Ready, Willing and Able to Work: How Small Businesses Empower People with Autism

On Capitol Hill, Autism Speaks CEO highlights progress and calls for improvements in transition to adulthood

WASHINGTON (May 9, 2018) – Testifying today before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, Autism Speaks President and CEO Angela Geiger addressed an area of great importance to many in the autism community: finding and retaining employment. At a hearing chaired by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Ms. Geiger highlighted ways in which the nation’s small businesses are uniquely positioned to overcome barriers to employment for people with developmental disabilities, and recommended systemic improvements to ease the transition to adulthood.

The employment rate of adults with disabilities is much lower than that of people without disabilities, and the rate for people with autism is lower still. However, progress is being made. In March 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the employment participation rate for working-age people with disabilities increased to 34.8 percent from 32.3 percent the previous year.

For many people with autism spectrum disorder, difficulty with communication and social interaction often hinder job interviews, collaboration with coworkers or even commuting to a job. Autism Speaks, which works on issues across the life span, provides tools and resources to help adults with autism overcome barriers to employment and live as independently as possible.

“Employment is more than the key to independence; our jobs are, in large part, the way we as Americans define ourselves,” Ms. Geiger said. “People with autism share the same right to shape their identities and deserve the same opportunity to maximize their potential and to contribute as full and productive members of society. Small businesses have a tremendous opportunity to help them do so, improving their bottom line and benefiting their communities at the same time.”

Autism Speaks and its partners work with businesses to improve hiring, training and retention. The innovation and flexibility of small businesses and entrepreneurs enable them to lead the way in employing people with autism, who are ready, willing and able to work. Businesses that hire people with autism report higher productivity and better retention rates, which flow to the bottom line.

Ms. Geiger highlighted three encouraging employment trends: mission-driven businesses run by social entrepreneurs whose mission is to hire people with developmental disabilities; autism employment initiatives by large companies that want to diversity their workforce; and micro-enterprises and small businesses run by entrepreneurs with autism. Entrepreneurship offers flexibility and job customization.

Illustrating these trends, the hearing included testimony from small-business owner John Cronin, of John’s Crazy Socks; Lori Ireland, of Extraordinary Ventures, a mission-driven business that employs adults with autism in service contracts; and Dave Friedman, the CEO of AutonomyWorks  whose 22-year-old son is on the autism spectrum.

“We leverage the talents of people with autism – attention to detail, focus through repetitive tasks, and dedication to quality – to provide our clients with essential services,” said Mr. Friedman, whose Chicago-area company serves 15 commercial clients.

To help small businesses recruit, retain and advance employees with autism, Autism Speaks and its partners create communities of experts who share best practices to unlock the potential of an untapped workforce. Through these collaborations, Autism Speaks has developed employment guides, networks and online tools for job candidates, employers, employees, parents and schools.

Each year, an estimated 50,000 adolescents with autism transition from school into adult life, and more than half are disconnected from work or further education and training. To help close that gap, Autism Speaks recommended three systemic changes:

Improve transition services in schools and consistently start earlier, as young as age 14. This includes vocational rehabilitation, special education and career services, as well as collaboration with community employers to help match student with jobs in the local market.

Improve coordination between services. Building upon recommendations from the 2017 Report to Congress on Young Adults and Transition-age Youth with Autism, increase alignment among federal, state and community agencies.

Ensure that state-level implementation of workforce programs results in meaningful outcomes for people with autism. These programs include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and state Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) programs. Both can help people with autism find paid work.

Ms. Geiger said, “Autism Speaks remains dedicated to serving as a conduit between individuals with autism and the small-business community.”

About Autism

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, and each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges. Most forms are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences, and many are accompanied by medical issues such as GI disorders, seizures and sleep disturbances. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the U.S.

About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We do this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. Go to to learn more, donate or join a fundraising walk.