Probing Question: Can autistic people succeed at work?

Jul 16, 2010 By Chris Tachibana
Probing Question: Can autistic people succeed at work?
People with autism or Asperger Syndrome may excel in computer-related tasks. Credit Brookdale Care Home

The actress Claire Danes, usually so expressive and radiant, looks blank and awkward. The scene is an HBO movie in which Danes plays Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who became an acclaimed animal behavior expert and cattle-chute designer. In real life, Grandin says that autism makes social interactions difficult, but gives her special abilities that make her better at her job.

Can autistic people succeed in the workplace?

Yes, with help, says Kimberly Schreck, an associate professor of psychology at Penn State. She develops educational programs for children with autism, and her goals include teaching them the skills they need for future employment.

At least 1 in 110 American children have an autism disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. "The rapidly growing numbers of children diagnosed with an represent a significant proportion of the future population and work force," says Schreck. Preparing them now means "a large number of these potential workers can successfully contribute to society and the workplace, rather than requiring taxpayer support into adulthood." The key, Schreck notes, is early intervention with a combination of applied behavior analysis, or ABA, and educational and vocational training. ABA teaches autistic children the verbal, motor, and social skills needed to function in society. ABA specialists figure out how an autistic child can learn best by monitoring the child's behavior, eliminating conditions or objects that trigger unwanted behavior, and rewarding desired actions.

The concept of training people with autism to be valued employees is a growing trend in business. Last year, the Chicago non-profit company Aspiritech began training people with autism to be software testers, based on their exceptional ability to perform repetitive tasks without losing focus. "People on the autism spectrum have a variety of skills, depending on the individual," says Schreck. "However, in general, people with Asperger Syndrome have normal to above normal intelligence; are able to communicate; and have strengths in completing concrete, logical tasks. People with more severe autism would probably be more successful with clearly delineated tasks and routines. Many of the autistic adolescents that I have worked with could complete assembly, sorting, and organizational tasks."

Still, getting people with autism to succeed professionally takes care and training, for both the employee and the employer, she explains. The potential employer has to be ready for challenges in communication, as people with autism need especially straightforward instructions, and may have difficulty understanding slang, jokes, and cultural differences. Physically, people with autism may have different ideas about personal space. "Unusual behaviors such as hand flapping and rocking may cause difficulties in employment involving the public," says Schreck.

But author, speaker, and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin shows that excelling in demanding careers is possible for those with . After portraying Grandin on film, Claire Danes remarked "She has strengths that she really exploits… she's a real success by anyone's standards."

Explore further: Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

No link found between autism and celiac disease

May 01, 2007

Contrary to previous studies, autistic children are no more likely than other children to have celiac disease, according to new research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting ...

Children with autistic traits remain undiagnosed

Mar 22, 2010

There has been a major increase in the incidence of autism over the last twenty years. While people have differing opinions as to why this is (environment, vaccines, mother's age, better diagnostic practice, more awareness ...

Study: Fever may ease autism for a while

Dec 24, 2007

Anecdotes about fevers triggering "normal" behavior in autistic children now have a scientific study to back them, researchers in Baltimore report.

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

Apr 17, 2014

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Creative activities outside work can improve job performance

Apr 16, 2014

Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by San Francisco State University organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 16, 2010

Can autistic people succeed in the workplace?

Guess that would depend on the level of the disability. Mild autism probably helps in some fields, look at some of your Professors.
not rated yet Jul 17, 2010
Dear Editors at PhysOrg:
Conversation with Cousin about Aspergers* led to some interesting Hypotheses.
1. Are any Research Groups doing 'Brain Wave' studies . . . A Device which could be worn for a period of days, that would monitor and record 'Intra-Cranial' activity for evaluation of thought patterns, for evaluation of commonality in Autistic and/or 'Normal' Brains?
2. How would one offer to participate in such a 'Study'?
3. Would one be assured that No Transmission would occur? ie. Mind Control! "Record Only"!
4. Would the Wearer be assured True and Correct interpretation of such recorded 'Brain Wave' Activity, and how such relates as to 'Normal/Autistic' continuum?

I could bear the 'Jokes' which would come with the 'Aluminum anti-Alien Antennae' . . . were I assured of learning the Results of such Test.

*Aspergers* has recently been removed as a separate Autistic Syndrome, and has been 'lumped in with' Autism.

Please RSVP!

Roy Stewart,
Phoenix, AZ

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.