As Matthew Koenig, the young man in Minnesota, put it, "the conveyor belt of traditional employment puts you at a huge disadvantage with high-functioning autism, because you talk the way you do, and that's an automatic strike one." [emphasis added]
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants because they have autism, but experts say widespread discrimination continues.
"They still do it. They'll just find another reason not to hire the person [with autism]," said an autism advocate, one of a half-dozen activists and autism experts who spoke to HuffPost about the slow pace of integrating people with autism into the white-collar workforce. None were willing to speak about employment barriers on the record, however, citing the sensitive nature of the subject. Employers were equally reluctant to be identified as having hired people with ASDs for white-collar jobs, noting issues of employee privacy and potential legal liability.
First, employers worry that they don't know enough about autism in adults to wade into the community, lest they make a mistake. Two people also said some employers don't know how to discuss job expectations, performance issues and potential limitations comfortably and respectfully with employees who have autism.
Second, some white-collar employers expressed hesitation about the administrative steps in providing "reasonable accommodation" for someone with autism, a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
One such accommodation in particular was cited more than once as a source of frustration: autism-related "job coaches." People with autism often need more help adjusting to new jobs and responsibilities than neurotypical workers do, and the coaches help them navigate new workplaces and learn their tasks.
Coaches are typically paid for by state employment agencies, not the employers themselves. But in interviews with HuffPost, autism advocates relayed complaints they had received that job coaches were "disruptive and didn't fit in with the rest of the staff" and "didn't know their way around the office." In one situation, an employer said, "the coach just came in and did the guy's job for him, while he sat there."