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  • Overcoming Obstacles When Recruiting Students With Autism

    September 10, 2021 | By Kevin Gray

    Individuals with Disabilities
    A group of hands putting together puzzle pieces, symbolizing autism.

    TAGS: nace insights, special populations, talent acquisition

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Employers may encounter barriers that prevent them from recruiting and/or hiring students with autism, but they can overcome these barriers, in part, by being proactive in seeking resources and information about this student population, according to Lee Burdette Williams, executive director of the College Autism Network (CAN).

    First, employers should take the time to learn about autism and the unique needs of neurodivergent students who are embarking on their career exploration and job search by connecting with career services professionals and other offices and organizations—both on campus and off—that support these students.

    “Finding sources of information and ideas is important,” Williams explains.

    “The Autism@Work Roundtable includes all kinds of employers that have neurodiversity hiring initiatives and offer good resources—including a helpful Autism@Work Playbook—for those who want to start one. It’s part of Disability:IN, an organization that everyone should know about.”

    Tapping into resources such as these can help employers identify and clear potential hurdles. For example, Williams points out that there are many built-in biases that disadvantage people who are not good at some of the soft skills that work well in an interview setting, such as making small talk or joking.

    “Some recruiters ask what a student knows or what they have done, while others ask to be shown what the student has done—such as through a portfolio,” she notes.

    “The latter is a better opportunity for a person with social and communication challenges.”

    Williams suggests that employers that want to effectively recruit students with autism and bring them into the organization take key steps, such as:

    • Making it a company priority to learn about neurodiversity.
    • Hiring and paying people—many of them neurodivergent themselves—to build and maintain these efforts.
    • Training supervisors throughout the company about autism and how to best support these interns and employees. Examples include providing them with low-stimulus environments, flexible scheduling, and clear and direct instructions for completing tasks.
    • Having alternative recruitment activities, recognizing that typical “super weeks” and job fairs do not work well for some autistic people. Examples of alternative recruitment activities that work well are visual portfolios, small group activities in low-stimulus environments, and conducting interviews that are broken into two or three parts. For the latter, instead of a full day of constant interviewing, make it two half-days to allow the interviewee to “settle” their anxiety.
    • Giving new hires with autism a longer period of time to get established within the organization.
    • Building partnerships with the 100+ colleges and universities that have autism-specific support programs.

    “Also, appreciating [the talent of neurodivergent students] is important,” Williams adds.

    “If a student who is autistic has made it to college and is succeeding academically, they have overcome a lot of challenges to get that far. They should be applauded for that effort. [Employers that take these and other steps] basically build a corporate culture that says, ‘We value neurodiversity. It makes us better and more successful at what we do.’”