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In a hot labor market, young people with autism are an untapped source of workers

People on the autism spectrum tend to thrive in situations that involve repetitive tasks, predictable schedules, attention to detail and rule-following, traits that are needed for entry-level jobs.

A hiring sign hangs near the doorway of a drugstore. Businesses are looking everywhere for workers and should consider hiring those on the autism spectrum, an advocate writes.
A hiring sign hangs near the doorway of a drugstore. Businesses are looking everywhere for workers and should consider hiring those on the autism spectrum, an advocate writes.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Right now, the labor market is red-hot. Employers are offering unprecedented incentives to attract workers, especially in the service industry and for entry-level jobs. It seems that it should be easy to get a job, but for young adults with autism, that is not necessarily the case.

Each year, 50,000 students on the autism spectrum leave high school, many hoping to find jobs. But for the majority of these students, especially those from low-income neighborhoods with few resources, the day they leave school is the start of a long slide into disconnection, isolation and depression. And unemployment.

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According to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, only about one-third of young adults with autism are employed in the two years after leaving school. That’s the lowest employment rate compared with their peers with other disabilities. Part of that has to do with the reluctance of some employers to hire neuro-diverse candidates such as those with autism. It also has to do with the unique challenges people with autism face when trying to get a job. Many have a hard time reading and responding to social cues and making eye contact. Some have issues with sensory inputs such as noise that can make the interview process especially difficult. But they also tend to thrive in situations that involve repetitive tasks, predictable schedules, attention to detail and rule-following. These traits can be attractive to employers looking to fill entry-level jobs.

Urban Autism Solutions has had significant success in matching West Side public high school students with their very first jobs in stores where they bag items, manage carts, stock shelves and do other jobs. While not all the students we welcome to our UAS West Side Transition Academy are job-ready, more than 90% of the students we help to secure competitive employment are still on the job six months later.

We applaud employers who are open to hiring people with autism and encourage every company to tap into this unique candidate pool. They are ready and want to work.

Heather M. Tarczan, executive director, Urban Autism Solutions

The Ike needs carpool lanes

I hope that any conversation involving the use of infrastructure funds on the Eisenhower Expy. would include the addition of a lane for high-occupancy vehicles.

Every morning as I wait for my Blue Line train into the city, I count the number of single-passenger cars in the eastbound lanes. My data may not be the most scientific, but I routinely count at least 20 lone drivers for every 1 car with a second person riding shotgun. That needs to be reduced.

Other cities with HOV lanes have seen more car-pooling and reduced vehicle usage. Chicago needs to try this, and by “try,” I don’t mean half-heartedly, without any initial enforcement, before throwing up their hands in defeat, saying, “See? Doesn’t work here.”

The Glasgow Summit on climate change is just ending. While many Americans may be relieved that the U.S. has rejoined the conversation, we are also alarmed that our country is woefully behind in actually walking the walk of behavioral change regarding climate.

Chicagoland residents live in a large urban area with progressive ideals. Our region is ripe to reduce emissions, and our population is full of older hippies, millennial hipsters and people in between who want to do the right thing by their globe and their city. Policy makers, please harness that energy with systems that honor that goodwill.

Kristine May, Wrigleyville