Thursday, July 7, 2011

A More Inclusive Work Force

In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (A.S.D.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 730,000 people in the U.S. under age 21 have an A.S.D. It’s much harder to estimate the number of adults on the autism spectrum because only in recent decades has the condition been regularly diagnosed.
Some companies are designing whole work environments to accommodate people with differences.
What is clear is that almost all people with A.S.D. — which is four to five times more prevalent among males than females — struggle to find work where they feel comfortable and valued and where their abilities are well used.
In the coming years, there is going to be a wave of young people with A.S.D. graduating from schools and embarking on careers. It will take significant changes in workplaces across the country to accommodate them.
There is much to learn. On Friday, I reported on a Danish company called Specialisterne, which can supply a piece of the answer. Specialisterne trains people with autism to work as consultants in large companies where they excel at jobs like testing software and managing data. The model has inspired similar initiatives in a variety of countries, including the U.S. Thorkil Sonne, the founder, notes: “There are so many people who do not fit in today — who have skills but cannot find a way to make use of their skills.”

A More Inclusive Work Force