Blog Post

Here’s What Some Companies are Doing to Attract and Retain Workers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Lisa Fraser
April 16, 2019

Autism Awareness Month is currently in full swing, starting with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and continuing strong throughout the month with a range of activities at organizations that aim to raise and increase awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

But beyond the month and the special days dedicated to appreciating those with the disorder, many on the spectrum remain unemployed or underemployed even though they can add value and contribute essential skillsets to a company including attention to detail, pattern recognition, information processing, and innovation, all skills essential to a business.

According to AutismSpeaks.org, nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job and more than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years after high school.

The organization says that this is a lower rate than that of young adults with other types of disabilities, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability or speech-language impairment.

The organization also reports that of the nearly 18,000 people with autism who used state-funded vocational rehabilitation programs in 2014, only 60 percent left the program with a job.

Of the college grads affected by autism, 85% are unemployed, according to Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, a nonprofit which connects employers to adults affected by autism.

But some companies are aiming to foster a more inclusive and neurodiverse workplace by creating strategies and programs that aim to attract and retain workers with autism spectrum disorder. And they are seeing successful returns on investing in these workers when it comes to productivity, innovation, and efficiency.

Here are companies that are avidly working to provide an inclusive workplace for employees on the autism spectrum.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program attracts and supports talented candidates on the autism spectrum throughout the interview and hiring process.

Company leaders recognized Individuals on the autism spectrum often have unique talents and abilities that they may not be able to express during the traditional interview process. To access this talent pool, the company leveraged the expertise of its internal team and worked with a number of partners.

Those partners included Specialisterne, PROVAIL (local community provider), the federal Vocational Rehabilitation program’s National Employment Team (NET) and Disability:IN to revise their interview process to be more inclusive to individuals on the spectrum.

In the new one-week working interview, candidates showcase their unique talents and meet hiring teams while learning about Microsoft as an employer of choice.

During the week they are on site, each candidate is supported by a job coach to help them connect with the workforce and prepare for the interview.

The company has had success hiring in technical roles such as; Software Engineer, Service Engineer, Build Engineer, Lab Engineer, Data Analyst or Data Scientist. The NET assisted in sourcing qualified candidates from across the country.

This is an excellent example of a private-public partnership that has resulted in the employment of over over 100 individuals on the spectrum that have been recruited from across the country.

For those candidates that are offered a position and become a Microsoft employee, the program also provides Autism in the Workplace training and multiple mentors to support the employee as they build their career at Microsoft.

Last year it joined the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, a coalition created in 2018 with a focus on helping companies improve their hiring approach for people affected by autism. The roundtable includes 16 organizations with strong autism hiring programs.

Microsoft also hosts an annual Autism at Work Summit which includes the various voices of neurodiversity, from the neurodiverse employees, to employers and support systems.

Accenture

Accenture’s U.S. Disability ERG created the Walk in My Shoes series. It has been an effective intervention to erase stigmas, raise awareness, and develop support networks across the company’s workforce.

The series has increased awareness on disability inclusion and covered a range of diverse topics including autism, autoimmune diseases, mental health, ADHD, and PTSD. With each story shared, there are lessons to be learned regarding how people with disabilities can best feel included. Most importantly, the series sends the message it is okay to talk about disabilities in the workplace and that there are processes in place to ensure Accenture employees can bring their authentic self to work.

The U.S. Disability ERG also developed and oversees the Autism Empowerment & Support
Group (AE&SG), which is committed to offering insight, resources, and support in a safe, comfortable, and open environment to empower parents and caretakers of children with autism. AE&SG members participate in monthly education calls to learn about new innovations in therapies, as well as a series called “Pulling My Hair Out,” which offers a platform for affected employees to vent, share stories and get support from one another. In recent years, membership in the support group has grown to nearly 400 employees across 12 countries.

Dell Technologies

The Dell Autism Hiring Program was launched with the intent to provide career readiness training and possible full time career opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Hiring Program is an opportunity to rethink the traditional interview process.

