A decade ago my son was diagnosed with Autism. I remember it like was yesterday. Charlie was struggling in school early on so, while the diagnosis made sense on one level, on another it was crushing. Samantha and I went from confusion over what this meant to high anxiety over our son’s future and then back to confusion as we struggled to marshal any resource we could find to help Charlie on this new path.
As parents, we all push past our fears and strive to do what’s best for our kids. That’s our job. In our case, that meant hours of extra work with Charlie at home and a lot of advocating at school. It was a lot of work and most of it fell to Charlie.
It paid off. In the years that followed, we found our way through the education system. We learned what worked for Charlie and what didn’t. We found people and programs that were helpful and we learned what Charlie needed to be his best self academically. As Autism cases have exploded across the US in the last few decades, resources and expertise around educating our kids have greatly improved. Today Charlie reads at grade level and has a real love for science and history. Like most people affected by Autism, he has some areas of struggle, but also tremendous strengths. He’s not great with nuance, and he can get a bit anxious when things stray too far too quickly from routine. He’s also self-motivated, hard-working, honest, caring and very funny. We are so very proud of him.
All parents worry about their kids. For parents of children affected by Autism, those worries can particularly persistent. Where groups have sprung up to help our kids with the structure they need in school, those services “fall off a cliff’ when those kids leave high school or college.
The results of this gap are profound. Today, more than 80% of college educated adults with autism diagnoses are unemployed. This is simply unacceptable. With more than 50,000 new people with Autism attempting to enter the workforce each year, the time for business to Think Differently is now.
The data shows that this is not only solvable, but a massive opportunity as well. As an executive in the recruitment industry for more than two decades, I’ve worked with leaders in a dozen industries to leverage human capital to drive bottom line results. In my research on Autism, I’ve learned that a few pioneering companies that do have programs to leverage Neurodiversity are reporting huge gains – lower turnover, improved productivity and employee engagement, more innovation and even tax incentives – as they work with some terrific people.
Today, those companies are still few and far between. But other employers will be open to think differently about people who think differently once they are educated on the opportunity, the benefits to their organizations, and the way to interview, on-board and manage this talented workforce.
Jeff Miller is the CEO of Potentia (potentiaworkforce.org), a social enterprise dedicated to matching top employers with talented applicants on the autism spectrum.