Top Challenges in Hiring Practices for Autistic Workers

Drew Sansing  |  01/08/2023

Autistic workers are much less likely to be employed than neurotypical individuals. One reason for this might be challenges that are inherent in the hiring process. In order to evaluate this, a study out of the United Kingdom sought to compare the experiences of autistic, neurodivergent and neurotypical adults’ experiences with hiring processes. 

In "Access to employment: A comparison of autistic, neurodivergent, and neurotypical adults’ experiences of hiring processes in the United Kingdom," Jade Davies and co-authors delve into a thorough comparative analysis of the employment experiences of individuals from these three distinct groups. The main categories under study were autistic adults, neurodivergent adults who are not on the autism spectrum (conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, etc.), and neurotypical adults.At the outset, the authors highlight that employment is a crucial aspect of societal participation and personal satisfaction. 

However, unemployment rates are disproportionately high among neurodivergent and particularly autistic adults. In fact, the authors note that as much as 80% of autistic people are estimated to be unemployed worldwide. The authors posit that this may result from both prejudice against these individuals and systemic barriers in the hiring process.

The researchers conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys with members of all three groups, focusing on their experiences and perceptions of job application procedures, interviews, and job accommodations. A significant sample size from each group allowed for a rich, diverse collection of experiences and perceptions.

The results indicated that the job application process itself was fraught with challenges for neurodivergent individuals, particularly autistic adults. The requirement for a standard CV and cover letter often disadvantages these individuals due to difficulties with summarizing experiences or self-promotion. 

Furthermore, the authors found that neurotypical interviewing practices, such as the necessity for eye contact and the expectation of rapid responses, disadvantage neurodivergent candidates who may struggle with these social norms. For autistic adults, these challenges were especially pronounced, potentially due to the social and communication challenges associated with autism. Many autistic adults expressed stress and anxiety about job interviews, often exacerbated by unsupportive or ignorant interviewers. They also reported difficulties with interpreting and conforming to the unspoken social rules of interviews. 

The authors also explored workplace accommodations, finding that both autistic and neurodivergent individuals had often not been provided with adequate supports or adjustments. This lack of accommodation can make working environments stressful and challenging for these employees, leading to increased job turnover.The study further demonstrated that neurotypical individuals were largely unaware of these challenges faced by their neurodivergent peers. 

The authors suggest that this lack of awareness contributes to the perpetuation of systems and practices that inadvertently discriminate against neurodivergent individuals.Despite the multiple challenges highlighted, the study also revealed some positive experiences. Some neurodivergent and autistic adults reported employers who were understanding, supportive, and willing to make necessary adjustments. These instances underscore the potential for creating more inclusive hiring processes and working environments. 

In conclusion, the investigators stress the need for systemic changes to promote inclusion and equal opportunities in employment for all individuals. These changes include more education and awareness for employers, adjustments to traditional hiring processes to accommodate a broader range of abilities and communication styles, and the provision of appropriate supports in the workplace.

The study is an important step in raising awareness about the discrimination and obstacles faced by autistic and neurodivergent individuals in employment. It provides a compelling argument for the re-evaluation and adjustment of traditional hiring practices, underlining the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce not only for individuals but for society at large.

Stay updated on the latest resources from Neurodiversity Media. Sign up to the NeuroWork Newsletter today: