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World Autism Day shines a blue light on employment challenges and advantages

Posted on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 by jfcspgh

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. Every year on April 2nd, organizations, agencies and communities around the world aim to raise awareness of autism and how the diagnosis affects individuals and families.

This year, World Autism Day is focusing on employment. Individuals on the autism spectrum face special challenges before, during and after the hiring process, but they also can offer unique advantages to employers and co-workers. Unfortunately, it is estimated that more than 80% of adults with autism worldwide are unemployed. As a result, employers are missing out on abilities that people on the autism spectrum have in great abundance–such as heightened abilities in pattern recognition and logical reasoning, as well as a greater attention to detail.

At JF&CS, we recognize the need for vocational programming for autistic individuals and those struggling with mental health disorders. Help is needed not only throughout the initial hiring and employment process, but also to provide ongoing coaching and support to co-workers and their employers to ensure the best experience possible.

For professionally-oriented young adults with autism and/or other mental health disorders, EmployAble, a program of JF&CS offered through the Career Development Center, provides support, career counseling and ongoing guidance through the job search, interview, hiring and retention processes. In addition to one-on-one counseling and specialized group workshops for jobseekers, EmployAble also trains employers about the assets of hiring these individuals and how to accommodate them in the workplace. After individuals are able to obtain employment, they and their employers receive continuing support from EmployAble staff as needed to ensure a smooth transition into the workplace.

“Individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum may not interview well due to lack of eye contact and other social skill deficits. They may not understand that they need to provide more than just the facts of their previous work or educational experience,” said April Artz, EmployAble program coordinator. “Often there is a tendency to become very focused on details, which can be an asset once they are hired. At the same time, they may have difficulty seeing the big picture related to the process of job-seeking and employment. But people with autism are often loyal and diligent employees.”

EmployAble began nearly four years ago with a focus on helping jobseekers with mental health disorders. In 2014, this program received funding to expand to address the unique employment challenges of individuals on the autism spectrum. Above all, EmployAble aims to promote inclusiveness in the workplace. The program is designed to work with regional employers to help them understand the value of a diverse workforce and provide an adequate and individualized level of accommodations and support.

“Autism is sometimes considered an ‘invisible’ disability, and so it may not be apparent that someone is struggling because of their diagnosis. This can lead to difficulties, tension and frustration in the workplace,” April said. “There is a saying within the autism community that ‘when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’ There is no doubt that this is a very true statement, because the abilities and challenges one person with autism may experience may not always translate identically to those of another person on the spectrum.”

“EmployAble is such a valuable program because we are able to provide support to everyone involved in the employment process. In addition to supporting individuals on the spectrum, supervisors, co-workers and others in the workplace many need coaching on their approach and working style when interacting with someone who has an autism diagnosis.”

– April Artz, EmployAble program coordinator

EmployAble is offered through JF&CS’s Career Development Center in collaboration with Autism Connection of PA, Achieving in Higher Education (AHEADD), City Connections and the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), with funding provided by the United Way of Allegheny County, the Fine Foundation, the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust and the Cindy & Murry Gerber Foundation.

To learn more about how to enroll in the EmployAble program or how make your workplace more inclusive, contact April Artz, program coordinator at 412-904-5942 or by email at