When David Friedman’s autistic son, Matt, turned 14, the family was faced with a reality check: How would Matt get through high school and find a job that would allow him to support himself? According to Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization, almost 90% of young adults with autism are currently unemployed. “This represents a vast amount of high-potential human capital, sitting around untapped,” Friedman wrote in an AdAge column. He knew that Matt could thrive in a work environment that supported his (and other autistic adults’) unique talents, such as pattern memory, extreme focus and accuracy. As a corporate executive, Friedman also recognized that some of the most tedious, process-oriented tasks at large companies, such as website maintenance, data entry and software testing, are either outsourced or handled by junior-level employees who find the processes mundane, leading to high turnover rates and drops in quality. But these jobs — with their patterns and details — are perfectly suited for individuals with autism. It was just a matter of connecting the two.
Friedman left his corporate job and founded AutonomyWorks, an organization that offers its clients a pool of highly trained workers, all with autism spectrum disorder, who can perform these process tasks with the utmost precision. AutonomyWorks takes a job, breaks it into clearly defined tasks and assigns it to one of their associates, who completes them, while adhering to quality control monitors. These associates work in an office environment that is crafted to suit their needs. Each worker also receives occupational therapy, job coaching and life skills training in the workplace, so as to make them as successful as possible in their new careers.
Since launching in 2012, AutonomyWorks now employs 15 people (11 with autism and four managers). By the end of 2015, the organization hopes to have completed a service center in Chicago that would employ 300 associates, giving that many more young adults with autism an opportunity to thrive on their own.