Unlocking Potential: Navigating Autism in the Workplace

Hosted by

Steve Boese

Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference

Trish Steed

CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

About this episode

Unlocking Potential: Navigating Autism in the Workplace

Hosts: Steve Boese & Trish Steed

Guest: Keith Wargo, CEO of Autism Speaks

Today, we met with Keith Wargo of Autism Speaks to explore how to foster neurodiversity in the workplace. In this episode, we look at the dynamic landscape of autism in the workplace, shedding light on Autism Speaks’ mission and the myriad employment opportunities for individuals on the spectrum. From essential adult services to innovative neurodiverse hiring strategies, we learn the keys to fostering workforce inclusion, embracing diversity, and maximizing the unique skills that individuals with autism bring to the professional arena. Join us on this important journey!



Thank you for joining the show today!  Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!

This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Are you ready to drive growth and tackle the challenges ahead in the new year? With insights from 600 business and HR leaders, Paychex has just released its 2024 Business Priorities Report revealing the strategies you need to succeed. Packed with insider tips on improving employee benefits to automating workflows, this report is your strategic roadmap to success. Get ahead of the game and download your copy today at paychex.com/awia. Business success this year is just a click away.

Transcript follows:

Announcer 0:00
Welcome to At Work in America, sponsored by Paychex. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese and Trish Steed.

Steve 0:16
Welcome to the At Work in America podcast. My name is Steve Boese. I’m joined by Trish Steed. How are you today?

Trish 0:31
I’m fantastic. How are you?

Steve 0:34
I’m not as well, perhaps as you. And here’s why. I just realized there are 10 feature films nominated for Best Picture this year. I’ve only seen one of the 10, and I’ve only got three weeks to watch the rest of them.

Trish 0:55
That can’t be true. So I know you’ve seen Barbie. You’ve not seen any of the others?

Steve 0:59
Barbie is the one I’ve seen.

Trish 1:02
Wow. The thing is when we record that show, we never talk to each other about the movies firsthand. Should I maybe give you one or two that I have not watched in case I don’t get to them. I think I’ve watched eight.

Steve 1:18
Then give me one or two that you really liked and I should go watch first.

Trish 1:23
I’m just gonna say right now. It may not win Best Picture because like the whole world is talking about Oppenheimer. So Oppenheimer for sure is one to watch. It will probably it will probably win Best Picture. But if I had to say one that’s really really worthy. It’s Killers of the Flower Moon. Okay. With Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s a Martin Scorsese film. It’s yeah, phenomenal. Like, I watched it once and I had to buy it. Because a lot of these you have to buy at this point. To watch them. They’re not quite on streaming yet, in terms of, you know, free streaming, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Steve 1:59
Okay, thank you for those recommendations. Trish, I’m gonna get on it very soon. The reason I I am concerned with this is of course, for new listeners who may not know this, Trish and I do an annual Oscars preview and predictions podcast, we’ve been doing them for seven or eight years. I don’t really know how many but so we try to watch all the movies, at least all the best picture movies, prior to the Oscars, and then we’ll record the podcast in a few weeks. So all right, I’m gonna get on that Trish as soon as possible. And I’ll report back on on our next recording.

Trish 2:29
A couple of things real quick for though, I just want to say there’s one on Netflix. And it’s not up for Best Picture. But it’s Annette Bening is that for Best Actress, and Jodie Foster is Best Supporting Actress. It’s Nyad. About the swimmer. It’s phenomenal.

Steve 2:50
All right, I’ll get on it. It’s a lot. Before I get onto that, we have a great show. Today, we’re talking about autism and neurodiversity in a way which we have not talked about before on the podcast. We’ve talked a lot about hiring and neurodiverse hiring. This gets into it a little bit more in depth a little bit more about helping folks who are on the autism spectrum kind of succeed more fully in their in their both in their work and their personal lives, I guess is the fair way to say it. So the CEO of Autism Speaks Keith Wargo is going to join us in a minute Trish, and I that conversation is fantastic. And before we get to that Trish let’s thank our friends at Paychex.

Steve 3:33
If you’re watching us on YouTube I have the hat on. This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by our friends at Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Are you ready to drive growth and tackle the challenges ahead this year? With insights from 600 business and HR leaders, Paychex has just released its 2024 business priorities report revealing the strategies you need to succeed with rising interest rates and inflation. Along with the struggles to keep top talent and developing leaders. It can be tough out there. But the report reveals that a whopping 98% of companies are planning to use artificial intelligence to tackle these issues. And that’s just the beginning. Packed with insider tips on improving employee benefits to automating workflows. This report is your strategic roadmap to success. You can get ahead of the game and download your copy today. Paychex.com/awia. Business success this year is just a click away. Thanks to our friends at Paychex.

