People with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Workplace: An Expanding Legal Frontier

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Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review

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Over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Recent estimates suggest that ASD may affect as many as one out of every 68 children in the United States, an increase of over 78% since 2007. Although some of this increase can be attributed to the enhanced awareness and focus on early intervention resulting from public education campaigns, much of the cause remains unknown.

Nearly half of all individuals diagnosed with ASD possess either average of above average intelligence, but only a small percentage are employed, regardless of their level of educational attainment or individual qualifications. One study of adults with high functioning autism identified employment "as the single biggest issue or barrier facing them."

In the next eight years alone, experts predict a 230% increase in the number of young people with ASD transitioning to adulthood. As these numbers grow, there inevitably will be pressure to change the status quo and expand employment opportunities for them. At the same time, as a result of the amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act litigants of all disabilities are increasingly successful in establishing coverage under the statute and increasing protection against disability discrimination in employment. Taken together, there is little doubt that increasing numbers of individuals with ASD will enter the labor pool over the next decade.

This shift presents a tremendous opportunity both for people with autism to integrate into the workforce and for employers to tap into the talents and abilities of a sizable population of workers. At the same time, it unquestionably will create new legal challenges for employers attempting to accommodate this set of workers, many of whom will have unique needs. This Article explores the legal issues that are likely to arise in the context of the employment of people with ASD. Recognizing that there is a great deal of diversity in functioning among people on the spectrum, its focus is on those who are sufficiently high functioning to be capable of holding mainstream, independent employment.

Recommended Citation

Wendy F. Hensel, People with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Workplace: An Expanding Legal Frontier, 52 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 73 (2017).





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