The most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that approximately 1 in 68 American children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), making it the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world. Autistic individuals have difficulty with communication and social interaction, which has historically hindered this group’s participation in the workforce. Social media and other computer-based communication technologies, however, are making it possible for people with ASD — almost 2% of the U.S. population — to enter the workforce more productively.
This presents an opportunity for companies to “do well by doing good” — that is, to gain valuable human resources by opening their doors to an underrepresented population. Many people within the autistic spectrum have rare skillsets that align very naturally with specific needs of some companies. People with ASD often have a propensity to excel at tasks that other people often find tedious and complicated. According to a Boston University study on autism in the workforce, ASD individuals have a distinctive ability to analyze data, pay incredible attention to detail, and excel in math and computer coding.
For these reasons, several large technology companies are intentionally tapping into this group of unique individuals in order to access valuable skills that are in demand in the marketplace. Software giants such as SAP and Microsoft are now actively looking to hire people with autism. SAP plans to have autistic employees make up at least 1% of its workforce by the year 2020.
Jose Velasco, the head of the autism initiative at SAP, elaborates: “They [individuals with ASD] have a very structured nature. We are looking at these strengths and looking at where those traits would be of value to the organization.” Luisa Delgado, a member of the SAP executive board, describes it another way — one that flips the idea of ASD as a “disability” on its head: “Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”
Recent gains in social media adoption are part of what makes this new perspective on ASD possible.