"Once you develop into an adult, those resources plummet," says Leslie Long, vice president of adult services for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
An estimated 50,000 people on the spectrum enter adulthood every year. Face-to-face job interviews can be a challenge for many, Long says, and some engage in repetitive behaviors, which can seem odd to the uninitiated.
But those idiosyncracies sometimes mask hidden talents, she says — like intense focus, or a facility with numbers and patterns.
"I mean, look at what happened with the housing bubble and the financial market," she points out. "It was a man on the spectrum who saw which mortgages were going to fall. And I don't think that's something an average person would have been able to do."
That particular case — of Dr. Michael Burry, the physician and hedge fund manager featured in the book and movie The Big Short — is in many ways exceptional, Long admits. (Burry has a son with Asperger's syndrome, and has said he believes he fits thediagnosis, as well.)
Still, with baby boomers starting to retire, and with talent in increasingly short supply, companies as varied as Microsoft, Walgreens, Capital One, AMC Theaters, and Proctor & Gamble are all starting to actively recruit people who have autism spectrum disorder. They aren't yet putting a lot more people to work, but their recruiting and training programs are becoming models for other firms.