Enlarge this image Gerald Franklin, who was diagnosed with autism as a child, is now lead developer for a website that matches workers with prospective employers. Job-related videos, he says, can help people with special needs showcase their talent. Courtesy of Gerald Franklin hide caption toggle caption Courtesy of Gerald Franklin Gerald Franklin, who was diagnosed with autism as a child, is now lead developer for a website that matches workers with prospective employers.
Courtesy of Gerald Franklin As the population of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder keeps growing, so does the number of people with that diagnosis who aren't finding employment. Though many young adults on the spectrum are considered high functioning , recent research shows 40 percent don't find work — a higher jobless rate than people with other developmental disabilities experience.
Research scientist Anne Roux , of the A. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia, studies young adults with autism and was the lead author of that study. But social services aimed at helping children overcome early deficits in communication and problems with social skills become less available as those students get older.
An estimated 50, people on the spectrum enter adulthood every year. Face-to-face job interviews can be a challenge for many, Long says, and some engage in repetitive behaviors, which can seem odd to the uninitiated. But those idiosyncrasies sometimes mask hidden talents, she says — like intense focus, or a facility with numbers and patterns.
And I don't think that's something an average person would have been able to do. Michael Burry , the physician and hedge fund manager featured in the book and movie The Big Short — is in many ways exceptional, Long admits. Burry has a son with Asperger's syndrome and has said he believes he fits the diagnosis as well. They aren't yet putting a lot more people to work, but their recruiting and training programs are becoming models for other firms.
Take, for example, Bank of America's support center in Dallas, which prints, checks and sorts reams upon reams of paperwork regarding bank customers. The work involves, as manager Duke Roberson says, "a lot of paper handling. His workers with high-functioning autism, he says, tend to be aces at catching errors — and they enjoy the repetition.
Methodical tasks others might find monotonous, these workers find comforting. Turnover within Roberson's team is incredibly low, and performance, profitability and morale are good. The company Specialisterne USA helps people with autism find work as consultants "in information technology and other sectors with technically oriented tasks and jobs," its website says.
Executive Director Mark Grein says accommodating a worker with autism is often as simple as adjusting lighting to prevent overstimulation or permitting frequent breaks. Grein says he has successfully placed hundreds of workers and hopes to eventually reach a goal of , people.
Getting past the obstacles of a conventional job search, however, can be hard. Last year, Autism Speaks launched thespectrumcareers. Gerald Franklin, who is 24, is the website's lead developer. Among other helpful aids, he says, the site allows job seekers to post videos. He was diagnosed with autism at age 4 and says he has developed workarounds over the years for communicating with his team without long explanations. It gives him insight, he says, into creating tools that can help others.
Correction May 18,