The process is designed through Dell’s partnership with Neurodiversity in the Workplace, and is intended to remove barriers that may limit an individual to fully showcase their true capabilities and potential.

There is a two-week skills assessment for intern selection, followed by a summer internship for the selected adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in areas ranging from supply chain to artificial intelligence.

The program was recognized as a FastCompany 2020 World Changing Idea.

EY

EY approaches autism spectrum disorder as a competitive advantage. In 2016, the firm recently implemented a program in Philadelphia to recruit employees with autism for accounting positions. They also set up a “Center of Excellence” with the specific focus on making the most of autistic employees’ particular strengths.

The program was a success when measuring work quality, efficiency, and productivity but it was also a success for the individuals involved. And the firm reported that the neurodiverse employees excelled at innovation.

Philadelphia was chosen as a pilot location for its proximity to universities with good STEM and autism-specific programs. EY hopes to expand the program to other cities soon.

Walgreens

In 2007, Walgreens opened a distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina staffed by nearly 40% disabled employees, many of them with autism spectrum disorder.

According to The Huffington Post, the facility turned out to be the company’s most productive distribution center. In a partnership with the Chicago area nonprofit, Have Dreams Academy, Walgreens also built a mock store in Evanston, Illinois as part of a workplace training program for individuals with ASD and other disabilities.

Walgreens also runs a program called “REDI,” which stands for Retail Employees with Disabilities. It is a three to four week, in-store retail and customer service skills training program.

Working with local agencies, they provide externs with training in specific skill areas and then evaluate each individual to place them appropriately.
The training covers Customer Service Associate (CSA) competencies, including how to unload trucks, stock shelves, run a cash register, etc.

REDI program graduates are welcome to apply for positions with Walgreens. According to the company, those who graduate REDI and attain an evaluation score of 3.0 or higher earn a “recommended for hire” designation, and can bypass the standard Hourly Selector assessment if applying for CSA roles at Walgreens, and will be able to apply for CSA positions nationwide.

Freddie Mac

In April 2020, Freddie Mac rolled out its rebranded autism hiring program, Neurodiversity at Work, which has evolved from an internship model to a full-time work model.

The program creates multiple employment opportunities for individuals with autism and offers resources for employees to engage with the program.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation has always made it a point to reach out to individuals with ASD. They see autistic traits as an asset and a positive for the company’s particular needs.

They partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2012 to create an Autism Internship Program designed to match their business needs with the unique capabilities of individuals with ASD.

The program allowed Freddie Mac to reach young adults with ASD who have college degrees in fields such as computer science, mathematics and finance.
It is geared to highly qualified individuals who have had a hard time finding or keeping work due to problems with social communication.

According to Freddie Mac’s website, their team works with a network of organizations to identify talented candidates and craft job descriptions for roles that maximize the benefit to the organization.

Meticulon

At Meticulon, hiring begins with a 90-minute interview with the company’s chief employment officer, according to Inc. Magazine. This serves to introduce the rest of the process. Next comes a day of testing with six computerized quizzes gauging everything from logic to visual language.

Garth Johnson, who helped start iStockphoto, created this hiring procedure after realizing that typical hiring procedures put autistic job seekers at a disadvantage. This process trains and employs people on the spectrum in software testing, database management, and online quality control.

Johnson told Inc. Magazine that if each potential employee gets at least average (the test is scored against the neurotypical populace) they move on to the three-week assessment process, while noting that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder usually score one standard deviation above the norm.

The assessment puts interviewees through 50 different exercises. One is an 11″x17″ Where’s Waldo? puzzle; they must find Waldo as well as numerous other objects. Another exercise, a mock menu-building task, tests information management by requiring them to account for people’s allergies. Another tests for socialization skills by having them navigate a supermarket.

