Up to three times more autistic people have savant abilities than previously thought
Researchers from Autism Spectrum Australia believe new findings could have significant impact on perceptions of autistic people and their potential in the workforce.
The researchers say up to three times more autistic people have special talents or “savant” abilities than previously thought. They add that identifying and nurturing that special talent at an early age is crucial in assisting autistic people find a meaningful job in adulthood.
Another key, according to Nance Haxton’s ABC report on the Asia Pacific Autism Conference, is changing employers’ perceptions of autism. The focus must shift from a focus on deficits to the advantages of being autistic.
Dr Trevor Clark, research director at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) tells Haxton, “Just now we are finally beginning to appreciate that many people on the autism spectrum have what we are now referring to as exceptional abilities.
Special skills a great advantage in workforce
“About 30 per cent of adults on the spectrum do display these very special abilities. Back in the Eighties we thought it was less than 10 percent of people on the spectrum had these special skills.
“The idea is that we facilitate and nurture (skills) in school, in early education programs, with the hope … as adults we might turn around poor outcomes.”
Employment of autistic people was a major discussion point at the autism conference.
Conference presenter Dr Stephen Shore, an associate professor of education at New York’s Adelphi University, says autistic people should not be pigeon-holed as only capable of computer-related roles in the workforce.
“Meaningful employment (for autistic people) is the next great frontier,” Shore says.
“It’s all well and good to see all this publicity about IT geeks, however my question is, what about everyone else because only a small minority of us on the spectrum are IT geeks.
A shift to a ‘whole life’ approach
“Many of us have skills in other areas and there are also a number of us who need more supports for successful employment.”
Aspect CEO Adrian Ford says it’s part of a world-wide shift focusing on a whole life of the autistic person, not just the school years.
“They are fantastic employees … they are incredibly reliable, they stick with the job, they sometimes do jobs that people may find repetitive and boring, they like the order about it,” Ford says.
“There are many jobs I can think of _ in the engineering, accounting, tech, finance fields. Perfect for so many folks on the spectrum.”