Future of Work

Why you should hire people with autism

People with autism have enormous potential. Most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills.

People with autism have enormous potential. Most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills. Image: OFFPO REUTERS/Catherine Benson

Ban Ki-moon
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Patrick Viesti is an IT Project Associate at SAP, a multinational software corporation, where he has worked for nine months. He is a dedicated worker, just as he was an accomplished student, holding Bachelor’s and Associate’s degrees in Communications. Patrick (pictured) recently took on the role of mentor, returning to his high school to give guidance to the young people there and help prepare them for professional life.

He has become highly regarded not only to the students at his former school but to people far and wide — because when he was three years old, Patrick was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Autism, including autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s, is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of a child’s life. It results from a neurological disorder and is characterized by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities.

The rate of autism is high in all regions of the world. Its impact on children, their families and communities is huge.

I have been inspired by my meetings with individuals with autism and their level of accomplishment. They are an example to us all.

People with autism have enormous potential. Most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills.

Research suggests that people on the autism spectrum have certain abilities in greater abundance than “neurotypical” workers do, such as heightened pattern recognition and logical reasoning, as well as a greater attention to detail.

These qualities make them particularly successful at certain kinds of employment, such as software testing, data entry, lab work and proofreading, to name but a few.

Yet, on the whole, employers are missing out on these exceptional skills: more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed.

On World Autism Awareness Day this Thursday, I am launching an employment“Call to Action”, inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ people on the autism spectrum. It is hoped that, through this initiative, companies will take a closer look at the way they perceive people with autism, take the time to learn about the condition and create life-changing opportunities for this largely untapped pool of talent and skills.

Businesses that respond to the Call to Action stand to benefit in several ways. Companies will demonstrate leadership, improve the quality of their products and services, and achieve a stronger understanding of their customer base by having a workforce that better reflects the general population. What’s more, businesses will be able to offer an attractive work environment to potential and current recruits because a workplace where people with autism thrive is often a great place for all employees.

Reaping these benefits requires employers to provide appropriate vocational training and to use recruitment processes that allow people to successfully integrate into the workforce. Not least, it requires giving adequate support, so that employees can find not only a job, but an environment where they can excel.

This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Ban Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Image: A generic picture of a woman in an office using a computer mouse. OFFPO REUTERS/Catherine Benson.

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