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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Neurodivergent Workers and Businesses Thrive Together with the Right Support

An employee working on a computer — Auticon

(Image courtesy of Auticon.)

An oft-cited statistic claims that only 15 percent of autistic adults in the U.S. are employed full time. But there are caveats that could very well be affecting the data, such as high levels of missed and misdiagnoses among people assigned female at birth and people of color. And the 85 percent unemployment rate only applies to those who are college educated. In fact, a 2017 study showed much higher rates of employment — nearly half of autistic adults reported working.

Unemployment isn’t the only issue either. Autistic workers also face underemployment, with many who are college-educated working minimum-wage jobs, often part time. Likewise, workers with ADHD face high rates of unemployment and termination, as well as lower annual earnings. Unemployment and underemployment are elevated across the neurodivergent spectrum. 

Yet neurodivergent workers often outperform their neurotypical peers when they’re properly matched to jobs that make the most of their talents and are empowered through the right accommodations and management style. A neurodivergent recruitment program run by JPMorgan Chase reported perfect accuracy among new hires in specific tech roles and up to 140 percent higher productivity than more experienced workers.

How Auticon is making a difference 

TriplePundit spoke with Vance Checketts, the CEO of the consulting company Auticon, about how to create an environment where neurodivergent workers can realize their potential and feel fulfilled in their employment. Auticon is the largest autistic-majority employer worldwide, exclusively employing autistic adults as tech consultants for businesses like Nationwide and Health Catalyst. It also offers consulting services to companies that want to expand their neurodivergent workforce.

“Eighty percent of these people were on the sidelines, working in jobs that were far below their abilities, or not working at all because they didn't have the support they needed,” Checketts said of neurodivergent employees who found their niche with employers that actively pursue inclusivity and accommodation. “Not only are you having social impact providing jobs for people, but you're providing jobs to people that didn't have the same type of job before. And they are so committed, and so excited, and so loyal, assuming that they have the support that they need. So we get tremendous satisfaction and employee satisfaction.”

For Auticon’s neurodiverse team specifically, 84 percent reported loving their jobs and 78 percent credit their employment with enhancing their overall well-being, he said. That’s a huge win for a population that was sidelined for far too long. The numbers beat U.S. averages, in which only 51 percent of workers say they are highly satisfied in their jobs.

Vance Checketts, CEO of Auticon.
Vance Checketts, CEO of Auticon. (Image courtesy of Auticon.) 

Creating a neuroinclusive workplace

“One of the biggest challenges happens when people just think about recruiting, and they don't think about what happens after recruiting,” Checketts said. “It’s putting the cart before the horse to say, ‘We're going to come up with a neuroinclusive recruiting process,’ if you don’t have a neuroinclusive environment for those people to go into. You will lose them at a high, high rate.”

He encourages companies to focus on making the workplace neuroinclusive first. The most impactful and efficient way to do so is through job coaches, he said. Coaches work with the employee and their manager to ensure that the proper supports are in place for that particular worker’s needs. 

“The supervisor or manager can be a really important resource for the autistic individual,” he said, adding that rigor and flexibility are integral to managing a neurodiverse workforce. “Rigor in terms of just being clear ...  but flexible enough to know that if you need to switch off your camera, that's okay … [If] you need to request to reschedule that's okay.” 

Common accommodations for autistic and neurodiverse employees generally include schedule versatility, the flexibility to not be expected in the office every day, communicating changes in advance, providing communications in a variety of mediums, and allowing for sensory accommodations in office and in online meetings — such as having the camera off, Checketts said. Autistic team members are highly committed and perform rigorous work, so it’s important to understand that changes can derail some people, he said. They need to be given the time to get back on track, but they will also make up for it and return dedicated to getting the work done. Auticon also offers a free employer guide on creating a neuroinclusive work environment.

“All you have to do is ask,” Checketts said. “And you don't have to ask someone, ‘Are you autistic?’ You just have to say ‘How can I better support you? How can we play to the strengths that are going to get the most out of your brain?’ We're not asking anyone to disclose. We're just asking them how we can better support them.”

Improving corporate outcomes

Creating a neuroinclusive environment doesn’t just benefit neurodivergent workers, it impacts the entire workplace. Seventy-three percent of Auticon clients reported an improvement in their team’s culture, Checketts said. Clearer communication, increased empathy and stronger teamwork were all evident. Improved retention, lower rates of attrition, and increased productivity were also mentioned as benefits for employers.

Part of this is because the benefits of implementing neuroinclusive policies aren’t exclusive to the new workers, 20 percent of existing employees report that they benefit from the same accommodations. When it comes to tech, that number goes up to between 25 and 30 percent. 

“Twenty percent of existing teams are neurodivergent,” Checketts said. “Companies who ignore neurodiversity or neurodivergence are ignoring 20 percent of their workforce. And that 20 percent then becomes vulnerable to attrition, to high turnover and a lack of productivity.”

Neuroinclusive policies can also help businesses meet their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals. By focusing on neurodiversity and neurodivergence companies are going to end up recruiting people of every race, nationality, sexuality, and gender expression without the risk of the backlash that has plagued the programs as of late, Checketts said. Neurodiversity is safe from backlash because everyone has a brain, some people’s brains just work differently than others, he said. 

Non-inclusive companies face missed opportunities

“We don’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh poor autistic people, we need to give them a job,’” Checketts said. “No. These are amazing autistic people whose abilities are totally on par and, in some cases, maybe spike above existing teams.” 

By ignoring neuroinclusivity and failing to create an environment conducive to a variety of neuro-types, businesses risk missing out on a pool of talent with a lot to offer. From pattern recognition to the ability to hyperfocus and an altogether different way of seeing problems and solutions, neurodivergent workers are a valuable asset. By making an effort to include them, businesses can fill gaps they might not even be aware of. 

Being the largest autistic-majority employer is bittersweet for Auticon, Checketts said. While he’s proud of the company’s business model, it is a comparatively small company to hold such an honor with just 600 employees. He would rather see a much larger employer take over the title. 

“We're growing, and we're going to work to [increase our autistic workforce],” he said. “But … we don't want to be the largest autistic-majority company in the world. We want the largest companies in the world to be the largest autistic-majority companies because they are destinations for neurodivergent talent.”

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of Baja California Sur, México. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.

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