According to Inc., applicants are teamed and then asked to follow written instructions on how to build a circuit. This task provides Johnson and the team information on the applicants’ hand-eye coordination, ability to respond to instructions, as well as interaction and cooperation abilities.

The scores are aggregated on a grid, which the assessors then use to create what Johnson calls “a mind map of technical and personal skills,” highlighting strengths and weaknesses. He told Inc. that the results are given to each applicant, even those who decide they don’t like testing.

JPMorgan Chase

Since rolling out their Autism at Work initiative in 2015, a program focused on hiring employees with autism, the firm has experienced success in hiring individuals with ASD.
According to JPMorgan Chase, the program began as a four-person pilot. Since then, it’s grown to 85 people in 20-plus roles representing 10 lines of business in six countries. The firm anticipates hiring hundreds more across the globe in the coming years.

Through partnerships with organizations that have experience working with individuals with ASD, the company is learning to look beyond the traditional interview process to find highly qualified employees.
Senior leaders across the firm identify roles that would benefit from the talents of ASD adults and ensure that an inclusive work environment is created for these employees to thrive. Managers are trained on how to work with individuals with ASD.

Six months into the pilot program, the results spoke of success. According to JPMorgan Chase, compared to peers, the Autism at Work employees were 48 percent faster and as much as 92 percent more productive.

According to Fortune, jobs like personal bankers and problem-resolution specialists are filled by individuals with ASD in addition to tech-related roles such as software engineering and code writing.

James Mahoney, executive director and head of Autism at Work, noted on Chase’s website that the company’s aspiration is to get 300 people into the program by 2020.

SAP

SAP’s Autism at Work program focuses on hiring employees that are on the autism spectrum.

Started in 2013, it was one of the first of its kind to place an intentional emphasis on hiring candidates that are differently abled.

Through this program, SAP has been able to incorporate employees on the spectrum into the organization, and it has been a huge success.

The program has a 90 percent retention rate of hires on the autism spectrum because it creates a system of support around those employees.

Mentors are there as a resource when needed, and program members can connect and share their experiences with each other.

Autism Awareness Month is currently in full swing, starting with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and continuing strong throughout the month with a range of activities at organizations that aim to raise and increase awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

But beyond the month and the special days dedicated to appreciating those with the disorder, many on the spectrum remain unemployed or underemployed even though they can add value and contribute essential skillsets to a company including attention to detail, pattern recognition, information processing, and innovation, all skills essential to a business.

According to AutismSpeaks.org, nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job and more than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years after high school.

The organization says that this is a lower rate than that of young adults with other types of disabilities, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability or speech-language impairment.

The organization also reports that of the nearly 18,000 people with autism who used state-funded vocational rehabilitation programs in 2014, only 60 percent left the program with a job.

Of the college grads affected by autism, 85% are unemployed, according to Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, a nonprofit which connects employers to adults affected by autism.

But some companies are aiming to foster a more inclusive and neurodiverse workplace by creating strategies and programs that aim to attract and retain workers with autism spectrum disorder. And they are seeing successful returns on investing in these workers when it comes to productivity, innovation, and efficiency.

Here are companies that are avidly working to provide an inclusive workplace for employees on the autism spectrum.

Microsoft

Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program attracts and supports talented candidates on the autism spectrum throughout the interview and hiring process.

Company leaders recognized Individuals on the autism spectrum often have unique talents and abilities that they may not be able to express during the traditional interview process. To access this talent pool, the company leveraged the expertise of its internal team and worked with a number of partners.

Those partners included Specialisterne, PROVAIL (local community provider), the federal Vocational Rehabilitation program’s National Employment Team (NET) and Disability:IN to revise their interview process to be more inclusive to individuals on the spectrum.

In the new one-week working interview, candidates showcase their unique talents and meet hiring teams while learning about Microsoft as an employer of choice.

During the week they are on site, each candidate is supported by a job coach to help them connect with the workforce and prepare for the interview.