Steve 4:42
I will have to stop messing production now because I’ve got to go watch some movies. Now we have to get on with the show. This can be a great show. So thanks to everybody for listening and enjoy the show. Trish we are excited to welcome our guests today. It’s Keith Largo he’s the CEO of Autism Speaks. In his role, Keith is responsible for the overall leadership, administration and management of the organization, including the strategic vision for the future and ensuring the organization is fulfilling its mission, while measuring its impact and its results before joining Autism Speaks. Keith combined his business expertise and his personal values when he became an owner of Monarch Cypress, an industry leading amenity manufacturer and supplier with a mission to employ autistic individuals. Keith and his wife, Anne are parents of two adult children, one of whom has autism. And they have personally witnessed the positive impact that Autism Speaks has on enhancing the lives of people with autism and their families to research, advocacy, support and services. Keith, welcome to the show today. How are you?

Keith Wargo 5:49
Thank you. I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Steve 5:55
It’s our pleasure. Yeah, we have we love this subject. We’ve touched upon it a few times in the past, but never was someone in your position from a nationally known and leading organization like Autism Speaks. So it’s our pleasure to have you. Maybe we’ll start there, Keith effect got a little personal story here, we handed out in the bio, I’d love to learn a little bit more about your background. But what sort of made this mission the Autism Speaks mission, so important to you personally, what kind of led you to where you’re at today?

Keith Wargo 6:27
Sure. So from a professional background perspective, I spent the first 30 years of my career and the actually in the in the private sector, incident and financial services, as you alluded to, I have a 25 year old son who’s autistic. And always sort of so we’ve had the, we’ve had the narrative, we’ve had the arc for the last 22 years of working with AJ, to, you know, help them reach his milestones and to, you know, reach the goals that he’s hoped to reach. So I’ve seen it from the purview of, of a parent, along with my wife and I had, I had moved away from financial services in the middle of COVID. And pretty quickly found an opportunity to purchase the company with a partner, that is a 40 year old company, great small business. And we made it a mission to employ folks on the spectrum. Part of that was driven by the fact that I had just seen over the two years prior to that, how difficult it was for us to find employment, and for and define the purpose that comes from employment for my son. And so that was sort of how it started. I have known Autism Speaks, my wife and I have been involved. Really probably in some in some capacity for 20 years, my wife and with a very active volunteer for many is so when the when my predecessor announced her retirement, I looked and said, you know, she’s some of the things that are really important to me are doing with monarch fit very well, with anything, the mission of where this organization needs to go, we have, you know, five and a half million 5.4 million adults with autism. In this in this country today. Employment is a huge issue. Really lots of different quality of life, and purpose. Things are issues. And for us, again, having known the organization and the impact that has had and has had on us as our son was growing up and on hundreds of 1000s of folks, I felt it felt very much in line with with where I was. And I felt coming in could could take us, hopefully to the to the next chapter.

Trish 8:47
You know, thank you for sharing that personal connection. I know one of the things we’ve I looked back the first time we did an episode about autism and workers, specifically in the tech industry was in 2015. So this has definitely been a topic that’s been gaining just recognition and greater understanding over the years, I know, we still have a long way to go. So number one, I appreciate you coming on and sharing the insights with all of the business leaders that will be listening. I also find it really intriguing because just whether it’s helping people, you know, on the spectrum, or maybe, you know, formerly incarcerated or physical challenges, it seems to me like people are going through, you know, 25-30 years, and whether it’s business of some sort, you know, finance that sort of thing, and then deciding to kind of follow their passion and take those business skills into this sort of realm. I’d love to hear just for anybody listening who isn’t, you know, really familiar with Autism Speaks. Can you tell us a little bit about maybe some of the services you offer? And my other kind of question that goes with that even maybe before that is what if what if there are adults out there who have never been diagnosed with Maybe they don’t even know they are, you know, are on the spectrum? And is this something you know where Autism Speaks can help you know, everyone whether you know you or not?

Keith Wargo 10:09
Yes, no. Sure. Absolutely. Thanks for asking that. So we, we really try to provide support and opportunities through three areas of focus. The first is we call it supports and services. This is basically our foundational work. We have about over 300,000 folks come to us every year and use our autism screener to generally generally parents and caregivers, because it’s generally used for folks looking for, for information, etc, early on, but not exclusively, but 300,000 people coming for that that early sort of view through through a screening tool to sort of say, you know, should I be looking for, should I be looking for other services should I do should I be talking to should be looking for diagnosis or talking to my pediatrician more, etc.

