Autism Employment Struggles During The Pandemic

There is no doubting that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting effects on all parts of human society. It has fundamentally changed the way in which everyone operates, from socializing with friends to traveling outside of the city and redefining the traditional work model. It has brought some positives in terms of bringing people closer together through technology and pushing modern vaccine development, but also a lot of challenges, including a plethora of mental health issues across the board. Canadian society has had to make frequent changes to meet each surge of infections and to cope with each lockdown.

It’s hard to predict how many of these changes will be permanent, creating a new normal for generations to come, and how many can be discarded, or better yet saved as potential strategies for the next pandemic. However, it’s clear that the end, if there can ever be one with an ever changing virus, is a long way off and everyone will continue to make adjustments and changes to keep surviving.

Employment Woes

            One of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic by far has been the job market.Nearly every world economy has struggled with supply chain disruptions and significantly reduced consumer spending as everyone stayed home. These economic woes have caused a lot of businesses to downsize or even close permanently, which have translated into significant job losses across all sectors. All demographics of Canadian society have suffered from higher unemployment rates, but autistic individuals seem to be having the hardest time getting jobs again as the economy starts to reopen.

Challenges Facing Autistic Jobseekers

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, autistic adults in Canada had some of the lowest employment rates across any demographics; for example, an estimated 80% of autistic British Columbians were either out of work or in jobs that underemployed them. Part of this is due to existing prejudices against autistic individuals, both conscious and subconscious, while part of this is also due to a lack of societal expectations on autistic individuals. The pandemic has only exacerbated this situation, adding a few new reasons as to why adults with autisms are having difficulty finding employment during COVID-19:

  • Diversity as an afterthought – for many organizations, the drive to hire neurodiverse talent comes as part of a public relations mission to appear more diverse. However, these programs are often the first to be discarded when financial times get tough, which means that autistic employees already in place are more likely to lose their jobs and funding and that new positions that are targeted at autistic individuals are much less common.

  • Lack of remote supervision – another barrier facing autistic jobseekers during the global pandemic is that many jobs are now being performed remotely. For many people, the ability to work from home has been a game-changer in terms of their productivity and ability to focus without the distractions of the office, but many autistic employees require a high level of support and supervision throughout the workday. This is much harder to provide remotely than in person, so many businesses are making the decision not to offer these kinds of jobs as there are fewer people to provide virtual supervision.

  • Fewer openings in preferred fields – there are some fields that autistic individuals tend to thrive in; accounting, data analysis, and computer programming to name but a few. However, as with all sectors, these companies have suffered from job losses and will take a long time to open up to the point where autistic employees will be hired again.

What Next For Autistic Jobseekers?

            With all of these challenges, the future looks bleak for autistic job seekers. However, there are still many autism employment support agencies still in operation that help to find autistic adults looking for work and to provide them with the skills required for the workplace. By signing up with one of these agencies, autistic adults can use the time while the economy is rebounding to gain extra skills and training as well as finding shorter volunteer contracts to help them gain real-world job practice. All of these experiences will make them much more viable candidates when the right job comes along.