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Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership

This post is by Marcia Scheiner, the President and Founder of Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership.

With the current estimate that 80% of individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are under the age of 18, the next ten years will see a wave of adults on the spectrum entering the workforce.  Today’s reality is, however, that most of these adults will never achieve full employment.  Of those that do find jobs, many will be underemployed.  The data is not encouraging.  In a 2008 study of 200 families with transition age and adult children with an ASD, conducted by the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, 74% of the respondents were unemployed and 74% of those employed worked less than 20 hours a week.  These facts must serve as a call to arms for advocates in the autism community.  As the population of individuals with autism matures, so must the movement that has pushed so successfully to develop programs and resources for children on the spectrum.  While the focus on adult issues – employment, housing, financial planning – is growing, we are still running to catch up with the needs of our adults with autism.

In 2010 I founded the Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership (ASTEP) with the mission of creating and supporting programs that result in long term (and appropriately challenging) employment for adults with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism.  Our focus is on educating large national employers about the benefits of employing individuals on the autism spectrum and the accommodations they made need.  Corporate America is certainly aware of autism, with the majority of companies showing their support through sponsorship of autism awareness events and donations to autism related non-profits.  Less common, however, are strategic initiatives to include individuals with autism in corporate diversity hiring practices.

So why should a company take that next step from autism donor to employer of individuals on the spectrum?  The answers are surprisingly easy.  The economic dynamics of the autism marketplace and workforce should be important to companies.  Individuals with autism and their immediate family members comprise a significant market share in the U.S.  ASTEP conservatively estimates that 10.5 million people, or 3.4% of the U.S. population, are touched by autism.   Companies known for employing individuals with autism (e.g. Walgreen’s) draw dedicated customers from this group, because they reinforce both the economic and societal value of employing individuals with autism.  Additionally, studies such as the Ken’s Kids program implemented by Home Depot have shown that people with autism are loyal and productive employees. Hiring individuals with autism is a great way to alleviate corporations’ struggle with the high costs of turnover and lack of productivity they currently encounter.

So with the benefits being obvious, why aren’t more companies hiring individuals with autism.  The reason is twofold – lack of education and access.  For those companies that want to hire individuals with autism, they cannot make this transition alone.  The support of vocational specialists and autism organizations are critical in educating employers not only about the benefits of hiring individuals with autism, but the challenges they face and the accommodations they will need for a successful work experience.  For those companies that have not thought about individuals with autism as a potential employee source, advocacy by parents of children with autism within their workplace will be a key factor in changing that view.  It is the responsibility of all of these groups to educate employers on all of the benefits of employing individuals with autism and support them through the recruiting and integration process.

  1. Adam Vogel
    October 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    That’s what I have been saying all along. It’s a tough job market for anyone, but for people like myself, who have autism, and have graduated with two degrees from UW-Whitewater in math and accounting.
    I read a few years ago that roughly a quarter of Americans have graduated with a college. I read a few years ago that roughly a quarter of Americans have graduated with a college. My question is of the 20% of the approximate 1.5 million, or roughly 300,000 American adults with autism, how many of them have graduated from college whether it’s a 2 year or 4 year school. If I had to take a guess the percentage would be less than that between 1%-10% of American adults with autism who have some sort of associates or bachelor’s degree.

    I just wish a non-for-profit or Fortune 500 company would be able to give me an opportunity for me to be accountant, considering my educational background from UW-Whitewater.

    • eric hjortness
      October 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm


      I am a CPA in Neenah. I am trying to find work for another accountant who is autistic here. If you need help you can contact me via the yellow pages – Eric Hjortness

  2. Sue
    October 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The last figures I saw were only 12% of students with a disability graduate from college. For those with an ASD, we don’t really know. I do know that many start college, especially 2 year community colleges. Few graduate getting stuck in academia with unclear goals. We need a greater commitment from higher education to really provide appropriate supports/services (i.e. social/emotional and executive function needs). It is hard to track students with an ASD. Many don’t want to disclose. Without accomodations for many, this does help contribute to the high failure/drop out rate. Also, obtaining employment is not a skill that has been taught to many ASD students in college. Somehow, that needs to be remedied so they can get through the application/interview process, learn how to network and connect, how to sell their skills, etc. I think this should be part of the college curriculum.

  3. BJ
    October 13, 2011 at 10:26 am


    • Kim Hall
      October 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm

      I agree. I think that 80% of the adults with autism spectrum disorders are undiagnosed. I think that there are many, MANY people out there with ASD issues that are in the workforce, or unable to be, currently. I think that the new generation is both hindered (because they feel that they are less capable) and aided (because there is more understanding) than those of us who have been struggling for decades.

  4. Jan
    October 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Ok BJ, what are you saying exactly? That there are many behind bars whose lives fell thru the cracks and these folks were never given the opportunity to learn impulse control and for a lack thereof committed crimes… or are you saying that those behind bars could have had different lives? The above merely references what we DO know, that roughly 80% of the young people today fall under the ASD Dx. By providing these facts to those not affected directly or indirectly we make it known that there is much to be done for the next generation who are in fact our leaders of tomorrow. BJ, it is not unlike the AIDS epidemic, many died, many suffered and it hasn’t been that many years that “cocktails” were available to help people cope, and be able to live and manage their symptoms. Same deal here…. the connection is in one simple word INTERVENTION.
    Intervention is not going help those that have gone before whether they are behind bars, on the fringes of society or the Temple Grandins of the world…. but we can do something about the tomorrows!
    I’m just sayin’……. I CHOSE to adopt a ASD kid because I believe in tomorrow and know that there is noooo way I was going to let her grow up in a group home. She is the song in my heart!

  1. October 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm
  2. October 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

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