Keith Wargo 11:00
And then beyond that, we have very some very foundational programs and materials to help folks on their journey, and the most popular one is the first 100 Day kid, which is, you know, really sort of a rite post diagnostic by diagnosis toolkit for folks to help them navigate, what are the next things they should be thinking about as it relates to their child’s education as it relates to activities as it relates to potential therapies and other things to to consider so. So I’ll come back to the old adult part that you’d ask Trish in a minute. But so that’s, that’s important. That’s part of what we do in support services.

Keith Wargo 11:43
We have a pretty extensive advocacy effort. This is really on a federal and a state basis to make sure that the services and and opportunities that our population needs are being addressed. As best we can through through legislation. Probably our our landmark or pinnacle piece of work was over a really over a decade, we worked very hard to make sure that every single stage we rolled it back to like when when he was diagnosed, there was no coverage for for autism therapy, from insurance from insurance perspective, zero. And today, and certainly this was not singularly something that Autism Speaks did. But it was a big part of our mission. And for a long period of time. Today, all 50 states have have insurance coverage for therapies. Now, it’s not perfect, and we continue to work on making it better. But that is a pinnacle thing we have done on the on the on the advocacy side. And then on then our last area is research in science. And there today we’re focused on translational science, really personalized healthcare, trying to make sure that that what has been learned out there through research is being applied in practical ways. We also fund through grants and fellowships to pre to pre doctorate and postdoctoral researchers in promising fields, and increasingly are focused on the area of adult and aging. What is it? What is it? What does it look like to be an adult with with autism? What are those? You know, how does aging differ? Because we know that it does, but we know very little about how or why it does for that population. And so back to your point about about adults, a lot of what our work has been done on the on the services side, and obviously we’ll talk a lot about employment today. But does has been to design toolkits and information and resources. You’re right, increasingly, individual adult individuals are, are being diagnosed later on in life. One of my board members, who I happen to know have known for for 30 years, was diagnosed in her in her 50s. And she was diagnosed at the time when her child was diagnosed. And that is that is that’s increasingly not unusual. And so we recently launched a resource piece on that a, what is it? What is how do you? How can you pursue a diagnosis as as a as an adult? And then once that diagnosis is there, what are different pathways and different resources you can tap into hopefully, improve your quality of life? Thank you.

Steve 14:34
That was really an excellent kind of overview of some of the work Autism Speaks does and some of the focus areas that you have. And it’s incredible to think that just a couple of decades ago, 20 years ago, maybe when you first became acquainted with the issues, right, just from your own experience with your son, where we’ve come from then to now it’s probably quite remarkable, as you said, still a long way to go but certainly it’d be different right for someone say a new parent today, whose two or three year old gets a gets a diagnosis is going to have more resources, more support, and perhaps more opportunities for that child say than 20 odd years ago. Is that fair to say?

Keith Wargo 15:16
Yeah, so I mean, yeah if I personalized it 20 years ago, or 22 years ago now and when my son was diagnosed, when we started to speak with our friends, and parents, etc. Pretty much nobody that we spoke to even had ever heard of autism, right. We didn’t know anybody who was autistic. We didn’t know anybody who had a child who was autistic, a sibling was autistic, we do nothing, right. And awareness was very, very low. We’ve come a long way. And in 20 years, in that awareness, and I’d say, you know, it’s never perfect, but in terms of the way that diagnosis in the in the age of diagnosis, and the availability of services and the pathways to the services, they’ve improved dramatically. And again, it’s never done that actuaries never done, we continue to work on an iterate and be there for folks. To navigate that, we have a, what we call our Autism Response Team, which is a team of experts, and they are reachable through whatever format an individual wants to use. And it’s not just parents, caregivers, it’s individuals as grandparents, it could be anybody. And we speak with 80,000 people a year.

Keith Wargo 16:34
And these are these are specifically saying, looking for specific services or specific supports, or, or more specific therapies in a geographic area. This is somebody calling in saying, I live in wherever, and I and my child was just diagnosed or and I need help, I need to know what direction to go. Or increasingly, it’s, it’s like on the subject of employment folks coming in with saying, I’m frustrated, right, I aged out of, you know, I’m 22 years old, 23 years old, I no longer in school, I have a lot of valuable skills I could bring to the table, I don’t know where to go, can you help. And so, we have come a long way. And again, part of why our mission looking forward is to focus increasingly on adults. And adult transition is the fact that we do have 5.4 million adults in the country who are autistic, and that these sort of aging out as you age out as the school system, and all the infrastructure around that. The day you turn 22 and the support, and then support and then safety nets there etc. are just not the same. They’re in some in a lot of areas, and there are 70 to 100,000 individuals every year who are who are who are aging out of that. So that’s increasingly why we’re focused on that area, we realize we’ve done a tremendous amount as a society, for the for the young children and the children and into a school and the school age. And again, that journey is never done. But that but this area over here, after adult transition, and after is one where we really need to be need to be helping this quite large population.

