October is Autism Awareness Month

October is a month often dedicated to changing leaves, apple picking, and crisp weather, but most people don’t recognize the symbolic blue puzzle piece that signifies October as Autism Awareness Month. The original blue puzzle piece is often seen in different sizes and colors, representing the diversity of individuals and their families living and dealing with autism. The use of colorful puzzle pieces is used to signify hope- hope that through increased awareness of autism, people diagnosed with autism will lead fuller, more successful lives.

Every October, The Autism Speaks Organization supports National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). This year’s theme for NDEAM is “Because We Are EQUAL to the Task”. The organization recognizes that those with autism may be just as good at a particular job as people who are not categorized on the spectrum.

Many individuals with autism have unique characteristics and the ability to function in a workplace. Some documented qualities that autistic individuals can bring to the work place are their attention to detail, honesty, straightforward directness, fierce loyalty, and solid performance on complex repetitive tasks.[1] Some mainstream businesses support hiring programmers with autism including SAP, a German business software company. SAP recognizes that some individuals with autism have the potential score high on intelligence tests and that they have attributes that contribute to the companies overall innovation and standard practices. SAP is one of the top Enterprise Resource Planning software companies in the world. So far SAP has hired six people with autism in its Bangalore office in India and by 2020, SAP’s goal is for 1% of its 65,000 strong workforce to be people with autism.

SAP isn’t the only company that feels autistic individuals don’t get enough recognition. "People with disabilities have a lot more potential than people give them credit for," says Deb Russell, Manager of Outreach Employment Services at Walgreens. The drugstore-chain giant, based in Deerfield, Illinois, was an early adopter of workers with autism. During the interview process, both SAP and Walgreens do not specifically ask potential employees about their disability. Although companies such as these have demonstrated hiring an autistic individual can be successful, some other organizations are still hesitant to hire candidates with a disability.

Workforce Management Magazine interviewed Anthony Wilk, a 34 year old autistic man who began working as a landscaper at Bader Mountain in 2009. Since taking the job, Wilk was able to purchase a car and has high hopes of getting an apartment of his own. "It has given me self-confidence and helps me grow. It does help me with my self-esteem”, he says. [2]

Making a difference and impacting the lives of the people who have autism can be very simple. The companies that have demonstrated being open-minded to hiring autistic individuals is a step in the right direction but more positive change is still needed. With so many families facing the challenges of autism, there are a lot of people who need our help and support. Making an impact is as easy as participating in a marathon, fundraising for the cause, or hiring a dedicated, determined person with autism.

[1] http://autismmclean.org/forAdults/hireSomeoneWithAutism

[2] http://www.workforce.com/articles/companies-find-fruitful-results-when-hiring-autistic-workers