The autistic advantage in employment. Neurodiversity is an asset in the workplace. In recent months, headlines like these have been rampant in major media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Time Magazine, The wall street journal and other places. I've discussed before the problems with these headlines and whether they're valid. I've argued that they were not true to my own experience and it quite possibly is not true to most other autistic's experiences. I've also questioned if these media stories are helpful to autistics. One of the major points to ponder is if autistics have all these superior skills and are good with computers, software testing, programming, cybersecurity, etc., then why are there quoted rates of autistic unemployment at 85% or higher?
There may be some people who would argue that articles and statements such as these are helpful in that an autistic could be employed if society were less prejudiced and this could educate employers to be more accepting and understanding and provide the accommodations the individual would need to perform the job. Another school of thought is that a lot of autistics don't interview well due to aloofness, strange mannerisms, or an inability to look people in the eye. There are supposedly plenty of qualified autistic employees who could do the job but might make a bad impression on an interview. The interview should be structured to accommodate the person or not even have an interview with questions or personality tests that have no relevance in assessing the person's ability to perform their work duties.
These are the reasons why, according to this line of thought, we need to have articles such as these and that they could help, but that they are not hurting at all. Even if they don't result in the autistic applicant being hired or not being fired if they already have a job, then these articles are harmless and nothing bad will result from them. But is this really the case?
One area in which they might harm an individual is if they have so much trouble keeping a job they need to apply for disability; either SSI or SSDI or both. Though Simon Baron-Cohen in his 2000 essay stating that autism in its higher functioning forms should not be considered a disability, he did write that autistics should still be considered legally disabled so they could get SSI or SSDI or whatever the British equivalent is if they need it.
Disability has been increasingly harder to get as the federal budget and deficit grows more sharply and the programs have less than sufficient funds as the baby boomers such as myself begin to retire and start receiving their social security payments. I've already written about my unsuccessful four and a half year fight to get on disability shortly after I retired ten years ago. From what I read, about two-thirds of people who try to obtain disability are turned down in their first attempt to get SSI or SSDI. In order to have any hope of obtaining disability, there's a lengthy appeal process that can take many years. Others I've known have been turned down for disability as well. One person I know won their fight but it took them eight years of due process. After my lawyer would not take my case to district court, I found out he'd had another autistic client whom he went to bat for in the lower federal court and lost the case. I know of two others who recently won their cases.
The problem is exacerbated by society's and the U.S. government's attitude that people who apply for disability are lazy, are malingerers, not trying their best and are moochers. For SSI (but not for SSDI) there is a means test in which you are not allowed more than $2,000 in assets. If you have $2001 in your checking account, you're rich and are stealing from the taxpayers.
What better ammo and excuse is there for the federal government to deny people disability than these articles and the repeated statements that autistics make great employees and are an asset to the workplace? These people should have no trouble at all getting a job and keeping it since industry is crying for people like these. Therefore, any autistic person who does not work and needs money to survive (or more money then they might have from other sources) is just a lazy son of a bitch who's just an unethical slacker and not trying their best.
The autistics have superior visual skills, pattern recognition, attention to details which make them assets to the workforce is an illusion. However autistic unemployment and the difficulties of obtaining disability are not. Therefore I believe these articles and statements are not only unhelpful, but they have the potential to be very hurtful to the people they are meant to help if they need to apply for disability. (aside from giving struggling media enterprises a good story that will make them some bucks).