Autism @ Work Playbook, a guide for HR professionals and organizations to create employment opportunities for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Hey Guys Hope your Well, following my last post on accessibility, allow me today to double down on Autism.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the
Autism Society of Kenya, Autism affects approximately 4% of the Kenyan population.

Due to prevalence of Autism in Kenya, there are certain societies that have been founded, for instance, The Autism Society of Kenya. This organization came into being in September 2003 when a group of parents who had autistic children decided to form a society that could advocate for theirs and their children’s needs. The Society offers diagnosis and assessment, produces literature about autism and provides counseling services and run autism awareness workshops all over Kenya.

We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

There are a number of challenges that People with Autism face but i want to focus on how it affects them in the work and employment space.

80% of individuals on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed.

Many people with autism have difficulties finding job opportunities due to their handicap in social behavior and communication style. Individuals affected by autism fit well into the IT industry, especially in the areas software testing, programming and data quality. However, most of these weaknesses can be remedied through proper training, respective awareness sessions internally as well as externally and a stable and reliable support model for all colleagues involved. 

Being inclusive is not something we simply do, but rather it stands for who we are.

Therefore there is a clear economic value by employing people from the spectrum. There is also a chance to help people from the ASD spectrum to get into the job market more easily. There is a fundamental paradigm shift in recruiting, companies are moving away from identifying weaknesses to unleash potential. People from the ASD spectrum usually fail in these standardized procedures. Therefore some companies are trying to open the doors for those people who have extraordinary skills. 

People on the spectrum often demonstrate trustworthiness, strong memories, reliability, adherence to rules and attention to detail. They are often good at coding – a skill that is in high demand.

Beyond specific job skills, however, organizations increasingly need to recognize the importance of diversity to innovation. Neurodiversity, broadly defined as a diversity of thinking styles and abilities, is arguably especially important for innovative decision-making. 

To address this untapped resource and to foster a culture of empathy and inclusion, Microsoft and other major tech companies — on Autism Awareness Day in 2015 — established Autism Hiring Programs. This year, parallel to Microsoft’s commitment to open sourcing its technologies and tools to create a “Microsoft platform” that companies integrate into their businesses, the company is “democratizing” its Autism Hiring program. The goal is to bring more people with autism to the workforce so that they and the companies they join can achieve more.

Democratizing empathy
Logos for participating employers in the Autism at Work Career Fair

In Kenya there are very few organizations that provide employment for individuals with any disabilities – whether mental or physical. Few organizations are now embracing our children – Kaizora Institute sends students for internship opportunities to organizations in the community e.g. Safaricom which will lead to skill acquisition that should lead to meaningful employment.

Autism is definitely better understood now than it was in the past. However, there is still a long way to go in understanding effective evidence-based interventions that help people with autism.

Here are some links to some of the programs that foster more inclusive hiring.

Let me know what you think in the comments down below, should we do more locally around inclusive hiring.