There are an estimated 3.5 million Americans on the autism spectrum, a number that continues to grow. An estimated 50,000 people on the spectrum enter adulthood – and the potential workforce – each year.
Though many on the spectrum are considered high functioning, recent research finds that 40 percent of young autistic adults are unable to find employment. Across all ages, the number is even more staggering – with some research showing that upwards of 80 percent of those who fall on the spectrum are unemployed, despite the majority wanting employment.
Notwithstanding the number of people affected, there is scant research on autism in adults, with the vast majority of research on autism being on children. Researchers are just beginning to look into how people with autism fare once they reach adulthood, and politicians and employers are starting to consider how to better include adults on the spectrum in the workplace.
Those on the Spectrum Can Be Great Assets to the Workforce
The dismal employment rate of those on the spectrum belies the strengths they can bring to the workplace. Brenda Weitzberg, founder of Aspiritech, an organization started by parents of an autistic child that tests software for quality assurance, stated “The strength[s] of autism such as attention to detail, the ability to focus for long periods of time, technology skills, strong visual perception, all those fit beautifully within the task of software testing.” She continued, “Can we afford to waste that talent?”
Leslie Long, vice president of adult services for the advocacy group Autism Speaks, noted that sometimes idiosyncrasies can mask hidden talents, such as intense focus, or ease with numbers or patterns. “I mean, look at what happened with the housing bubble and the
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