Trish 18:19
You know, I’m glad you mentioned the numbers, because I think it’s staggering when you think about how many people it’s a good thing, right? Because, you know, I’m sure there were many people who were just undiagnosed, right when we were kind of growing up. But but that number is such a large number. And these are people who are already in our workforce, right, we may not know that they need additional support, or that that could even help enhance the work that they’re doing. Or it might be something where we can focus on, you know, specifically hiring in ways that that make people more comfortable, whether it’s through the interview process or are into employment. You know, Steve has has a son that’s just about to graduate college, I have twins that are sophomores in college. I know there’s there’s still it feels like as a parent of someone that does not have autism. It’s tough to even get them ready to go into the work world as it is. I would love to hear kind of how you’re talking about that. As they’re getting ready to age out of the school system. What is it specifically that you all are doing to kind of help get them into that next phase, which is the workforce?

Keith Wargo 19:28
Yeah, so what I guess I just referenced a couple of statistics just to back up what you just said so. So today, only one in five individuals with a disability including autism is employed. Only one in five. And when you when you couple that with a historically low unemployment rate in this country, all right. What you have really isn’t is a incredible supply and demand imbalance, right? And that’s really what we are trying to help. Help address hear through our our pinnacle program around this is called workplace inclusion now. It’s a program that it really drives to, it really is it we triangulate by working with employers working with job seekers and and we really think there’s an important community element to its keen to community stakeholders. And that can be formal and community stakeholders like vocational rehab services, or more or less formal community stakeholders to raise awareness as to why this is a win win and why it’s so important. And then what the program looks like is that the pinnacle of it really is an exhaustive set of online training programs that we offer that help to address differences of thinking different community differences of communication. So try to set up the game changer, things that can be done to make employment work for individuals who are making that transition. And really just to assist in making that deployment happen. They like to get companies ready and thinking about and start.

Keith Wargo 21:08
But then also, importantly, that translates into success, right? It’s one thing to get a job, it’s the most important, the more important thing is to keep the job and hopefully grow in that job. And so the way we think about it, which is a little bit unique is really on demand based model, we’re looking mostly try to well, through when to work with companies to help them prepare for this to be part of the element of of how they think about the world. And that’s really we design it so that it is relevant to the C suite of an organization to human resources, to operations down to down to frontline, so that everybody sort of has that has that knowledge base or that relevant knowledge base will be a little bit different for each, right. But so that we easily we can sort of bring the whole organization, we can only bring that, that the organization along that journey. And we found there’s a lot of interest in this in organizations as they’re starting to understand the benefits of doing so. I think we just have to, I would want to mention there is a program we’re really proud of. We’ve been working on it for a number of years now five years, I believe. And importantly, it’s been it’s been something that we have had autistic individuals, autism experts, we’ve had really experts around the space, including those who are artistic themselves involved in designing it so that we know that we are we’re building something that has has validity and is evidence based. So that’s one of the biggest things we do.

Steve 22:54
Keith, thank you for sort of describing how the program works. And I really appreciate the fact that you talked about, hey, it’s not just getting your foot in the door as it were right. There’s more to it than that for ongoing success. And I’ll be honest, Trish, we’ve had a number of shows on these topics over the years, we’ve focused very heavily on that front door. Now that front door is important, right? Being able to walk in the front door. So we’ve had in depth conversations about, you know, enter types of interviewing and accommodations that may need to be in place. And you know, the way to ask questions in an interview and way to interpret an answer in an interview, don’t you know, and things like that. We’ve done a lot on that we’ve done less on, quite frankly, Keith, we’ve done less on, hey, what are the ongoing support systems and education that needs to be in place for both the employer and the individuals to succeed? And maybe that’s kind of that next step? Right? Because these folks, right, as you said, they age out of the school systems, and the support mechanisms they have they’re in and they might have a 40 year working career ahead of them. Right that we want to be successful in?

