Research has revealed the hidden benefits of hiring people with autism

Posted 8 months ago by David McManus
Autism is characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours. [Source: Shutterstock]
Autism is characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviours. [Source: Shutterstock]

What do you consider beneficial about hiring neurodivergent staff or dealing with coworkers who have an autism spectrum disorder?

Key points:

  • Globally, one in 100 children are estimated to live with an autism spectrum disorder
  • A new study has reported that more employers in the public and private sectors are seeking to capitalise on the potential benefits of the largely untapped talent pool
  • The bystander effect was established in 1964 following the murder of Kitty Genovese


Nearly one in three respondents of the 2022 Employee Census said that their disability status had not been recorded in their company’s human resources system, with over one-third of those instances being influenced by a fear of discrimination.

Now, employers are looking to recruit people with autism spectrum disorders in the workforce, according to a new study published in the October issue of Autism Research.

Researchers revealed that people with ASDs were less likely to succumb to the ‘bystander effect,’ a psychological principle that states people are less likely to intervene when witnessing situations that are inappropriate or harmful among a group of their peers.

The findings, uncovered by a team from York University in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto, showed that people with ASDs are less likely to stay silent in the face of gross misconduct or even just everyday mistakes, indicating the potential benefits of hiring neurodivergent people.

Lead author Lorne Hartman, an instructor with the Schulich School of Business, said that employees with autism were much more likely to intervene, regardless of the number of people present.

“In situations where they would not intervene, they were more likely to identify the influence of others as the reason, whereas neurotypical employees were more reluctant to acknowledge this,” Lorne said.

Lorne and his son Braxton Hartman, a graduate student in the Faculty of Health at York who was a collaborator on the study, were inspired to look into this issue — not only from their academic experience, but also because of personal experience. Braxton has autism and has been a public advocate on the issue since the age of 12.

“One of the motivations here is that a lot of the current literature on autism comes from a deficit mindset. It’s basically saying these differences in autism are sort of exclusively negatives,” Braxton explained.

“We want to reframe that and ask, ‘what are ways that some of these differences could actually be an advantage rather than just a negative?’

“One of the core areas that people tend to consider a deficit in autism is in terms of social interaction. We wanted to look at whether this is actually a positive to the extent that people with autism are less influenced by others when it comes to dysfunctional or unethical situations.”

The latest data on neurodivergent employment from the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that the number of people with autism whom were employed or seeking work was 38 percent, compared to 53.4 percent for all people with disability and 84.1 percent for those without disability.

“We’re looking at this from two angles — one is looking at helping organisations be more ethical and efficient, but also, helping people like myself — people on the spectrum — find gainful employment by helping to change the societal understanding of autism,” Braxton concluded.

These findings follow a new report from the Australian Workers’ Union, released on October 10, that revealed half of the Australian workforce had experienced bullying, harassment or exposure to inappropriate behaviour.


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