Canadians with autism have 'untapped skills' when it comes to employment
Jaden Lake is a high-performance library worker who happens to have autism.
Co-workers describe his work as fast and accurate.
“He's better than us at most of these tasks,” a colleague says. “He just knows exactly where everything goes and how to do it.”
Lake, 19, was diagnosed with autism when he was two and now volunteers at a school library in Edmonton stocking shelves, cataloguing, labelling and working with computers.
He’s non-verbal, but is extremely enthusiastic and loves his work, according to library staff.
According to a 2013 study out of Ontario, Canadians with autism are under-employed: a mere 13.9 per cent work full time, with an additional 6.1 per cent working only part-time.
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in every 68 children are born with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), up from an estimated rate of 1 in 88 cases noted in 2008.
But advocates for people with autism believe that giving this group of Canadians a job isn’t charity – it’s an opportunity for companies to benefit by tapping into the under-utilized skills of people with autism.
Teacher-librarian Krista Sabo – who works with Lake -- couldn’t agree more.
“He could work in an office or bank or anywhere there are numbers and organization,” she says.
Edmonton-area MP Mike Lake – Jaden’s father – is encouraging employers to give adults with autism a chance to demonstrate what they can do.
“He wouldn't be able to do a job interview,” Lake told CTV News. “So if he wanted to work in a library or a warehouse or somewhere where he would use his skills, he would need someone to communicate for him and explain what he is good at.”
The most recent federal budget, released last February, promised $11.4 million over four years to support vocational training programs for people with autism spectrum disorders.
And some companies are responding.
Calgary-based Meticulon – a software and website testing company -- is a leader in connecting businesses with adults with autism. Meticulon CEO Garth Johnson believes that people with autism may have advantages over other workers in some circumstances.
“Dedication, commitment, focus,” Johnson says. “They will do the job again and again and again for a long time -- longer than we will do it and still love it.”