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Autism in the Workplace (March 2023): Academic Resources for Researchers

By Gundars Kaupins

Academic Resources for Researchers

Several of the research-oriented books in this section discuss autism in general but have at least one chapter formally discussing autism in the workplace. These books provide scientifically based results, which often compare neurotypical individuals to those on the autism spectrum. They also cover the success of autism programs and make suggestions for best practices. Though the target market for these books is mostly researchers, autism-related counselors, business managers, and nonprofit leaders can take advantage of the key takeaways in the summaries of each section or chapter.

In The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome Tony Attwood discusses characteristics and experiences of individuals with autism in the workplace, including teasing and bullying, high focus on special interests, lack of physical coordination, and excessive sensitivity to flickering lights and outside noises. A chapter on careers focuses on the research related to finding jobs: help to complete job applications and résumés, interview skills, and self-assessments. Individuals on the spectrum may have many positive employment qualities--reliability, persistence, attention to detail, honesty, logic, and advanced knowledge—but challenges they face include lower teamwork skills, difficulties coping with change and asking for help, sensitivity to lights and sounds, personal grooming, and overqualification.

Asperger Syndrome: Assessing and Treating High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders, edited by James McPartland, Ami Klin, and Fred Volkmar, is one of the most comprehensive research resources on autism. Regarding the workplace, it has a chapter on the transition from adolescence to adulthood, emphasizing the development of coordinated care systems to support those on the spectrum. Career-centered planning in high schools, self-help support groups, and individual therapy with trained counselors—such as psychologists, social workers, and career experts—can help. Cognitive behavior therapy is often used to help people manage challenges by limiting unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving. The book also covers neurological characteristics, behavioral therapy, psychopharmacological treatments, social brain function, genetics, communication problems, adolescence, and the transition to higher education.

New research examines the career resources and strategies for the 1.5 million individuals on the spectrum in Generation A (those born in the mid-2010s and 2020s. Generation A: Research on Autism in the Workplace, edited by Cristina Giannantonio and Amy Hurley-Hanson, covers recommended jobs for individuals with high-functioning autism to enhance person-job fit, workforce development, and successful and failed pre-employment transition programs.

An earlier but related book is Amy Hurley-Hanson, Cristina Giannantonio, and Amy Jane Griffiths’s Autism in the Workplace: Creating Positive Employment and Career Outcomes for Generation A. It provides articles on the stigma and costs of autism and the career experiences of those on the spectrum. In an important section, researchers show the problems in the transition between school and employment and how universities and employers can make it easier. The final section gives the nuts and bolts of hiring, highlighting corporate autism initiatives—as well as showing a model initiative—and reasons to hire those on the spectrum. Almost all chapters have a literature review of the latest empirical research.

Mentioned above, Baron-Cohen’s readable research-related book, The Pattern Seekers, describes how individuals on the autism spectrum are often excellent at finding if-then patterns. If-then experimentation is useful in the workplace to invent new products and processes. Thomas Edison, who is speculated to have been on the spectrum, went through ten-thousand loops of checking if-then patterns to invent the light bulb. This sort of experimentation can require extreme work hours, which individuals with autism tend to tolerate well.

In Employment of Persons with Autism, Matthew Bennett and Emma Goodall provide a literature review of six topics: the differences between employees on and not on the spectrum, views of employers about those on the spectrum, employment experiences of employees on the spectrum, strategies to help people on the spectrum get jobs, and miscellaneous topics, such as bullying and employment termination. They also address the success and failure of specific autism-related programs, such as Community Works. Though the book is targeted toward researchers, it also would be beneficial to those on the spectrum, employees, and mental health professionals.

Some research-focused books about disabilities in the workplace have few chapters on autism, sometimes only one chapter. For example, International Perspectives on Teaching with Disability, edited by Michael Jeffress, has a chapter on the decision to reveal one’s autism. Doing so is usually a good idea, because it enables autistic employees to receive reasonable accommodations and enhances transparency. Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Interest, Issues, and Opportunities, edited by Susanne Bruyère and Adrienne Colella, also includes a revealing autism chapter. This book emphasizes human resource management, including workplace accommodations, performance management, applicant screening, interviewing, selection, leadership theories, and the legal environment.