The company has had success hiring in technical roles such as; Software Engineer, Service Engineer, Build Engineer, Lab Engineer, Data Analyst or Data Scientist. The NET assisted in sourcing qualified candidates from across the country.

This is an excellent example of a private-public partnership that has resulted in the employment of over over 100 individuals on the spectrum that have been recruited from across the country.

For those candidates that are offered a position and become a Microsoft employee, the program also provides Autism in the Workplace training and multiple mentors to support the employee as they build their career at Microsoft.

Last year it joined the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, a coalition created in 2018 with a focus on helping companies improve their hiring approach for people affected by autism. The roundtable includes 16 organizations with strong autism hiring programs.

Microsoft also hosts an annual Autism at Work Summit which includes the various voices of neurodiversity, from the neurodiverse employees, to employers and support systems.

Accenture

Accenture’s U.S. Disability ERG created the Walk in My Shoes series. It has been an effective intervention to erase stigmas, raise awareness, and develop support networks across the company’s workforce.

The series has increased awareness on disability inclusion and covered a range of diverse topics including autism, autoimmune diseases, mental health, ADHD, and PTSD. With each story shared, there are lessons to be learned regarding how people with disabilities can best feel included. Most importantly, the series sends the message it is okay to talk about disabilities in the workplace and that there are processes in place to ensure Accenture employees can bring their authentic self to work.

The U.S. Disability ERG also developed and oversees the Autism Empowerment & Support
Group (AE&SG), which is committed to offering insight, resources, and support in a safe, comfortable, and open environment to empower parents and caretakers of children with autism. AE&SG members participate in monthly education calls to learn about new innovations in therapies, as well as a series called “Pulling My Hair Out,” which offers a platform for affected employees to vent, share stories and get support from one another. In recent years, membership in the support group has grown to nearly 400 employees across 12 countries.

Dell Technologies

The Dell Autism Hiring Program was launched with the intent to provide career readiness training and possible full time career opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Hiring Program is an opportunity to rethink the traditional interview process.

The process is designed through Dell’s partnership with Neurodiversity in the Workplace, and is intended to remove barriers that may limit an individual to fully showcase their true capabilities and potential.

There is a two-week skills assessment for intern selection, followed by a summer internship for the selected adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in areas ranging from supply chain to artificial intelligence.

The program was recognized as a FastCompany 2020 World Changing Idea.

EY

EY approaches autism spectrum disorder as a competitive advantage. In 2016, the firm recently implemented a program in Philadelphia to recruit employees with autism for accounting positions. They also set up a “Center of Excellence” with the specific focus on making the most of autistic employees’ particular strengths.

The program was a success when measuring work quality, efficiency, and productivity but it was also a success for the individuals involved. And the firm reported that the neurodiverse employees excelled at innovation.

Philadelphia was chosen as a pilot location for its proximity to universities with good STEM and autism-specific programs. EY hopes to expand the program to other cities soon.

Walgreens

In 2007, Walgreens opened a distribution center in Anderson, South Carolina staffed by nearly 40% disabled employees, many of them with autism spectrum disorder.

According to The Huffington Post, the facility turned out to be the company’s most productive distribution center. In a partnership with the Chicago area nonprofit, Have Dreams Academy, Walgreens also built a mock store in Evanston, Illinois as part of a workplace training program for individuals with ASD and other disabilities.

Walgreens also runs a program called “REDI,” which stands for Retail Employees with Disabilities. It is a three to four week, in-store retail and customer service skills training program.

Working with local agencies, they provide externs with training in specific skill areas and then evaluate each individual to place them appropriately.
The training covers Customer Service Associate (CSA) competencies, including how to unload trucks, stock shelves, run a cash register, etc.

REDI program graduates are welcome to apply for positions with Walgreens. According to the company, those who graduate REDI and attain an evaluation score of 3.0 or higher earn a “recommended for hire” designation, and can bypass the standard Hourly Selector assessment if applying for CSA roles at Walgreens, and will be able to apply for CSA positions nationwide.

