"Earlier this month, our Founder and CEO, Cate Luzio was asked if I wanted to write a “Letter to the Community” for April which is Autism Acceptance Month. As I reflected on her request, I thought surely when I go to look at current statistics, some things will have changed from when I wrote my first blog post from April 2019, which you can read here. I have seen a huge shift in terms of autism acceptance in such a short time period. Companies that used to “light it up blue” have chosen to listen to autistic voices and go “#redinstead.” The gender gap in autism diagnosis has been shrinking, old autism awareness campaigns have changed to autism acceptance and neurodiversity has become a term that has gained popularity as many businesses choose to include it in their diversity and inclusion mission.
However, when I saw the numbers, they hadn't changed. 85% of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are under or unemployed. According to the CDC, there are more than 5,000,000 adults in the United States with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That is 2.21% of the population in our country - and growing. It is time that workplaces start to take advantage of this untapped workforce. So often when looking at disabilities, we look at what the person is unable to do. Employers see an autistic person and think that their challenges will not fit in nicely with what job requirements. And while those with autism may require some accommodations, what makes us different is what makes us amazing. So much of the stigma or what people view as negatives can be transformed into strengths that make autistics an asset as employees, employers, neighbors, and friends.
It really all comes down to how employers look at our talents. Instead of saying autistics present with ‘black and white thinking,’ you could say we have a strong sense of justice and doing what’s right. Instead of noticing how autistics have narrow restricted interests, you could say autistics have special interests and a wide amount of knowledge in their area of absorption, allowing them to thrive when working with that interest. Instead of acknowledging their potential challenges with social cues and bluntness, let’s celebrate their honesty and desire to connect with others in unconventional ways. Many jobs that require repetition, attention to detail and focus could be seen as opportunities for people with autism, as those are strengths many of us possess. Many autistics have a unique viewpoint that allows them to think in different ways, thus presenting with creative and new ideas.
As an autistic employee, I have often felt that my autism has been an asset to my work here at Luminary. I feel I have grown so much as a person working in my position, developing more confidence and new skills. I have become more flexible with managing different tasks. I have become more comfortable dealing with people from the wonderful staff, to the incredible and welcoming Members and visitors. I feel respected and valued. Cate has truly been the kindest, most generous, and understanding boss I have worked for. Getting a job that you enjoy is hard, especially when you’re neurodivergent or on the spectrum. Cate is the first manager I’ve had to embrace me and accommodate my differences in the workplace. I am forever grateful for Luminary and the family I have made there. I am proud to work for someone who values diversity, and embraces differences unlike anyone I have seen before. Cate actually “walks the walk” and her passion for the place she has created is so unique and so special. And the Luminary community follows that lead.
I may only be one example, but when people with autism along with people with other disabilities are included in the workforce, it is a win-win for everyone. It is my hope that companies will continue to hire neurodivergent people not only because it is the right thing to do, but also to see what amazing talents we bring to the table. I’m proud to work for a company that not only celebrates my differences during the month of April, but every day.
To learn more about autism acceptance, click here. "
Written by: Lauren Mcarthur, Community Manager at Luminary