The benefits of employing individuals with autism to create a fairer society

1st October 2021

Authors: Cristina M Giannantonio, PhD and Amy E Hurley-Hanson, PhD

It is estimated that there are 3.5 million people with ASD in the United States and that 1% of the world’s population has autism. Unemployment statistics for adults with ASD reveal that 85% are unemployed. Additionally, the annual costs of autism in the United States are estimated at $137 billion. Leigh & Du (2015) estimated the combined annual direct medical costs, non-medical costs, and productivity costs of autism at $268 billion. They projected that these costs will reach $461 billion by 2025. Internationally, the annual costs of ASD are $40.5 billion in the United Kingdom, from $4.5 to $7.2 billion in Australia, and £2.3 billion in Scotland. 

It is estimated that one-half-million individuals with ASD will reach adulthood in the current decade and will be poised to enter the workplace in unprecedented numbers. Hurley-Hanson, Giannantonio, and Griffiths (2020) introduced the term Generation A to refer to this generational cohort of young adults with ASD. The integration of individuals with ASD into the workplace offers numerous benefits to society as a whole, the organisations that employ them, and individuals with ASD. An important factor in creating a Fairer Society will be ensuring equality in the workplace for individuals with ASD. 

Benefits to society

Benefits to society include reducing the costs associated with unemployment, narrowing the skills gap, and other economic benefits. Individuals with ASD who are not in the workforce and unable to financially support themselves rely upon their family, local and federal governments, and not for profit agencies for their care. Moreover, an increase in the employment of people with ASD can lead to large economic benefits. Individuals with autism who are working and have disposable income are able to contribute to the economy. Accenture (2018) estimates that the United States’ Gross Domestic Product could increase by $25 billion dollars if an additional one percent of individuals with disabilities were able to join the United States workforce. According to the United States Office of Disability Employment Policy, persons with disabilities are the third largest market segment in the United States. Discretionary income for working age people with disabilities is estimated at $21 billion dollars annually. Hiring individuals with autism may help to alleviate the worker shortages that organisations are currently facing, and the increasingly alarming skills gaps that society is projected to face in the future. Finally, hiring individuals with autism has the potential to fully integrate these individuals into the workplace and society. 

Benefits to organisations

Organisations that hire employees with ASD will gain a workforce with desirable knowledge, skills and abilities, increasing the pool of intellectual capital associated with a more diverse workforce, and enhancing a company’s reputation and social capital through its diversity initiatives. Employees with ASD have been found to have fewer absences, are more likely to arrive at work on time, are more reliable, and  have dramatically lower turnover rates than neurotypical employees. 

Managers rate the job performance of employees with ASD as average or above average. Jacob, et al. (2015) found that when neurodiverse employees are in an organisation that supports and encourages them, they are very successful in their jobs. They also found that these workers were more committed and conscientious about their jobs, were very loyal, and were productive. Incentives for initiating inclusion programs include improved productivity, increased shareholder value, a greater number of innovations, expanded market share, access to the supplier ecosystem, and enhanced community relations. A study by Accenture in 2018 found that companies committed to disability inclusion outperformed their peers and were twice as likely to have higher shareholder returns. 

Individual benefits

The benefits of working and being able to earn an income have the potential to affect an individual’s self-concept, self-esteem, and self-worth. Individuals who do not work outside the home for pay may perceive that they have a marginalised identity that is stigmatised in some cultures, which in turn affects their self-esteem. Having meaningful employment may give individuals with ASD the opportunity to be able to financially support themselves which has a positive effect on quality of life, and reduces depression and suicide thoughts in employees with ASD.

Working also provides social benefits as well. The bonds between coworkers can be quite strong, creating long-term friendships, and 'work families' that provide emotional and social support both during and outside of work hours. Research suggests that over thirty percent of workers will meet their spouse or significant other at work. These types of socio-emotional individual level benefits may help to alleviate the isolation and loneliness experienced by some individuals with autism who are not employed. Employing individuals with ASD provides benefits to their families and caregivers as well. 

In summary, it is critical that future research explores ways that employment may mitigate the discrimination and stigma experienced by individuals with ASD. It is hoped that organisations will attempt to create workplaces that will allow for the successful employment of individuals with ASD. This in turn may ensure equality in the workplace and contribute to creating a Fairer Society for all.

Book Title: Generation A: Research on Autism in the Workplace
Authors: Cristina M Giannantonio (Chapman University, USA), Amy E Hurley-Hanson (Chapman University, USA)
Book series: Emerald Studies in Workplace Neurodiversity