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Does the tech industry need to do more to hire people with autism?

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Does the tech industry need to do more to hire people with autism?

An unusually intense focus on one particular subject. A penchant for sticking to strict routines. Difficulty understanding nonverbal social cues. These, according to Autism Spectrum Australia, are three key characteristics of autism spectrum disorder. They are also, according to Hollywood, three key characteristics of anyone who works in the tech industry.

From the stereotypical nerds in HBO’s Silicon Valley, to the broadly-drawn Mark Zuckerberg caricature in David Fincher’s The Social Network, popular culture gives us the impression that the tech industry is full of autistic individuals. But is this accurate?

Connection between tech companies and Asperger’s “not necessarily true.”

Wired seemed to endorse the connection in a 2001 article called ‘The Geek Syndrome’. But further analysis suggests otherwise. Asperger’s Syndrome specialist Dr Kenneth Roberson examined Wired’s research, along with other surveys, to conclude that the connection between tech companies and people with Asperger’s “has a certain appeal”, but that it’s “not necessarily true.”

The CDC says one percent of people in North America, Europe and Asia are on the autistic spectrum. And there’s no way all of those people work in tech. One percent may sound small, but with the kind of numbers we’re dealing with, it really isn’t. In the UK alone, there are 700,000 people on the autistic spectrum.

Unfortunately, not all of those people are in work. The unemployment rate among autistic people is much higher than in the broader population. Taking the example of the UK again, only 16% of autistic individuals are in full time employment. The figures are similar worldwide. The UN estimated the global unemployment rate among autists to be around 80%.

To combat this, companies are creating initiatives to help hire more autistic employees. Many of these companies are tech companies.

How tech companies are hiring more people with autism

 Despite the media presentation, autists are not necessarily over represented in the tech industry. Mashable estimated one percent of programmers and engineers are autistic. This actually means they are accurately represented in this area. However, many experts and autistic people themselves have found tech positions to be uniquely accessible for people on the autism spectrum, and this is one reason tech firms are starting initiatives to hire more of them.

“I think a lot of autistic people like to do coding because it keeps your mind going,” one expert told Mashable. A doctor in the US told NPR tech is perfect for young adults with autism because they can “flourish at engineering-type tasks or computer design, where their interaction with people is somewhat limited.” Alliance Data’s Jim Pierce told the same publication that autistic talent is an “untapped labour market,” because of how productive he’s found autistic workers can be.

The suitability of autistic workers to jobs in tech puts the industry in a unique position, almost giving them a moral obligation to take on more of them in order to alleviate the crisis. There are countless thinkpiece articles on how high-tech jobs could help reduce autism unemployment. So it’s no surprise some major tech firms are starting initiatives to help out.

Microsoft has launched an inclusive hiring program that includes an autism-friendly interview process. These interviews are more like an academy that stretches over multiple weeks, which helps put autistic job applicants at ease.

It makes sense to adapt the hiring process to autistic needs, especially in high tech areas like SAP. The first job tip for SAP-career seekers from headhunters Eursap is to “Network, Network, Network!” But as we know, those with autism often struggle with socialising. This makes them no less suited to working in SAP, but thanks to the way hiring normally works, they are put at a clear disadvantage.

To combat this, SAP launched its Autism at Work program, which aims to support autists already working at the company, and to hire more of them. So far, the scheme has helped hire 120 members of staff.

These initiatives are a good start, but there’s more to be done

Autism-friendly initiatives from all over the tech industry will no doubt help more unemployed autists find work, and these new employees will likely increase the fortunes of the companies they work for, if the testimonies of their tendency to productivity prove correct. But it’s unlikely that these programs alone will find jobs for all of the 700,000 unemployed autistic people in the UK, or the 30 million unemployed in the USA.

The tech industry does need to hire more autistic people, especially as many of them are uniquely suited to this kind of work, but so too do employers in other industries. Government-level initiatives to instate these kinds of autism-friendly measures across all businesses would really help the autistic unemployment epidemic. With these in place, autistic people could go to work in all kinds of industries, whether their productivity levels are exceptionally high, or as average as the rest of us.

I am the founder of Startup Today. I am the main writer and have put in many hours of work into creating this blog. If you want to find out more about me then lets get in contact.

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