Greta Thunberg has likened her Asperger syndrome to a ‘superpower’ — some Fortune 500 employers appear to agree

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Greta Thunberg is facing attacks over her Asperger’s, but companies are keen to hire people on the autism spectrum.

Thunberg, 16, delivered a withering speech on climate change before the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, shaming world leaders for failing to take action. “How dare you,” she said. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

The teen, who has spoken openly about her Asperger’s diagnosis, faced some mockery and personal attacks in response to her speech. One Fox News guest called her “a mentally ill Swedish child,” prompting the network to apologize to Thunberg and denounce the remark as “disgraceful.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham later likened her to the children from the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn.” (Fox News and MarketWatch parent News Corp NWS, -0.97%   share common ownership.)

President Trump, for his part, tweeted sarcastic commentary alongside a video clip of Thunberg’s dire warnings: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Thunberg later co-opted the description for her bio on Twitter TWTR, -0.14% .

In a recent interview with “CBS This Morning,” CBS, -2.28%  Thunberg said that bluntly speaking truth to power and shaming “those who need shaming” had helped drive home her climate-change message. Another asset, she said, was her neurological diagnosis. “I have Asperger’s, I’m on the autism spectrum, so I don’t really care about social codes that way,” she said.

‘Autistic employees bring a unique perspective to a workplace, and can be highly focused and productive in ways that their neurotypical peers are not.’

—Marcia Scheiner, the president and founder of Integrate Autism Employment Advisors

She spoke to the perks of neurodiversity, or the idea that neurological differences are human variations rather than diseases to be cured. “That makes you different; that makes you think differently,” Thunberg said. “Especially in such a big crisis like this one, we need to think outside the box, we need to think outside our current system, we need people who think outside the box and who aren’t like everyone else.”

Thunberg previously tweeted, “When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning!” “I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm,” she added. “And — given the right circumstances — being different is a superpower.”

Autism, which varies in degree and includes several developmental and neurological conditions, is characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication, including aversion to eye contact and trouble understanding nonverbal cues. Behavior patterns include repetitive movements and the adoption of specific routines.

About one in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence could be as high as one in 40, according to an estimate published in December by the journal Pediatrics.

Meanwhile, a majority of college graduates with autism are unemployed. Just 14% of adults with autism who use state developmental-disability services have a paying job in their community, according to Drexel University’s 2017 National Autism Indicators Report.

But many companies in recent years have also acknowledged the “superpower” of individuals on the spectrum. “Autistic employees bring a unique perspective to a workplace, and can be highly focused and productive in ways that their neurotypical peers are not,” Marcia Scheiner, the president and founder of Integrate Autism Employment Advisors, a nonprofit that helps organizations recruit and retain workers on the autism spectrum, told MarketWatch.

Integrate has worked with employers including Warner Bros., Prudential PRU, -0.03%, Deutsche Bank DB, -2.11%  and JPMorgan Chase JPM, -0.82%, Scheiner said.

Software company SAP SAP, +0.34%, which calls individuals on the autism spectrum “an underutilized talent source,” says it employs more than 160 workers in 13 countries through its Autism at Work program, which began in 2013. Accounting firm Ernst & Young, which now does business as EY, reportedly employs 60 workers in four U.S. cities through its neurodiversity program.

JPMorgan Chase’s Autism at Work program, which piloted in 2015 with four people, now includes more than 140 employees in eight countries performing mostly technology-related roles, the company says. Pilot program participants were faster and more productive than their peers, according to the company. “There are multiple factors that contribute to this, but the commonalities are strong visual acuity, attention to detail and a superior ability to concentrate,” Autism at Work global head James Mahoney said in a blog post.

The company aims to have 300 workers in 14 locations in the program by 2020, Mahoney said.

While each professional on the spectrum is different and brings just as unique a skill set as any other person, there are some typical skill sets and talents that people on the spectrum bring, Scheiner said — including “incredible focus,” vast depth of knowledge and a penchant for accuracy. These strengths lend themselves to jobs that require subject-matter expertise, she said, or place an emphasis on compliance or risk management.

While employees on the autism spectrum don’t necessarily have different interests than their peers, these individuals’ focus, drive and passion in their area of interest “is often much more enhanced,” Scheiner said.

A neurodiverse workplace doesn’t just benefit professionals on the autism spectrum, she added: Programs that facilitate hiring such workers can boost engagement among fellow employees, some of whom may have relatives or friends on the spectrum. And managers, who often learn to communicate in more clear and direct language with employees on the spectrum, also find that their people-managing skills improve across the board.

“People who manage individuals with autism will tell you they just become better managers of everybody,” Scheiner said.