Autism and The Job Market

Decorative ImageThis blog was originally posted on the Autism Western site.

Written by: Sophia Trozzo

Graphic by: Adobe Stock

Regardless of who you are, the prospect of job-searching is daunting. From resume editing to interviews, the entire process is lengthy and nerve-wracking for most. However, individuals may be at a clear disadvantage purely due to the ableist practices embedded in the job searching and hiring process. In Canada, only 33% of autistic individuals who are between 20-64 years of age are employed (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2020). When we compare this to the 79% of neurotypical individuals between the ages of 20-64 employed, a clear discrepancy is realized (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2020).

Autism is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder that changes the way an individual communicates with the world around them (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2020). Diversity in talents and perspectives propel growth and development in virtually all sectors of work around the globe. Yet, our current hiring process makes it difficult if not impossible for most autistic individuals to showcase their strengths on an equitable scale in relation to neurotypical applicants.

A recent study asked autistic individuals about their job hiring experiences (Whelpley et al., 2020). The study found that one of the most prevalent issues with the interview process for autistic individuals is how quickly perceptions change after an individual discloses their diagnosis (Whelpley et al., 2020). Upon disclosure, autistic individuals noted that the focus of the job interview often shifted from discussing their relevant skills and experience to specifics about how autism would affect job performance (Whelpley et al., 2020). This demonstrates the harmful stereotypes and stigmas that are often associated with autism, which often prevent autistic individuals from being hired. Instead of contributing to a narrative that is untrue, managers need to familiarize themselves with the realities of autism. Another prevalent theme that the research highlighted was the overwhelming anxiety that autistic individuals may face throughout the hiring process (Whelpley et al., 2020). In particular, group interviews and interview waiting times are anxiety-inducing for many autistic individuals (Whelpley et al., 2020). It is extremely important for people who have preconceived notions regarding autism to listen to the experiences of autistic individuals themselves. Giving autistic individuals the spotlight to highlight the issues with our current system enables us to move forward and implement accessible hiring practices to equitize the system for everyone.

Society needs to realize that implementing accessibility measures is not a “burden” or “extra precaution”, but rather a practice that should become routine to give every individual an equal chance at being employed. Unfortunately, too many businesses still view accessibility as a hindrance. However, there are examples of some employers and groups across Canada that are beginning to open their eyes to the need for accessible hiring practices. The Enabling Accessibility Fund is available by the Canadian government to support projects related to making workplaces more accessible (Government of Canada, 2020). These projects involve eliminating physical accessibility barriers, as well as providing services to support accessible workplaces (Government of Canada, 2020). Specialisterne Canada is an association dedicated to working with autistic individuals and businesses to create accessible job opportunities. In one case, an autistic individual was hired at CIBC through this program and now thrives as an employee (Specialisterne Canada, 2013). Specialisterne Canada advocated for this individual to receive an accessible interview and hiring process, hence allowing CIBC to focus on his skills and abilities rather than his disability (Specialisterne Canada, 2013). Programs like these enable the true talents of autistic individuals to be showcased in an equitable fashion. In order to move forward, accessible hiring needs to become a routine practice to give all autistic individuals an opportunity to thrive.

Work Cited: 

Canada, Employment and Social Development. "Government of Canada." / Gouvernement Du Canada, 19 Nov. 2020. Web. 04 Feb. 2021.

Canada, Public Health Agency of. "Government of Canada." Infographic: Autism Spectrum Disorder Highlights from the Canadian Survey on Disability - / Gouvernement Du Canada, 06 May 2020. Web. 04 Feb. 2021.

"CIBC." Specialisterne Danmark. Web. 04 Feb. 2021.

Whelpley, C.E., Banks, G.C., Bochantin, J.E., Sandoval, R. "Tensions on the Spectrum: An Inductive Investigation of Employee and Manager Experiences of Autism." Journal of Business and Psychology. Springer US, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 04 Feb. 2021.

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