Changing the Conversation About Autism in the Workplace

By Shane Power,  President of Watertree Health

After watching 
The Good Doctor on ABC, the show made me do a lot of thinking. The lead character, Shaun Murphy, is a surgical resident with autism. The show manages to uniquely display the trials and tribulations he faces in the workplace, and how he adapts to them. First, I began to admire the show for its depiction of people with these neurological differences. Then, I came to the realization that The Good Doctor is helping change the narrative about people with autism, and perhaps even more broadly, about hiring people with this condition.

The reality is, more than 3.5 million people in the United States have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Unfortunately, nearly 500,000 people with autism will struggle to land a job in the next decade. Here are the statistics:

  • Nearly 66% percent of adults with autism are unemployed
  • 40% of people with autism never worked for pay during their early 20’s
  • Those who are employed work part-time for low wages

But there is good news for the millions of adults with ASD searching for employment.

Corporations like Microsoft, Best Buy, and Ford Motors have all created an autism employment initiative. The goal behind these new programs is to hire adults with autism and help develop their skills. Along with these initiatives of major corporations, there is a new form of therapy that has been favored amongst adults with autism. Some refer to it as talk therapy and others may know it as cognitive enhancement therapy. This therapy uses group training, along with other methods, to help improve social interactions. This means 1.4 million people with autism who are likely left without a job due to their differences can seek alternative options to help change that.

The Good Doctor ‘s impactful representation of a person with ASD has received amazing reviews. “It shows how people with autism can be functional members of society,” says Lisa Basara, a mother whose son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. “The more that people understand autism, the better off it will be for my son going forward.” I couldn’t agree more.

For Autism Awareness Month, we hope we’ve inspired you to become more informed about this disorder. So many people are affected with this condition, but that shouldn’t mean they don’t have a future in the workplace. If you know someone who has autism, please share this story with them.  A television show may have helped changed the way we talk about people with autism, but it is up to us to keep the conversation going.