Freddie Mac

In April 2020, Freddie Mac rolled out its rebranded autism hiring program, Neurodiversity at Work, which has evolved from an internship model to a full-time work model.

The program creates multiple employment opportunities for individuals with autism and offers resources for employees to engage with the program.

The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation has always made it a point to reach out to individuals with ASD. They see autistic traits as an asset and a positive for the company’s particular needs.

They partnered with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2012 to create an Autism Internship Program designed to match their business needs with the unique capabilities of individuals with ASD.

The program allowed Freddie Mac to reach young adults with ASD who have college degrees in fields such as computer science, mathematics and finance.
It is geared to highly qualified individuals who have had a hard time finding or keeping work due to problems with social communication.

According to Freddie Mac’s website, their team works with a network of organizations to identify talented candidates and craft job descriptions for roles that maximize the benefit to the organization.

Meticulon

At Meticulon, hiring begins with a 90-minute interview with the company’s chief employment officer, according to Inc. Magazine. This serves to introduce the rest of the process. Next comes a day of testing with six computerized quizzes gauging everything from logic to visual language.

Garth Johnson, who helped start iStockphoto, created this hiring procedure after realizing that typical hiring procedures put autistic job seekers at a disadvantage. This process trains and employs people on the spectrum in software testing, database management, and online quality control.

Johnson told Inc. Magazine that if each potential employee gets at least average (the test is scored against the neurotypical populace) they move on to the three-week assessment process, while noting that those with Autism Spectrum Disorder usually score one standard deviation above the norm.

The assessment puts interviewees through 50 different exercises. One is an 11″x17″ Where’s Waldo? puzzle; they must find Waldo as well as numerous other objects. Another exercise, a mock menu-building task, tests information management by requiring them to account for people’s allergies. Another tests for socialization skills by having them navigate a supermarket.

According to Inc., applicants are teamed and then asked to follow written instructions on how to build a circuit. This task provides Johnson and the team information on the applicants’ hand-eye coordination, ability to respond to instructions, as well as interaction and cooperation abilities.

The scores are aggregated on a grid, which the assessors then use to create what Johnson calls “a mind map of technical and personal skills,” highlighting strengths and weaknesses. He told Inc. that the results are given to each applicant, even those who decide they don’t like testing.

JPMorgan Chase

Since rolling out their Autism at Work initiative in 2015, a program focused on hiring employees with autism, the firm has experienced success in hiring individuals with ASD.
According to JPMorgan Chase, the program began as a four-person pilot. Since then, it’s grown to 85 people in 20-plus roles representing 10 lines of business in six countries. The firm anticipates hiring hundreds more across the globe in the coming years.

Through partnerships with organizations that have experience working with individuals with ASD, the company is learning to look beyond the traditional interview process to find highly qualified employees.
Senior leaders across the firm identify roles that would benefit from the talents of ASD adults and ensure that an inclusive work environment is created for these employees to thrive. Managers are trained on how to work with individuals with ASD.

Six months into the pilot program, the results spoke of success. According to JPMorgan Chase, compared to peers, the Autism at Work employees were 48 percent faster and as much as 92 percent more productive.

According to Fortune, jobs like personal bankers and problem-resolution specialists are filled by individuals with ASD in addition to tech-related roles such as software engineering and code writing.

James Mahoney, executive director and head of Autism at Work, noted on Chase’s website that the company’s aspiration is to get 300 people into the program by 2020.

SAP

SAP’s Autism at Work program focuses on hiring employees that are on the autism spectrum.

Started in 2013, it was one of the first of its kind to place an intentional emphasis on hiring candidates that are differently abled.

Through this program, SAP has been able to incorporate employees on the spectrum into the organization, and it has been a huge success.

The program has a 90 percent retention rate of hires on the autism spectrum because it creates a system of support around those employees.

Mentors are there as a resource when needed, and program members can connect and share their experiences with each other.

About the Authors

Lisa Fraser