The Silent Majority of the Autistic Community who are Suffering most with Unemployment

Cartoon of a man in a white shirt and black trousers sat in the street looking upset, next to his briefcase, on a green background.
Image by Mohamed_hasssan from Pixabay

It is not uncommon to hear of employers espousing their diversity credentials showcasing people with autism and their glittering careers, often this is in areas commonly associated with gifted autistic people such as programmers, data analysts and researchers. As wonderful as this is, I always want to ask this question:

“If I was to walk into your admin department tomorrow, would I be able to firstly find people with autism working there, and if so, would you be able to demonstrate they are receiving the level of support they need to succeed in the same way as their non-autistic colleagues?”

It does not surprise me at all that employers will bend over backwards to support their gifted autistic employees who provide a high level of value and return on the investment the employer makes in them, it makes good business sense to do so. This however does very little to address the issue that only 22% of autistic people find themselves in meaningful work.

I accept that this is a simplistic way of splitting the autistic population, but it illustrates a point well, but we essentially can form 3 groups (note that the percentages are estimates):

  • 20% form a group of highly intelligent individuals who are gifted and have great appeal to employers.
  • 20% form a group who will struggle to live independently and rely on the support and advocacy of family and support workers.
  • 60% form a group who are of similar intelligence and capability as the “average” non-autistic person, but when competing for jobs their autistic symptoms make them less appealing to employers in a market crowded with similarly capable non-autistic people.

It is that large group that need the significant focus afforded to them, but how do we motivate businesses to have the desire to engage with this group? Very few employers are willing or even able to adjust an environment to suit an individual especially if it is going to significantly impact the main objective of the business.

The answer is to focus less on a single individual who may have a diagnosis and a specific issue but instead to look at the cognitive diversity of the entire team. It is very likely that you will discover that there are simple and cheap adjustments that will positively impact multiple members of staff. In this way you can build up a portfolio of ‘adjustments for all’ that are available to everyone who will find them useful. Then if you recruit someone with different needs, you and the team have all developed a mindset of accommodating each other and therefore accommodating this new person should be straightforward.

In exploring the cognition of your team you can take an approach which organises work according to the strengths of individuals. An awareness of cognitive diversity facilitates communication between team members who think differently. Being strengths focused can lead to recruiting for strengths gaps. If you already have a mindset of ‘adjustments for all’ and a culture of accommodating for strengths and weaknesses, you are likely to focus less on people’s difficulties and attribute instead greater value to their strengths and what the person can bring to your business.

Making employment more accessible to people with autism is less about focusing on a specific group but more about creating an adjustable culture for all that values people as individuals. What makes your place of work autism friendly does not just offer benefits related to autism, you will find the impact has benefits everyone.

Note that more and more children are getting diagnosed with autism and ADHD. These children will form a large part of the potential workforce in just a few years and it will become difficult to not have to recruit and accommodate autism and ADHD talent. We would advise starting to prepare as soon as possible.


Get in touch to learn more about training for your team around cognitive diversity and ‘Adjustments for All’.