Autism Employment Programs Increasing

By Scott Standifer

Businesses that hire people with disabilities – including those with autism – frequently see decreased staff turnover, higher productivity, and greater job satisfaction.

This is not news to advocates for disability employment service providers.  They have been promoting these ideas for years. What is new is how Walgreens, AMC, and others are becoming “Corporate Peer Advocates”.

Other companies have heard about the changes at Walgreens, AMC, and other businesses, and are becoming inspired. Over the last few years, Walgreens has given tours focusing on its autism/disability employment supports to representatives from more than 100 other companies. The Anderson, SC, facility even holds occasional “boot camp” training programs for managers from other companies. At least 15 other corporations have begun their own autism/disability initiatives based in part on the Walgreens models. AMC’s FOCUS program is newer and less widely known, but it is also getting inquiries.

Autism employment programs are spreading in other business sectors, too. TIAA-CREF is getting attention for its Fruits of Employment autism employment program. Investment house Goldman Sachs has received recognition in England about its internships for people with autism and may expand the program to its New York offices. In Minneapolis, 3M, Best Buy, and Cargill are prominently supporting an annual Autism Employment Forum of regional business people, hosted by the Autism Society of Minnesota. Their first session attracted 1,600 people. Mortgage investment company Freddie Mac has announced plans to provide several internships for adults with autism.

And the largest corporate peer advocacy program is just getting started.

* The Direct Employers Association is a non-profit trade association representing over 600 major companies. Its membership includes, among others: Staples, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, American Express, Dell, Sony, Home Depot, Kellogg’s, Rubbermaid, Wells Fargo, Enterprise Car Rental, Adidas, Conoco Phillips, Sprint, and Intel. Over the past year, Direct Employers has been building a new disability employment initiative to meet growing requests from its members for help in increasing the recruitment and support of workers with disabilities.

James Emmett is closely involved with this program, just as he was with the original Walgreens autism employment program in 2005. As these companies craft new internal policies to expand disability employment, autism will be one of the fundamental disabilities addressed.


Is the workplace ready for an increase in adults with autism? Not yet, but the beginnings of change have begun. There are many programs and advocacy groups pushing for increased career options for people with autism. Corporate peer advocates is but one example, although it’s a noteworthy and exciting one.