Helping Autistic Adults Find and Keep Employment

Job interviews are tough.

As we sit in the hot seat – the interviewee seat – our stress and anxiety levels shoot up despite any level of experience that we might have.

We are expected to perform at that very moment if we want to get hired.

We must make good eye contact, say the right things, use body language that sells…and the list goes on.

Imagine being an autistic adult who struggles with making eye contact, or who might need an extra moment to process a question that is outside of the well-rehearsed ‘common’ questions that are anticipated.

It spells difficultly, with a capital D!

If we are hired, we are expected to acclimate ourselves to the neurotypical company culture and grow in our positions.

The stress encompassed in the initial period of learning and adjusting can be a positive thing because it helps us to stay energized and alert as we meld into the expectations, but for a neurodivergent adult, it can be difficult to navigate.

The challenges are real, and we just covered only a few of them.

So, let’s dig in and talk about the common reasons autistic adults struggle with finding and keeping a job.

Lack of Accommodation and Unfamiliarity with Neurological Differences

Many of our workplaces are not familiar with, nor do they have policies in place that are tuned into the concept of neurodiversity.

The fact is, neurodiversity is not a difficult concept to grasp, as most employees that are autistic are not that different from anybody else.

We just need understanding, with policies and expectations that are geared towards strengths, such as attention to detail, or accuracy on work tasks—as opposed to a workplace that only meets the needs of the general ‘norm.’

Christa Holmans is an autistic self-advocate from Texas who runs the internationally recognized neurodiversity lifestyle blog Neurodivergent Rebel.

She also manages Neurodivergent Consulting, an agency that works with businesses to “create new policies that work to attract and increase tenure of current and future neurodivergent employees.”

We hope to see this as a trend in the industry!

In Christa’s words, “(the agency analyzes the policies of interested workplaces for) how they tap into, or hinder, the creative power of neurodivergent employees, including how accommodating these workspaces are to the sensory and predictability needs of autistic people.”

If many more businesses got on the ball and hired based on the strengths of autistic individuals, and worked with their needs, as well as their creativity (as Christa pointed out) we wouldn’t see the statistics that the research and surveys are showing today—more than two-thirds of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed.

Dynamic Intelligence Ties into the Job Struggle

While change is needed in the overall workforce to encourage the hiring of autistic individuals, it is imperative to understand what the core challenges are, and most reside in the areas of dynamic intelligence.

Dynamic intelligence is the term we use to describe the mental functioning that enables humans to successfully navigate this world and our relationships.

It is central to independence and quality of life and RDI® (Relationship Development Intervention) builds on this perspective. This is the key to harnessing the knowledge and life skills necessary for adulting, and ultimately gainful employment.

Here are the six areas of dynamic intelligence that make independence possible:

Emotional Referencing 

The ability to ‘read’ and learn from the emotional experiences of others.

Social Coordination

The ability to observe others and self-regulate behavior in order to participate in social


Declarative Language

The ability to use language and non-verbal language for expression, interaction, and to share feelings and ideas with others.

Flexible Thinking

The ability to adapt when life’s circumstances change.

Relational Information Processing

The ability to think situations through, to obtain solutions, when there are no “right or wrong” answers.

Foresight and Hindsight

The ability to reflect on past experiences and use them as a tool to anticipate potential future scenarios.

In today’s workplace, soft skills are vital to employability.

Essential soft skills include a positive attitude (remaining calm and cheerful when things go wrong), teamwork (working with the team, and working within team culture), self-management, communication skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills, resilience, and leadership skills (companies want employees that can supervise and lead other workers).

Each of the six areas of dynamic intelligence are a part of the soft skills that are critical in today’s workforce.

Autistic adults lacking in soft skills, and essentially dynamic intelligence, struggle intensely with finding and keeping employment.

Finding the Right Work on the Spectrum

Finding the right work is a challenge for many of us, whether we are neurodivergent or not.

When we take a job that does not align with our natural interests and skills, as well as our strengths and limitations, we end up struggling.

We struggle with stress. We struggle to continue developing personally and professionally.

And then…many of us just want to give up. Unemployment feels much easier.

Stephen Shore, author, autism advocate, board member for Autism Speaks, and professor at Adelphi University, states (in the podcast Finding Fulfilling Employment on the Autism Spectrum):

“I think we need to consider if we (an autistic person) are fulfilled and productive with life…then that’s a success… Whatever it is, if we get that match between interest and skill and ability, wherever it is, then we have the recipe for a filling and productive life. I think that’s universal; it works for everybody whether you’re on the autism spectrum or not.”

Some of the struggles autistic adults experience with finding and keeping employment stems from looking for just any work as opposed to looking for work that suits them.

Stability comes when we make job and career choices that are good matches to our interests, skills, and abilities. Doing so takes much of the stress off.

You Have Resources to Help

It is hard to find a job and sometimes to hold down a job, for any of us! We need resources.

Check out our blog Transitioning to Independence: 5 Online Resources to Help Neurodivergent Young Adults, for job boards and job skills resources.

Dr. Rachelle Sheely did a recent podcast about your child and expectations about the future.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you or your child to grow and achieve independence and quality of life in adulthood, schedule a free consultation with an RDI® consultant today.

If you’d like to talk to RDI® professionals, parents, and adults on the spectrum, join our online learning community.

The community also gives you access to the latest autism research, exclusive articles, and presentations on autism, Dynamic Intelligence, communication, school issues and more, as well as webinars, multimedia e-learnings, tutorials & tip sheets.


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