(Photo by Flickr user ***Karen, used via a Creative Commons license)
According to a 2017 report from Drexel’s Autism Institute, only 14 percent of adults with autism who receive state developmental disabilities services hold paid jobs in their communities.
But when companies like Newtown Square’s SAP pledge to hire more people with autism, a program created in partnership with Arc of Philadelphia called Neurodiversity in the Workplace (NITW) is there to help them out.
Executive Director Joseph Riddle said the program has placed 29 people with intellectual disabilities into full-time employment positions with seven different employers, including SAP and other tech companies.
Riddle said the program is not exclusive to the tech sector. It’s just happens to be a great fit for a lot of the folks who find jobs through NITW’s program.
“They’re great computer programmers, software testers,” he said. “They’re able to really excel at these things. People have developed these skills almost in isolation from the typical working world and are able to demonstrate them extremely well with just a little bit of guidance.”
NITW offers guidance to both talent and employers, doing consulting for tech companies outside of SAP, such as Dell, in addition to the hands-on work the program is doing with people with intellectual disabilities.
“Our whole strategy is to help people get past the interview,” said Riddle. “We’re trying to allow people to be hired based on their skills and abilities rather than how they perform in an interview.”
The social interactions that come with trying to find a job, said Riddle, are barriers to entry.
“A lot of our people are from a lifetime of not maintaining great social connection due to autism. They aren’t comfortable expressing how good they are at things,” he said. “They’re trying to be modest but don’t quite understand that social construct. It becomes quite difficult for them to understand some of those social constructs.”
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Because of that, he said, people with autism don’t have the work experience some of their colleagues who may not be as skilled as them have.
Few resources have been allocated to understanding autistic adults. According to a 2017 report from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, only 2 percent of autism research funding goes into understanding the developmental disorder for the adult population.-30-
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