Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the U.S. It is having a major impact on society, including child care, education, aut_awareness_monthand teens and young adults in transition seeking employment. This is the second in a series of posts that will appear on this blog about this important topic.

  By Leslie Long, Autism Speaks

Facing a seemingly insurmountable unemployment rate and a staggering number of people with autism entering the adult world over the next decade, (approximately 500,000), most people would be intimidated to take on discussing a solution. But those are the facts.

Last year, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa declared that the employment of people with disabilities needs to be a national priority. Delaware Governor Jack Markell, chair of the National Governor’s Association (NGA) has also stressed the need to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Both leaders went to the bully pulpit of C-SPAN to make their case. Even the White House announced a new media campaign on employment for youth with disabilities.

In particular, adults with autism have been highlighted in the mainstream media. From jobs at distribution centers to examining problems in computer programs, success stories about adults with autism have been abundant.

Highlighting the positive attributes of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities will make it easier for job developers to walk through the doors of a corporation and focus on the needs of a business, rather than to address the fear and misconceptions of employers. Success breeds more success.

 Commitment to Employment

Autism Speaks’ Adult Services employment initiatives had the opportunity to highlight the employment status of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, as we recently convened an Employment Think Tank where people from across the country came together to share their experiences and recommendations. What was clear from this incredible group of leaders was the commitment to increase employment opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.

How that is to be achieved depended on whom you asked. Individuals with autism, parents, service providers and academic experts focused on several issues, such as accommodations for the interview process; how, when and if to disclose the disability; underemployment; the need for meaningful and value-based employment; transportation options; and the clarity of job requirements.

 * Employers also shared what they learned. They noted that hiring people with autism and other developmental disabilities is important for their company’s success. However, employers cautioned that appropriate supports and accommodations need to be planned carefully in order for the true strengths and abilities of a person to be fully realized.

They also found that natural supports can be as effective as a job coach, once the job coach has faded and in those cases where there is no formal job coach.

Moreover, training for employees and employers on the talents and needs of adults with developmental disabilities is critical to success. Employers said that companies need to have easy access to services and supports that help recruit and train employees with developmental disabilities.

Leslie’s complete article appears in the April 2013 issue of Job Training and Placement Report. For a FREE sample, visit the “Job Training Professionals” tab at  

Leslie Long is the Director, Adult Services with Autism Speaks in Princeton, NJ. She may be reached at