Autistic people are attractive employees

On Autism Acceptance Day, many employers are becoming increasingly aware of the positives of autistic employees. Not all autistic people have extraordinary mathematical abilities, but other skills come in handy.

Autism is a neurological difference that affects as many as one percent of people. Although the first image that may come to mind is of Rain Man, the film based on a savant with extraordinary mathematical abilities, most autistic people do not have superpowers. But businesses are realizing that they have traits that can make them fantastic employees.

The British charity Autistica says that autistic employees will often be loyal and provide alternative insights. "There is a lot of untapped talent that is often filtered out by more traditional approaches to recruiting, showcasing people on the autism spectrum's weaknesses more than their positives," a spokesperson said.

The software giant SAP has been running the "Autism at Work" program for six years, employing 150 autistic workers in twelve countries. This has in turn spurred  Microsoft and HPE to launch autism inclusion programs. 

Positive traits

Loyalty is a theme that term that often comes up to describe autistic workers. The recruitment company ERE, which organized SAP's program, said "new colleagues are arriving at SAP displaying resilience, loyalty, dedication, and a burning desire to work and contribute to the company."

SAP pioneered an Autism in Work programme

"We are able to capture the inherent abilities that are often associated with people on the autism spectrum, including visual learning skills like the ability to recognize patterns, and attention to detail — the ability to spot deviations in data, information, and systems.

These employees frequently have high diligence and low tolerance for mistakes, as well as a strong affinity with predictable, structured, process-oriented environments that results in strong process optimization capabilities."

They can also have analytical abilities or a burning focus on a topic. Brenda said "when we work in a field that has to do with our special interests, we are more likely to be really into it, focus on it and be passionate about it."

Ophelia Hyndes agrees, saying If you hire an autistic person to do what they love ("special interest") they will be your best subject matter expert.

Hans Asperger, an early researcher into Autism

Because autism is a spectrum neurological difference, each autistic person experiences it differently. Many might be surprised that activist Greta Thunberg, who has inspired over a million students to take to the streets, is autistic. She describes it as a "gift," giving her the ability to "see the world from a different perspective." 

Alongside Greta, Anthony Hopkins and Courtney Love were also diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Other autistic people also described their strengths in unexpected ways.

Related Subjects

Read More: Autism doctor Hans Asperger collaborated with the Nazis, claims historian

Researcher Maria told DW "my emotional empathy set my interviewees at ease and I could sense and read body language on discomfort so I gained much more data" and had a retention rate of 90 percent against an average of 60 percent.

Downsides

While autistic employees can bring many strengths to a team, there are also special challenges that make some working environments more difficult for them. Despite excellent results, researcher Maria struggled with "pointless tick-box exercises," internal politics, lack of clarity, and verbal instructions with no visual demonstration.

She also cited workplace bullying as a significant challenge, as did other autistic workers who spoke to DW. Charlotte, a customer service worker, was targeted by a colleague, but felt unable to express her emotions to her manager. In addition to this, excessive noise levels made her anxious.

Read more: When being different comes in handy 

Founder of Auticon Dirk Müller-Remus

Because of their neurodivergencies, autistic employees may need special adjustments, and may have challenges with social interactions. Linklaters Partners, a lawfirm which has worked with autistic recruitment consultancy Auticon, was however clear that "any adjustments we need to make to accommodate the needs of their consultants are far outweighed by the extraordinary abilities and skills they bring to the firm."

Auticon was set up in Germany by Dirk Müller-Remus after his son was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. They have offices in five cities in Germany, and further offices in London and Paris, with over 200 autistic workers in STEM fields.

Tobias Altrock, an IT consultant at Auticon

Most of their employees were unemployed for long periods of time, an average of three years, before finding work with Auticon. A consultant of theirs, Lars, said that "I have never felt so secure and supported. My working conditions enable me to thrive, and I even have a job coach who visits me at work and liaises with the client about concerns or questions regarding me and my position as a consultant."

If more companies follow this example, it is clear that this would be progress not just for autistic people, who have a high unemployment rate, but also companies which suffer from skills shortages.

Autism Pride Day

Albert Einstein

The physicist and maths genius was thought to have Asperger's Syndrome, a type of autism. People with Asperger's often focus obsessively on a complex topic and have trouble with social relationships. According to the BBC, Einstein was a loner as a child and repeated sentences obsessively. He was also very well versed in a highly complex topic - Einstein famously developed the theory of relativity.

Autism Pride Day

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The wunderkind's gifts to learn instruments incredibly quickly, compose music by the age of five and hear melodies while writing them have some experts believe Mozart was autistic. Supporters of this theory also point to Mozart's oversensitive hearing and his need to constantly move his hands and feet. Other researchers, however, say there isn't sufficient evidence for this theory.

Autism Pride Day

Temple Grandin

She only started speaking at age four, but went on to become a sought-after expert for humane livestock handling: Temple Grandin uses her detailed visual memory and her own hypersensitivity to noise to better understand cattle and other animals. This has allowed her to develop thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment. Grandin has also given many lectures about living with autism.

Autism Pride Day

Dan Aykroyd

The Canadian actor famous for his starring roles in movies like "The Blues Brothers" revealed in 2013 that he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in the 1980s. Aykroyd credited his Asperger's with being responsible for "Ghostbusters," his biggest hit: "One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement," he told the Daily Mail.

Autism Pride Day

Kim Peek

You may never have heard the name Kim Peek, but you're likely to know the movie he inspired: "Rain Man." The 1980s classic deals with the complicated relationship between Charlie Babbitt and his autistic brother Raymond, modeled after Peek and played by Dustin Hoffman. Peek, who died in 2009, was a so-called savant. He could recall the contents of more than 12,000 books.

Autism Pride Day

Andy Warhol

A soup can repeated over and over again on a canvas - one of Warhol's most famous paintings could be a sign that the artist was autistic. 'I would say, from the study I have seen, that Warhol almost certainly had Asperger's syndrome,' autism expert Judith Gould said. She pointed to his reluctance to speak too many words and his obsession with the uniformity of consumer goods as further clues.

Autism Pride Day

Sheldon Cooper

Jim Parsons plays physicist Dr. Sheldon Cooper in "The Big Bang Theory," one of the most-watched sitcoms in the US. It's never stated that Sheldon is on the autism spectrum, but Parsons said he believed Sheldon has Asperger's, and many fans agree. Sheldon is a genius in his field, but doesn't understand sarcasm. He has a strict weekly dining plan and can only sit in one specific spot on his couch.


Related content