Monday, March 4, 2013

Affirmative Action Needed for Autistic People

I was speaking to my close friend Monica, who happens to be a neuro-typical (NT), last night.  She asked me what I would want most to change in the workplace for autistic people.  I replied that I would like employers to change the interview process in order to make it more humane and fair for autistic adults.  I said the standard interview process discriminates against autistic people because it focuses upon social skills and does not allow us to display our unique intellectual and personal strengths.  

She came up with the revolutionary and radical idea that employers in business, government, academia, and non-profits should be required by law to set aside 1% of all their positions for autistic people. In this way, we can ensure that educated and qualified autistic people have a fighting chance of gaining equal access to opportunities in the employment world.  Employers would no longer be allowed to get away with discriminating against us in the interview process and systematically excluding us from the employment world.  Employers would also lose the incentive to drive out autistic employees through bullying campaigns.  The reason is that if they fired one autistic person, they would simply have to replace him or her with another autistic employee. 

My story illustrates why this law is needed.  I am an Ivy League graduate with a bachelor's degree in my special interest of international relations.  Yet I was bullied by the professors in my field and blocked from pursuing an academic career in this profession because of my social skills deficit and unintentional social mistakes and violations of the academic hierarchy. 

In addition, during my senior year of college, I went on 60 interviews for business jobs.  I didn't make it to the second round of a single interview.  As a result, when I graduated from college, I was effectively locked out of the standard career world.  I was fluent in Spanish and had a minor in economics.  I was an outstanding public speaker with excellent analytical, writing, research, and public speaking skillls.  Yet I couldn't find a job because employers systematically refused to hire me due to my obvious social skills deficit and undiagnosed autism.

In the next 11 years, I suffered endless nightmares in the job world.  I was fired or pressured to quit from every job I ever held, often within days or weeks of being hired.  I was relentlessly  bullied by abusive bosses and colleagues in my last two office jobs, during which I lasted just three weeks and eight weeks, respectively.  Even after I earned a masters degree in taxation (accounting), the major accounting firms still would not hire me because of my poor performance in the interview process.

And I am not alone.  The estimated unemployment rate for adults with Asperger's alone, which is just one part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a catastrophic 85% in the U.S. and 97% in the U.K.  These appalling figures show that employers are systematically discriminating against us and refusing to hire us even though many of us are highly qualified and educated. 

Society will receive at least two major economic benefits from passage of this law.  First, since autistic people will now be employed, we will not need to depend upon government welfare programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for our financial survival.  As a result, the taxpayers will immediately save billions of dollars in unnecessary SSI expenses as autistic adults transition off the welfare rolls and into productive employment and participation in society.

Second, autistic people will now contribute taxes from our wages.  Thus, we will be contributing to the treasury rather than draining it with endless expenses for our needs.  Including autistic people in the job world will directly benefit the whole society on a financial level. 

I want to address several possible objections to this law.  First, a friend accused me of acting out of self-interest.  He mistakenly thought I wanted to pass this law for my own financial gain.  I explained to him that even if this law passes, I have no intention of ever returning to an academic job or an office job in business or accounting.  Thus, I have no personal financial stake in the passage of this law.  My only goal in supporting this law is to ensure that younger autistic people can obtain the job opportunities that I was unjustly denied due to discrimination.  I want to use my experience to help today's autistic teenagers and young adults to reach their full potential in the job world.  This law is designed to help autistic people as a whole, not me personally. 

Second, some people might fear that employers would be forced to hire unqualified autistic people for every position in their company.  This system would not be used to place autistic people in positions such as sales and management for which we generally lack the appropriate skill set.  Rather, it would ensure that autistic people can compete fairly for the jobs that play to our strengths, such as accounting, academia, investment analysis, foreign language translation, computer science, and mathematics. 

Third, one autistic woman objected to the law on the grounds that the only measures needed to improve employment outcomes for autistic people.  My response to her objection is as follows.  I see no contradiction between educating employers and requiring them to hire us by law.  In fact, we need both policies to improve our employment options.  The civil rights movement for African-Americans employed both tactics, and so should autism rights advocates.  I believe that educating employers alone is insufficient to substantially change our job outcomes and that the combination of legal action and raising public awareness through education campaigns targeting the general society and employers in particular is necessary to put an end to job discrimination against autistic people.

My personal experience shows that many neurotypicals (NTs) are not informed about the systematic and deliberate nature of employment discriminations against autistic people.  But once they learn the ugly truth about how autistic people are treated in the workplace, they are horrified and decide to join our struggle in various ways.  For this reason, I encourage autistic teens and adults and their parents and caregivers to share their stories and thus advance our movement for equality and jusice.  I also invite people to contact me via email if they want to support this effort in any way at

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