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Employing people with autism is good business

Sections: Letters Published

Dear Editor:

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Ascendigo Autism Services in Carbondale would like to draw attention to a very serious but often overlooked economic disparity that affects us all.

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Although autism has steadily increased in recent decades, affecting an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US, the unemployment rate for people with autism hovers somewhere around 80%. Further compounding the issue, over 75% say they want to and/or are able to work. For those individuals with autism who do have jobs, more than half report underemployment or their skill level being higher than their job utilizes. Sadly, 51 percent of those working also report bullying, harassment, discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace, a statistic that has actually gone up in recent years.

Although studies have proven that having a job can improve a person’s executive functioning skills and decrease problem behaviors, workers with autism still have an uphill battle with even the most well-meaning employers. Small factors like light and sound sensitivity, inability to interpret social cues, short term memory loss, or even altering a day’s work schedule without notice can ruin what otherwise could have been a productive work day. These problems could easily be accommodated by teaching autistic workers to self-advocate or by supporting them with a job coach.

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Fortunately, people with autism looking to find and maintain jobs, or employers looking to hire someone with special needs have more tools at their disposal than they might realize. Ascendigo’s Vocational Program, with support from Colorado’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), can provide resources for people that might be ready, willing and able to work, but still need an extra hand to find and apply for jobs that interest them, organize their resumes, navigate the interview process, need extra workplace training, or learn the self-care and home life routines that allow someone to show up to a job on time and prepared to work. DVR even provides hiring incentives such as tax breaks for employers and wage reimbursement for their employee’s first month on the job.  

Here in Carbondale, businesses like Phat Thai, Sopris Crossfit, Aloha Cyclery, Town, Sustainable Settings Farm, KDNK, and Heritage Park Assisted Living have all offered employment opportunities to Ascendigo participants who have proven themselves not only capable, but in many cases exceed all expectations. With reasonable accommodations on the employer’s part, these young people’s dedication to work, attention to detail, strict punctuality, and friendly disposition can make them model employees with, in many cases, a lifelong commitment to steady, competitive, gainful employment.

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The Town of Carbondale has embraced the autism community and their fight for equal opportunities, but we still have a long way to go. If you or someone you know is on the spectrum and looking for work, or if you have a business looking to add some neurodiversity to your staff, please contact Ascendigo’s Vocational Department by emailing or visit Together we can work to bring down the unemployment epidemic and change lives for the better.

Mark Zoller

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Ascendigo Austism Services