The Israeli Defense Force’s Satellite Intelligence Unit 9900 assigns autistic soldiers to monitor electronic combat maps for even the minutest changes. Their rare ability to focus for hours on end provides better results than non-autistic soldiers.
Software powerhouse SAP is actively searching for people with autism for jobs that require high attention to detail such as software testing. It hopes to have people with autism make up one percent of their workforce by 2020.
While one in 68 children in America is somewhere on the autism spectrum, only 53 percent of young adults with autism are gainfully employed. Those with autism have skills, creativity and unique ideas to contribute to the workforce. It’s not about giving them simple jobs because you feel sorry for them or to meet diversity goals, it’s about hiring them because they truly meet a business need in your company and possess the right skills to excel in their job.
Here are the specific qualities that people with autism have that can benefit your business and productivity:
1. Intense focus comes naturally to them. Autistic people’s intensity can be an asset that helps them focus on the task at hand. For example, autistic employee Trevor’s extreme focusing ability allows him to wash huge piles of dishes quickly without stopping or complaining. His supervisor remarked that Trevor was “like a machine” and couldn’t believe how hard and fast he worked. Trevor said the repetition was comforting to him and he just “plowed right through it.”
2. They work when nobody is watching. When Trevor worked in maintenance, his coworkers commented that they always saw him doing heavy landscape work outside in the heat. Trevor didn’t know anyone saw him, but he worked hard when alone, never slacking or resting. It was that focus and commitment to do whatever he was asked that made him a model employee.
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3. Autistic individuals can bring enormous creativity. Autistic people’s minds are wired differently, and their imaginations can be extreme. Managers should take advantage of this when looking for creative ideas or new ways to solve problems. If they give autistic team members opportunities to share their ideas, those ideas can lead to brilliant new concepts.4. Autistic employees’ passions lead to productivity. Because autistic individuals usually have intense, specific interests, the best jobs are those that allow them to be involved with those interests. An employee who is perfectly suited to a position because of a passion results in a win-win situation. He will love working in his area of extensive knowledge and be hyper-focused and productive.
Not only should employers be aware of autistic employees’ strengths, they should also learn about some of their challenges, and how to accommodate them for better productivity.
People with autism need clear instructions so they know exactly what is expected of them, along with detailed job descriptions they can refer to often. They are literal thinkers, so language like “Be ready to start working at 9” works better than “Don’t be late.” They are not less intelligent, but they process differently and are usually visual learners, so the clearer the instructions, the better.
As leaders, creating an environment where high-functioning autistic employees can thrive is more than demonstrating social responsibility and diversity. It also yields the business results that entrepreneurs need to not just survive, but thrive.
Excerpted from the book, Six-Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces, by Patty Pacelli. See more at www.autismfriendlyworkplace.com.