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5643 Employment: Connecting Individuals with ASD to the Business World

Thursday, July 7, 2011: 10:45 AM-12:00 PM
Tallahassee 123 (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center)
The presenter will discuss how to connect people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to businesses, with the goal of creating employment opportunities for people with ASD. In this session, the presenter will discuss how using a business strategic planning analysis called SWOT will demonstrate to employers how the individual with ASD can make their business more efficient or productive. This session is geared for educators, vocational counselors, parents, and people with ASD. A problem that adolescents and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face is high unemployment. Individuals with disabilities are less likely to gain employment than their typical peers (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996); but, more importantly, only 15% of all individuals with ASD gain employment (Cameto et al., 2003). If current trends continue, the unemployment rate of individuals diagnosed with ASD may increase as more children who are diagnosed and reach the age of employment. This problem impacts not only individuals with ASD and their families, but everyone who pays taxes as well. Typically, people with ASD who are employable, but not employed, utilize government benefits that, in turn, cost all of us. 

The population of individuals diagnosed with ASD is increasing. Numerous sources of data have reported that the rate of autism is increasing dramatically (Autism Society of America, 2006, Center for Disease Control, 2010). In 1992, the Autism Society of America reported the incidence of autism to be 1 in 10,000 births, while in 2005 the incidence of autism was reported to be 1 in 166 births. The United States State Department of Education (2002) reported a 544% increase in the occurrence of autism from the 2000-01 school year to the 2002-03 school year. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010) estimates the incidence of autism to be 1 in 110 births.  According to the CEC, 4 million children are born in the United States every year. Of those, approximately 36,500 children will eventually be diagnosed with an ASD.  Assuming the prevalence rate has been constant over the past two decades, we can estimate that about 730,000 individuals between the ages of 0 to 21 have an ASD.

The population of individuals diagnosed with ASD reaching adulthood is increasing. Vocational Rehabilitation, a division of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, was created to assist people with disabilities in gaining and maintaining employment nationwide. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 (PL 102-569) made assisting individuals with significant disabilities in gaining employment the Department’s primary focus. The U.S. Department of Education and Rehabilitative Services conducted a longitudinal study (Hayward & Schmidt-Davis, 2003) revealing that 65% of applicants turned away or deemed ineligible for services by Vocational Rehabilitation fell under the classification of “significant” or “most significant” disabilities. Individuals diagnosed with ASD are categorized as persons having significant disabilities or most significant disabilities by Vocational Rehabilitation Services.

The increasing number of individuals diagnosed with ASD will soon reach the age of the labor force. The number of individuals who received Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS) has remained consistent; but, the amount of public assistance received by that same population has increased annually. Unless individuals diagnosed with ASD gain and maintain employment, the number of individuals who are supported by public assistance will dramatically increase.

One way to assist people with ASD in gaining and maintaining employment is to assist them in finding a good job match. In order for there to be a good job match the job developer must understand the needs and characteristics of both the employer and individual.

Many individuals with ASD have characteristics that could make them appealing to potential employers, including punctuality, attention to detail, consistency, reliability, or good visual-spatial or mechanical skills.  Whatever skills the person possesses, it is important to emphasize the strengths and the contributions the person could make to the business (Jordan, 2008).

There are certain job development strategies that are very useful and productive when job searching for job seekers with ASD. Those strategies are Person-Centered Planning, Vocational Exploration, Job Carving/ Job Creating, and Networking. There has been much discussion about the needs of the individual but not much has been discussed about how to meet the needs of businesses. One of the most critical factors in job development is to demonstrate to the employers that the individual with ASD can make their business more efficient or productive.

In order to assist employers in understanding that people ASD can efficient and productive, job developers need to understand how businesses think. Many business use a strategy called SWOT to analyze whether something would be good for the business. SWOT analysis is a  strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a business decision including the hiring process.  A SWOT analysis must first start with defining a desired objective (e.g.,  hiring personnel).

The following is a break down of the analysis of the strategic planning of SWOT when using it for hiring:

Strengths: characteristics of the individual that give the person an advantage over others.

Weaknesses: characteristics that place the individual at a disadvantage relative to others.

Opportunities: ways  the individual can help the business.

Threats: challenges that the individual would have in the position.

In order to assist individuals with ASD in gaining employment, professionals (i.e. both educators and Vocational Rehabilitation personnel, including job developers) should begin using the SWOT analysis.

Learning Objectives:

  • The participants will learn how to interpret the characteristics of people with ASD in order for people in the business arena to understand.
  • The participants will learn how to assess the needs of businesses.
  • The participants will learn how to use the SWOT analysis.

Content Area: Long-term Services and Support


Jennifer Sellers-Foster, Ph.D.
Consultation and Training Specialist in Transition and Distance Learning Coordinator
Glenwood, Inc., The Autism and Behavioral Health Center

Jennifer Sellers-Foster is a Consultation and Training Specialist with Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center. She has experience with program development in both school-and center-based programs. She currently leads the Standards of Practice in Transition Committee. Dr. Sellers-Foster has a son with ASD.