CSA roles at Walgreens, and will be able to apply for CSA positions nationwide."

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7

Both Home Depot and CVS Caremark with an organization called Ken's Crew to recruit and train disabled employees. In fact, the founder of Home Depot played an important role in getting Ken's Crew started. The program provides job matching, intensive training, job coaching, community supports, and more. To date, according to the Ken's Crew website, over 1300 individuals have been successfully placed at Home Depots and CVS stores across the country.

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8

AMC partners with Autism Speaks, and AMC's year-old FOCUS program, which stands for Furthering Opportunities, Cultivating Untapped Strengths, is an AMC employee development program specifically directed toward hiring disabled individuals. According to their website, A​MC "provides individuals affected by disabilities with access to opportunities for competitive employment, wages, and benefits side-by-side with other associates in our theatres."​

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Autism-Focused Businesses

More young adults with autism are finishing school and struggling to enter the workforce. At the same time, more businesses are discovering the benefits of hiring autistic employees. These two factors, together, are spurring the growth of small businesses built around the strengths of autistic workers. So far, more than fifty such businesses have sprung up around the United States; a few of these include:

A Word From Verywell

If you or a loved one with autism is starting to look into job options, it makes sense to do some homework to uncover some of the possibilities. Even autistic individuals with limited skills have more opportunities than ever before. Your local vocational agencies may not know about all the options, so it's up to you to explore what's out there, what's possible, and how to apply.

View Article Sources
  • AJ Drexel Autism Institute. National autism indicators report: developmental disability services
    and outcomes in adulthood. Drexel University Press, 2017.
  • Austin, Robert D. Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage. Harvard Business Review, May-June 2017.