Most employers and HR professionals are familiar with the basics of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including the workplace, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals.
When considering the ADA, though, many think primarily of those with physical disabilities; but these aren’t the only types of disabilities the law covers. Take, for example, autism.
Autism Is a Protected Disability
In an article for SHRM Executive Network’s HR People & Strategy, Susanne Bruyère explains that autism is “the most common member of a family called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs). Developmental disabilities such as autism are brain-based, neurological conditions that have more to do with biology than with psychology.
Autism is a disability and, as such, is protected by the ADA. There’s some good news here, though. Autistic employees can have a positive impact in the companies they work for.
Potential Benefits of Autistic Employees
Autistic individuals, while recognized by laws such as the ADA as disabled, often bring different—as opposed to fewer—skills and capabilities to the workplace. Bruyère notes that many companies are making efforts to be more inclusive of autistic individuals, “who often have unique talents for focus and pattern recognition that contribute to success in some technical jobs.”
Strategies for Recruitment and Success
Bruyère points out that autistic employees are no different from their colleagues in terms of desire to advance in their careers and having their talents and accomplishments recognized and appreciated. It’s important for HR professionals to help managers foster an inclusive and supportive environment for autistic individuals and help them understand the unique motivational and communication strategies that work well with this group.
Disabilities cover a much broader range of conditions than the physical. Not only should employers be conscious of their legal and moral responsibilities to individuals with neurological disabilities, such as those with autism, but also, they should be cognizant of the unique talents and skill sets that an inclusive policy toward autistic individuals can bring to their organizations.