Autism Spectrum Disorder is increasing every year among global populations. In fact, according to the CDC, there has been a 119% increase in the occurrence of autism from 2000-2010. The CDC has also found that 1 in 68 children were on the spectrum in 2012. While this rising prevalence of ASD is partly because of diagnosis categories being added, there are more young people with autism than ever before. Accordingly, we are seeing a welcome rise in autism friendly campuses, stores and businesses.
Companies are starting to actively hire people with ASD because they’ve found they are a great source of untapped talent. SAP, a software and technology company, is leading a groundbreaking initiative to employ 1% of their workforce with employees on the spectrum by 2020. SAP has found that their current employees with ASD have high levels of discipline and productivity, making them valuable assets to their continued success.
ASD friendly environments are even growing at universities. In Ireland, Dublin City University has created the first autism-friendly campus in Europe. They have created an environment for autism spectrum students to learn and experience college life without being overwhelmed. In addition to providing education for young people on the spectrum to truly learn without barriers, they are also helping them find jobs after graduation.
Students on the spectrum attending college often move from an inclusive environment directly into independent study. This is particularly a difficult transition that often leads to isolation, misunderstandings, bullying, and problems interviewing and acquiring employment after graduation. DCU hopes to change all that by creating a more inclusive environment for ASD students. They plan to train staff members and school organizations to be more open and understanding of challenges faced by ASD students. They will also be setting up a test support model to enable students to transition into employment, and autism-friendly internships so they can get work experience.
Businesses and schools aren’t the only ones creating considerate environments for people on the spectrum. More and more businesses are opening up their doors to provide autism friendly environments. Delta Airlines has opened a calm room at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport because it can be an overwhelming experience for people with ASD. An English company called Asda Living is offering a ‘quiet hour’ where escalators shut down, TVs and music are turned off, and the entire store is made as silent as possible.
We have seen the increase of recreational activities and social events opening their doors to autistic visitors as well. There is a beach in South Carolina that is autism friendly so that families can enjoy vacations with events specifically designed for people on the spectrum in a non-judgemental environment. Royal Caribbean Cruises has even made their accommodations autism friendly by having sensory-related toys, autism-friendly youth activities, movies, priority boarding and dietary meals suited for people with ASD.
There are movie theater chains like AMC that are even offering AMC Sensory Friendly Films for kids on the spectrum. They offer a movie experience by turning the lights up, turning the sound down, and allowing kids to be themselves without judgement. Normal off-limits movie behavior like shouting and jumping are allowed during these special screenings.
Businesses creating autism-friendly environments is a progressive leap forward that we hope will continue. Companies are now reaching out to a larger part of the population that has been underserved, and with this change, businesses, schools, and companies are finding out the true benefits and value of reaching out to the ASD community.