Matt Friedman, 26, remembers the day he received his first paycheck: June 22, 2015.

His ability to recall it out of the blue is significant. First, it reflects his excellent memory, attention to detail and mathematical ability. Second, Friedman shared the date with Anderson Cooper during an October 2020 episode of 60 Minutes about the growing popularity of hiring people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Cooper’s story featured numerous organizations that employ people with ASD, including AutonomyWorks, the Chicago-based company that Dave Friedman, Matt’s father, founded in 2012.

When Friedman was chief marketing officer at Sears, he oversaw hundreds of employees who fact-checked newspaper ads. Realizing Matt would be successful at such a job, the elder Friedman founded AutonomyWorks as a Certified B Corporation balancing profit and purpose.

Today, the company employs 36 people, including 28 with ASD, to support client needs. They process financial transactions, enter and organize data, provide back-office support to supply chain and freight managers, and find bugs in operating systems. A content team checks more than 2,300 websites per month, reducing product and pricing errors for clients by 90% and increasing productivity by 30%, Cooper reported.

“People with autism prefer to work toward mastery on a smaller number of things. That’s where they get their satisfaction, striving for excellence on a narrow set of tasks, where they are able to have that focus.”

Autismaffecting nearly 4% of American men

More than 5.4 million people, or 2.21% of U.S. adults, are on the autism spectrum, the vast majority of which are males. Nearly 4.4 million men (3.62%) have ASD, compared with 1.1 million women (.86%), according to the CDC. Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute reported in 2015 that 42% of Autistic people had never worked for pay in their 20s, while other estimates say unemployment among the group is 85%.

The Organization for Autism Research provides a handbook for employers willing to adjust their management styles and workspaces to meet the needs of Autistic workers; EY is one such company. But for companies lacking resources to make such structural changes, outsourcing to groups like AutonomyWorks can be a cost-effective and morale-boosting inclusion decision.

42% of Autistic people had never worked for pay in their 20s

When talent shines

“Not only have we found particular types of work to do but we have also created a business system…designed to help people with autism be more successful. We eliminate the barriers so their talents can shine through.”

“You can’t sit them down in a cubicle like you would anyone else. Not that they need a ton of support, but their communication style is going to be different, and how they need things explained.”

Hiring people with autism can also have a positive effect on corporate culture.

Amid the national dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion, people want to do business with—and work for—companies that demonstrate empathy and compassion. During April’s World Autism Month, several AutonomyWorks clients asked Friedman to address their employees as a way to demonstrate their commitment to transforming lives.

“It’s not just what a company does inside its walls,” Friedman said. “It’s what it does in the market; providing jobs to people with autism shows what you value and that you’re taking action to make change.”