Spark Your Innovation By Hiring People On The Autism Spectrum (Neural Diversity)

autism hire diversity diverse

Late last year, I was asked to give a speech in Atlanta to AIMD (American Institute for the Managing Diversity).  Given the work with Hacking Autism, they also asked if my daughter could join.  So for the first time, Tara and I made a joint appearance.

The topic of the speech was on the need to expand the definition of diversity to include neural diversity.  Most of us are what is called “neural typical”.  The challenge we are facing is how to include individuals in the workforce that are not neural typical, especially those on the autism spectrum (autism, Aspergers).

Given that 1 out of every 88 kids will be diagnosed with autism, what will be the impact on the future workforce?  Those adults who have been diagnosed with Aspergers have a +70% unemployment rate.

So how does this impact innovation?  Innovation is about seeing opportunities/problems that others don't see.  Individuals on the autism spectrum see everything differently.  I would argue that they could be the spark you need to create game-changing innovations.  The challenge is the need to organize and manage them differently.


The rest of the videos are located here.

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6 thoughts on “Spark Your Innovation By Hiring People On The Autism Spectrum (Neural Diversity)

  1. Phil, I loved this. Last summer I hired a high school kid with Aspergers for an up front customer service position in my restaurant, knowing that it was going to be a real challenge for him, and for me managing him. It was a bit of a risk: my son has aspergers, and I kept envisioning a meltdown on the floor in the middle of a busy Saturday morning rush.

    Not only did it turn out to be a great experience, but I think the rest of my team learned as much from him as vice versa. Too often we look at people in a very shortsighted way.

    Interestingly, a few months after we hired him, the chairman came through and visited the restaurant. Matt (our aspie front door guy) made some very keen observations about the business and how we operate. The chairman’s response: “Keep this guy, he’s great!”

    • Charles ..

      Long time since we last chatted …

      Great story on the benefits on hiring an aspie. I keep hearing about how people are “surprised” when it turns out great. For all the talk of tolerance, we sometimes overlook the people that are right in front of us who can have such a positive impact on our businesses.

      Given your technical background, you should think about getting involved with Hacking Autism. We could use the help …


  2. I email this to you but should have posted it here.

    Thank you from a parent with an Asperger’s teen

    Hi Phil,
    I came to follow you from the webOS/palm community and have since followed you on twitter. I am a parent of a 14 year old with Asperger’s syndrome, like many he excels in the academic world but is desperately trying to understand the social world around him as he prepares for PSATs and college. People do not realize with the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the USA currently at 1:88, 1:49 in NJ where I’m from, these children are the future and must be given the opportunity to succeed.

    My son scores higher on state testing them his neuro-typical peers (top 5%) and achieved Tae Kwon Do 1st degree Black Belt status at the age of 10 but his future is jeopardized by the words Autism and Aspergers and intolerance to him not being about to read abstract social cues. They really are hidden treasures who just need people like you to believe in them.

    My son also plays ice hockey for the New Jersey Daredevils, , this team is for children with developmental disabilities. The coaches teach them more in one hockey session then you could ever imagine. They are mentored by volunteer neuro-typical local high school hockey players who never miss a Saturday practice, so not only does the team get all the benefits of being part of a team, the high school players who mentor them who may very well be their boss or co-worker have a better understanding of them. Which give me hope for the future.

    I want to thank you for believing in them and your efforts to help my son and others to become the positive productive members of society they want to be.. People like you, his coaches and those player who mentor my son’s team give parents like me hope for the future. I only wish more people would follow your lead.

    twitter: diana2267

    • Thanks so much for your kind comments.

      Business Insider recently wrote an article as a follow-up to my post above and the speech my daughter Tara and I gave in Atlanta.

      One resource that I find interesting and would love to hear from others if they have found it useful is ASTEP. ASTEP’s goal is to bring together employers and vocational support professionals to create a successful workplace environment for individuals with Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism (AS/HFA)

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