Neurodiversity Education Research Center
Neurodiversity Education Research Center

Autism Enriches the STEM-Workforce

“According to recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at some point before they are 18.”1 “There will be 500,000 adults on the autism spectrum aging into adulthood over the next 10 years. Yet a whopping 85% of college grads affected by autism are unemployed, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.5%.”2 Securing satisfying employment is difficult for anyone, but for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, it’s even more of a challenge. “Others are doing menial jobs far below their skill and testing level with 79% of young autistic adults working part-time, averaging $9.11 per hour.”5 These adults are eager and excited to work but struggle to fit into a hiring and recruitment process that is fundamentally social.

“U.S. business and policy leaders have prioritized increasing the number of students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math, collectively known as STEM. But one source of STEM talent is often overlooked: young autistic people. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that autistic students with choose majors in science, technology, engineering, and math at higher rates than students in the general population.”3

“Xin Wei, a senior research analyst for SRI International’s Center for Education and Human Services and the lead author of the Journal of Autism study emphasizes that autistic people have strengths in systemizing, memorizing, and rule-based systems, but they are not so great at social and emotional interaction with other people. This could be one of the reasons why the same research also shows that, while students with ASD may excel and gravitate towards STEM.” ‘It may be that autistic people naturally think like scientists. They look for patterns, and, in science, you are always looking for patterns that you hope reflect natural law.’1

‘People with autism are natural specialists — when they dig in, they quickly become experts,” says Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist at the University of Montreal.’ “Mottron found that autistic people with average IQ scores are up to 40 percent faster than their peers without autism at solving complex logical problems. Their analytical skills may account for this superiority in manipulating numbers. The team has also found that autistic people possess enhanced perceptual abilities: They excel at discerning patterns against the backdrop of complex environments, spotting embedded details that others miss, and often have exceptional ability in mentally manipulating 3D shapes.”6 Famously, the well-known animal behavioral scientist Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism as a child, has said that she “thinks in pictures.”

“People with autism often have desirable qualities for employers, including high intelligence, careful attention to detail, intense commitment to high-quality work, and out-of-the-box thinking. Where they stumble is obtaining a job in the first place, since they can struggle with the strong verbal and nonverbal communication skills needed in a traditional job interview.”7

An increasing number of companies are launching initiatives to find autistic job candidates. An employment portal called also helps find jobs for autistic people. There is a reason, however, for cautious optimism that some of those numbers may change for the better, perhaps, especially in the case of autism. In just the past couple of years, several major companies—especially tech companies—have started hiring initiatives that search for job candidates with autism. They are taking a second look at autistic people and seeing not deficits but a pool of dormant talent.

Microsoft, Vodafone, and SAP are among the companies that have launched programs called “Autism at Work,” which has intended to integrate autistic people into their workforces. We see this as part of a larger, slowly emerging, and hugely beneficial trend: an increased interest in and willingness to hire people with disabilities in competitive positions. Other employment initiatives at several other prominent tech firms include: Salesforce, Google, Cable Labs, Hewlett Packard, and CollabNet.4

The Microsoft Autism Hiring Program launched in April 2015 with a goal of hiring autistic people for full-time positions. The company partnered with PROVAIL and Specialisterne, two firms that specialize in placing autistic people in careers in which autism can be an advantage—to hire full-time autistic employees. “Mary Ellen Smith, a corporate vice president, stated in a recent blog post, ‘It’s simple, Microsoft is stronger when we expand opportunity, and we have a diverse workforce representing our customers. Autistic people bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different; some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth, or excel in math or code.’

Among the most developed and ambitious hiring initiatives is being carried about by SAP, the global software corporation. SAP’s goal is that by somewhere around 2020, 1 percent of its global workforce—650 people—is autistic people.

More and more businesses are leveraging the unique talents of autistic people and we will continue to see more support from autism-focused businesses and autism-based Internet marketplaces. Autistic employees exhibit qualities ranging from heightened memorization, creativity, and attention to detail that can be an asset to any employer.  These employers are taking the initiative to hire recruit from this untapped talent pool but also provide the necessary support during their employment. There will be unlimited growth potential for autistic employees to excel in a STEM career, as they have proven to significantly contribute to companies and help increase their range.


  1. “Helping Students with Autism Succeed in STEM – Our Next-Generation Problem Solvers!” Education Insider, April 10 , 2015,
  2. Pesce, Nicole. “Most college grads with autism can’t find jobs. This group is fixing that,” Moneyish, April 10, 2017,
  3. Kuchment, Anna. “Students with Autism Gravitate Toward STEM Majors,” Scientific American, February 1, 2013, \
  4. Bernick, Michael. “Where is Autism Heading in 2017?” Forbes, December 13, 2016,
  5. “The Autism Employment Crisis,” Integrate Advisors,
  6. Marsa, Linda. “Extraordinary minds: The link between savantism and autism,” Spectrum, January 13, 2016,
  7. Felcetti, Kristen. “These major tech companies are making autism hiring a priority,” Monster,
  8. Picciuto, Elizabeth. “Employers Are Seeking Out Autistic Workers,” The Daily Beast, May 11, 2015,