For many adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), networking with potential employers and finding gainful employment can be a challenge. Roughly 60-80% of the adults with ASD in Arizona are currently unemployed. To address this growing concern, the Department of Economic Security (DES) collaborates with key community partners to host customized Autism Job Fairs to educate and connect adult job seekers with ASD to viable and fulfilling employment in their communities.
Before networking at the Autism Job Fairs begins, Dr. James B. Adams of the ASU Autism/Asperger’s Research Program, offers two enlightening workshops: one tailored to teach job seekers with ASD soft skills required to land and keep a job, and the other directed to the employers to help them understand what to expect when interviewing and employing an adult with autism.
Adams explains that employment can provide an adult with ASD purpose, income, health benefits and a much needed and well-deserved sense of independence, increased self-esteem and social life. Adams adds that adults with ASD can be ideal employees because they generally have a very strong work ethic and attention to detail, are trustworthy, have low-absenteeism, are willing to do highly-repetitive tasks, and offer a different perspective that can be beneficial to companies.
However, Adams points out that since likability plays such a major role in the traditional job interview process, adults with ASD can appear aloof, making it difficult for them to progress past the initial meeting. Instead, Adams suggests employers focus on the candidate’s strengths. He says an adult with ASD may require extra time to learn and accommodations for sensory and/or medical issues, which can be calmed with an extra daily break, limited hours, or a quiet workspace.
He recommends that employers allow candidates with ASD a trial run to ensure that the job and work setting will be an appropriate fit for the individual. Once employed, Adams recommends that the company assign a “worksite peer mentor” to spend 5-10% of their time assisting the employee who has ASD with things like recommending breaks when he or she appears to be dealing with unusual levels of anxiety or distress.
Sarah Najera, an employer from Synchrony Financial, says that her company takes pride in inclusiveness, which is why they make an effort to hire Arizonans with disabilities like ASD. Najera says that she and her peers went through “fear and stigma training” to help their growing company accommodate their diverse staff, adding that they find their staff who have disabilities make great employees because of their solid “work ethic and loyalty.”
The DES Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program supports job seekers with disabilities, including ASD, to reach their employment goals. Job seekers with mental or physical impairments (including mental illness and learning disabilities) may qualify for VR assistance. To learn more about the VR services available to job seekers though, please visit our VR webpage. For more information about DES employment programs for individuals with disabilities, please visit our Rehabilitation Services Administration webpage.