Harmful autism stereotypes are perpetuated and reinforced by popular media such as movies and novels. Some examples are movies including Rain Man, Snow Cake, Mercury Rising and Mozart and the Whale.
One of the most harmful autism stereotypes is the thinking that autistic people are all geniuses. While it is true that some autistic people actually are geniuses, it’s also true that autistic people have a wide range of intellectual abilities.
This stereotype is harmful because it has contributed to a false perception of what autism really is. A closely related stereotype, that autistic people all have excellent memories, is harmful for the same reason. While some autistic people are gifted with better-than-average memories, others are not.
Many autistic people feel strongly that it’s harmful when other people make light of their autism by declaring that everyone has a bit of autism. This viewpoint is problematic because it incorrectly minimises the neurological differences between people with autism and people without. There are real, scientifically documented differences; many autistic people feel that denying this reality is dismissive of the struggles autistic people face.
Autism Discrimination in the Workplace
While some noteworthy companies like Microsoft and SAP are embracing autistic employees, there is still an unacceptable amount of autism discrimination in the workplace. CBS News reports an estimated 80 percent unemployment rate among autistic adults of working age. HR Zone reports that 79 percent of the autistic adults who are collecting out-of-work benefits really want to be part of the workforce.
We need to do better.
Experts in the Australian government estimate that there are 164,000 autistic Aussies. We can’t afford to marginalise such a large group of potential workers. With some simple and careful accommodations, these individuals could be productive members of our workforce. One example of a suggested accommodation is providing a detailed checklist of tasks to be performed — which, really, if you think about it, is a good idea to give any employee.
Equipping Our Future Human Resources Managers to Embrace a Diverse WorkForce
Hiring managers have a natural tendency to employ others like themselves. This is problematic in the workplace because teams need a diversity of viewpoints and strengths to succeed; and individual team members’ weaknesses also need to be diversified and compensated for.
With autistic people being a distinct minority in the workplace, they are often passed over for jobs they’d excel at — a phenomenon that is likely due to the aforementioned tendency for people to hire others like themselves.
Education is essential, first of all, for creating awareness about the need for diversity in the workplace. It’s also essential for creating awareness about how to harness the strengths of this largely untapped and talented potential workforce. One of the keys is understanding the simple accommodations that employers can make to help empower autistic people to become truly productive team members.
Cutting-edge degree programs in human resources management include coursework relating to issues in diversity. It’s crucial for us to expose our future HR managers to these important ideas promoting inclusion. It’s also imperative that we banish the harmful, inaccurate stereotypes and make an effort to understand who our autistic colleagues really are.
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