Finding a job (not to mention building a career) can be hard for everyone, but the difficulties of finding work can be especially difficult for those who are neurodiverse, specifically individuals on the autism spectrum.
The unemployment rate among autistic adults is approximately 85%. Nearly half of 25-year-olds on the spectrum have never held a paying job and over 60% of autistic young adults are neither working or in school.
This means that roughly two-thirds of autistic individuals are not able to find or keep a job. Why is this?
One of the biggest challenges that neurodiverse adults face is finding employment and then staying employed. This is due to a variety of reasons, from sensory issues to miscommunications and social misunderstandings.
Many autistic adults say that they’ve struggled to keep even low-wage retail and service industry jobs. Some feel that unemployment is the only choice.
Others feel forced to leave jobs due to not fitting in with the workplace culture, being unable to understand what’s expected of them, or even because of things neurotypical people take for granted–like a sensitivity to fluorescent lights or common workplace noises.
It’s not enough to be great at your job, but you also have to know how to maneuver office politics or social situations, something many autistic adults find challenging.
And some people aren’t even getting that far–many autistic adults report getting interviews but being unable to actually land a job. There always seems to be a reason that they are passed over for someone supposedly better suited to the position.
On his website Autistic Not Weird, award-winning author, speaker, and educator Chris Bonnello says that it’s not necessarily the best candidate who gets the job. “It’s the candidate who performs best at the interview who gets the job. And that’s why autistic people struggle so often to find employment.”
Bonello likens a job interview to a ”spoken word beauty contest.” It’s not how well you can do the job, it’s how well you can talk about doing the job.
So in a world “built with everyone else in mind,” how can neurodivergent individuals get and keep a job?
To start with, here’s a list of job opportunities and job skill resources for autistic adults.
There are some job boards specifically designed with neurodivergent people in mind and dedicated to giving them what they need to succeed.
Inclusively.com is a job board especially for neurodivergent people. You can search for a job, using filters like job category and location as well as keyword searches to narrow down your results.
Inclusively also allows you to search for positions that offer the “success enablers” that you need to do your best–whether it be workplace modifications, more helpful communication with your supervisor or whatever else you may need to thrive.
Find Inclusively’s job board here.
Untapped’s mission is to spread the word that neurodiversity is a variation from the general population, rather than a disability. Neurodiversity is just that–diversity–and not a problem to be fixed.
Our workplaces benefit from diversity, and that includes neurodiversity. In 2014, The Wall Street Journal found that while 85% of autistic people were unemployed or underemployed, 60% of them had cognitive abilities at or above those of NT individuals.
That means that adults on the autism spectrum can be a great asset to employers–an untapped resource.
Job Skills Resources
If the interview process is indeed what’s keeping so many autistic people from getting the jobs they want, there are plenty of interview prep services out there. The problem is that most of them aren’t designed for neurodivergent people.
InterviewPREP (the Interview Preparation and Rehearsal Employment Program) from the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE) is designed with ND people in mind.
The curriculum includes networking, phone interviews, appropriate dress, nonverbal communication and responding to questions. You can also interview with real business professionals who will give you structured feedback and coaching.
This type of practice can help to reduce anxiety, build skills and increase confidence.
You can apply for the program here.
The Job Accommodation Network
The Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, provides free counseling for employees and those seeking employment. Services include one-on-one consultations discussing all aspects of job accommodations, including the process of obtaining an accommodation, ideas for accommodations, referrals to other resources, and ADA compliance assistance.
JAN’s website also has a list of other resources, including information about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
You can access these resources and ask for your free consultation here.
Employment Toolkit from Autism Speaks
AutismSpeaks.org offers a free downloadable employment toolkit, which includes information on looking for jobs, applying for jobs, writing resumes, job interviews, soft skills, and more.
You can get your employment toolkit here.
Autism and Adulthood
In order to understand why autistic adults struggle to find and keep employment, you first need to understand autism.
Researchers have found that infants who would later go on to be diagnosed with autism were interacting with their parents at around 6 to 7 months of age much like their typically developing peers.
For these infants, it’s in the second year of life that a dramatic divergence arises.
As an autistic child grows up, they will not gain dynamic intelligence naturally like their peers.
Dynamic intelligence gives us the ability to think flexibly and understand different perspectives in life, to cope with change, and to integrate information from multiple sources.
Dynamic intelligence is crucial for independence and quality of life.
How RDI® Can Help
Unlike other forms of autism therapy, RDI® doesn’t simply try to “cover up” neurodivergence with learned behaviors and social skills, but emphasizes dynamic intelligence and growth-seeking experiences.
If you’re curious about how the RDI® program can help you or your child to achieve independence in adulthood, here is a list of resources to get you started.
RDI® and What is It
In this episode of the RDIconnect podcast Autism: A New Perspective, Dr. Steven Gutstein talks about why so many autistic adults fail to achieve what we would call “well-being” in their lives and how RDI® can be used as a model for remediating autism.
The Impact of Autism on the Parent-Child Relationship
Studies have found that when infants don’t contribute enough energy to the parent-child relationship, parents aren’t able to compensate and the relationship can not develop in a normal manner.
Even the most motivated or dedicated parent can not overcome this obstacle alone.
This is why RDI® is focused on rebuilding the Guiding Relationship between parent and child lost in infancy.
With the re-establishment of this relationship, children have the critical opportunities for mental, neural and self-development they need to grow.
Want to Learn More?
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.
Click to enlarge infographic.