There are currently over 1 million autistic adults in the United States under the age of 21. Many of those individuals will be looking for employment in the near future.

As these job seekers hit the job market, there is a growing need for business organizations to consider autism in the workplace. However, there is not a lot of information about the subject.

That is now changing.

Chris Whelpley

Management professor Chris Whelpley.

A new study in the Journal of Business and Psychology focuses on some of the issues surrounding autism in the workplace and the strategic integration of autistic individuals into the job market.

“Despite the importance of this topic, there is little research on what it means to be autistic in the workplace and what organizations should do when hiring and managing autistic individuals,” says Christopher Whelpley, assistant professor of management in the College of Charleston’s School of Business and lead author of the research. “Firms that develop inclusive work environments for this segment of the population will likely have a sustained competitive advantage over rivals.”

Whelpley and his colleagues surveyed both working individuals diagnosed as autistic and managers who work with autistic employees. The results offer a more nuanced understanding of what it is like to be autistic in the workforce and what challenges are presented from the point of view of autistic employees as well as managers of autistic employees.

Among the many discoveries, the researchers found that there were four main areas that autistic employees felt were barriers to them being hired during the interview process:

  • Questions about their ability to perform a job
  • A focus on being autistic rather than a person
  • Ignorance on the part of the interviewer about autism
  • The ability to be treated as an equal

Whelpley says he hopes that this research will help businesses better hire and manage autistic individuals to utilize their unique talents, foster an inclusive environment and better understand what specific needs these employees may have.