Finding a Lifetime of Employment on the Spectrum

I have spent the past several years providing career coaching to neurodiverse adults in hopes of assisting them in finding that job that will propel them into a lifetime of employment. It has been one of the most rewarding and difficult challenges I have faced since becoming a coach in 2005. Up to now, the most challenging career coaching I had experienced dated back to 2008 when I was helping clients find jobs during the worst recession since the great depression. Over the last couple of years, I have seen firsthand the barriers and obstacles that neurodiverse adults face in finding employment. These barriers and obstacles are ones not experienced by their neurotypical counterparts even when neurotypical job seekers are looking for a job during bad economic times. 

Despite the exuberant job market in 2022, the unemployment rate for neurodiverse adults has not changed much in the last several decades. This is especially true amongst those in the neurodiverse community living with autism. In 2020, the CDC reported that there are 5.4 million people 18 and older, or about 1 in 44 people, have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The neurodiverse adults I have worked with have taught me a lot. Together we have learned what works and what does not. In this article I hope to give you some guidance to give you a better chance to find lifetime employment. It will not be an easy journey; however, I hope I can make it smoother by providing some of insights to the job search process. 


How Hard Is it to Find Employment? 

It can be very hard, but it is possible. According to the National Autistic Society 2016 worldwide survey found that 85% of autistic adults are unemployed. Other recent surveys quote the same 85% unemployment numbers. 

When the pandemic hit many employees lost jobs as they were sent home for months to shelter in place. Since emerging from the shutdown, job openings have been rising to more than 11 million creating a void for employers. This could be the opportunity for employers to take to hire more neurodiverse adults in their workplace. However, this has yet to materialize. Some employers looked at the untapped neurodiverse market and tried to figure out how they could get more of these qualified candidates but because they didn’t understand the barriers, few employers were successful. What employers forgot was their entire hiring process was designed for the neurotypical job seeker. These hiring processes routinely exit the neurodiverse candidate out before they had a chance. Two of the hiring barriers that cause the most difficulty include: 

  1. Applicant tracking systems that will eliminate candidates for gaps in jobs and mismatched key words to describe their skills.    
  1. Interview processes that do not uncover the real skills and talents of the candidate. 

But there is good news, neurodiverse job seekers can learn to manage these barriers and successfully find their desired job. They can fill employment gaps with internships and volunteer work. During the interview process, they can ask for questions ahead of time to practice with a mentor or advocate. Employers can eliminate the group interviews and give the neurodiverse candidate time to answer later in the interview if they wish.   


The Opportunities Are Enormous 

As you can see, the current opportunities are enormous for people to become employed. The WSJ reported that employers added 678,000 jobs in February. When the broader economy reports such large gains, it makes the opportunities even better for autistic adults. What we know is that to take advantage of the excellent job market, neurodiverse job seekers can’t rely only on employers to remove barriers. With the right resources and support, there are steps you can take to proactively manage the barriers to successful employment. 

Follow along for our next article How to Overcome Employment Barriers for the Neurodiverse Communityto read about practical steps for overcoming the barriers to achieving meaningful, lifelong employment. 

Additional References: 

About the Author: 

Dan Middleton is the Director of Process Excellence at Catalight, a BetterUp Fellow Coach providing career and leadership coaching services, as well as a volunteer Career Coach at AASCEND. 

Published by 

Catalight’s contributing editor and certified career coach Dan Middleton shares with us his perspective on the need to help the autism community find a meaningful path to employment. hashtag#CatalightFoundation hashtag#neurodiversity hashtag#autism hashtag#employment 

About Catalight

Catalight breaks down barriers and biases to create a more equitable world so people with developmental disabilities can choose their path. Catalight provides access to innovative, individualized care services, clinical research and advocacy — all powered by intelligent Xolv Technology Solutions. Through the work of affiliate partners, Easterseals Hawaii and Easterseals Northern California, Catalight and its family of companies support people with developmental disabilities and their families to support them across their care journey.

The Catalight family of companies is one of the largest behavioral health networks in the nation with more than 8,000 practitioners serving 14,000 clients and families every day. Backed by more than a decade of experience and a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, we are reimagining the way people with developmental disabilities and their families experience healthcare. Catalight’s goal is to ensure that individuals and families receive timely access to evidence-based treatment, including naturalistic developmental and language-based services, applied behavior analysis, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

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