Hiring someone with autism to help her with administrative tasks stressed Erica Wight about how that decision could make more work for her.
Three or four months after she brought the new employee on board, Wight said, she stopped back-checking his work — it was flawless.
The worker might not have had the typical social interactions of other colleagues in the office, but besides being accurate, he was always focused, and his insatiable curiosity made him the “king of small talk.”
Wight was speaking to human resources professionals Thursday at a workshop in Mount Washington, Md.
The session discussed altering hiring practices to find “neurodiverse” job candidates, or those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia, or on the autism spectrum.
“We have another minority group here, and they are finished being judged only by their shortcomings,” said Wight, a human resources manager for the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health. “They’re ready to show the world what they can do.
“This is the neurodiversity movement. This is the next huge wave. This is a civil rights movement and this wave is happening now.”
The movement attempts to address historically low unemployment rates by encouraging employers to see the skills and abilities of people with neurological differences, such as advanced technical ability, a capacity to understand and dissect complex patterns, and tremendous problem-solving stamina.
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The term “neurodiversity” is intended to emphasize difference in functioning as normal and natural variations in the human condition.
Wight said some counts put at 15 percent the proportion of the population with neurodiversity, a category of people with typically high unemployment.
Autism Speaks, a national advocacy not-for-profit, estimates that unemployment and underemployment is as high as 90 percent for people with autism spectrum disorder.
The workshop drew human resources workers from government agencies, not-for-profits and for-profit companies.
The session highlighted how companies can find a wider pool of job candidates and the competitive advantages to doing so. The workshop included a panel of employees with various cognitive abilities and their employers.