Keith Wargo 24:08
Yeah. So I think about it, I kind of three levels. The first is just the fact that there is, you know, you mentioned it up top that you’ve had, you’ve had podcasts around, you know, technology, etc. There’s been a lot of there’s been a lot done around technology and finance and consulting around doing more diverse hiring. And that’s great. That’s a huge testament. We’ve been we’ve been really focused on the fact that there is there’s so much broad potential out there. We’re calling it we’ve come to call it the missing middle, right where we’ve got folks who will who do fantastically well and technology or finance, who have little or low support needs. And on the other side, you have individuals who have you know, have complicated, comprehending unity comprehensive care and needs and in fact, you know, there are some parts of our population, I think it’s important to acknowledge that where we’re employment is not going to be part of their, you know, necessarily going to be part of their quality of life or their their purpose. And that’s fine, too, we can all have, you know, that everybody’s got everybody finds purpose in different things.

Keith Wargo 25:16
But there’s this vast population in the middle, right, that have value, my son would fall in this category that have valuable and marketable skills. And it’s really trying to shift the mindset of companies to say, you know, what, how do we think about the roles that we have the demonstrable skills that we need, in order to set somebody up to be successful here? And when you do that, and he really think through that, it’s actually I’ve come to believe this is applicable to really pretty much any industry. If you spend the time to actually do the analytics and say, What do you need to do? How do you can and identify the skills? Right? And yes, there may need to be some some design accommodations. We thought we have found more times than not those, those design and accommodations are our steel mill ours are simpler than they might appear on the surface, or at least when you start sort of it could be a way to be able to sit back say, Oh, well, we don’t have the ability to do that. But oftentimes, it’s just very simple things. q&a interviews, were asking, you know, analytic or abstract questions, may not be the best way to to get to understand an individual and understand their skills. So we encourage companies to think about, I mean, I think one thing that’s really nice is that in today’s in today’s age, but both the use of technology that has emerged, but some of the technologies that have emerged, including AI, etc, as well as just formats like this, right? That Zoom is a very useful format. Email, in some cases, emails may be a good format for that, to really use that use those platforms a little bit more dynamically than kind of the way that we thought about hiring practices.

Keith Wargo 26:57
In the past, we’ve also seen companies design sort of a performance task based interviews, right, so where I sort of, I want to assess your skills and talents, there’s ways of doing that, that don’t necessarily need to be a q&a, tell me about yourself, tell me about your experiences. And in fact, the truth of the matter is that that’s actually commonly used in a lot of industries as well. If you look at your look at consulting, look at any consulting firm, what are they going to do, they’re going to give you a case study to go through. And so it’s sort of similar analogies to that, that I think, are really powerful. And then the last part of the, you know, on the success part is, is really retention and career development. And I think we have to acknowledge that the topic of neurodiverse hiring, and employment is still relatively new.

Keith Wargo 27:53
You mentioned, you’ve done work back 2015, which is a long time, but not that long, right. And so, you know, there’s a long term roadmaps to develop plans on how to retain and how to, you know, how to develop and, and create career paths for individuals. And when asked her to live, what we do to do that, I look at and say, it’s nuancing things that most organizations already do, I think it’s about having, you know, employee resource groups that that make it, that there may find commonality for for, for employees, just like we just like most organizations have ERGs, for all sorts of topics, I think it’s looking periodically and reviewing the reviewing whatever accommodations are needs are, you know, are enabling, or maybe could further enable success for an individual doing that kind of similar to, to what you would do in any kind of performance review, but making it part of it. And coaching and mentorship I think are also are also really important for folks, either who aren’t are diverse, who have who have kind of come before them and have been able to navigate some of these things, or as as role models and for, you know, for outlets to help folks if they have to read and if they have to get over hurdles to have some safe places to kind of go through those things. But like I said, what I look at that as a moat, and again, I came from works for three or four large companies. Most companies already do that in some way. It’s just rethinking a little bit. It’s not, it’s not creating something entirely new. It’s just recasting a little bit how you execute on it.

Trish 29:38
I love all of that you shared and especially the fact that you shared about skills because, you know, from an HR perspective, which many of our listeners are HR leaders. You know, we’ve been focused on skills solidly for at least five years, right in terms of kind of breaking jobs down into what skills are necessary in terms of promotion and and so forth. So you know, I’d love to ask though, when it comes to skills are there still, I don’t know if the right word is stigma out there, when you think of someone who is autistic or autistic or on the spectrum, to where it might hinder you even considering them for roles with certain skills, and I’m going to give you an example. I’m from St. Louis, I don’t know if this is a formal plan this place has, but there’s a restaurant called McAllister’s Deli. And they have hired at least at this particular franchise, numerous people on the spectrum. And in my mind, prior to going in there, I think I always thought of, you know, oh, they, if you’re on the spectrum, you might be better suited for, you know, more repetitive technical work, highly focused work, maybe less so on the social front, right. And the reason I’m asking this is because when you go into this particular location of McAlester deli, you’re being served by people who are on the spectrum, they come around and talk with you and check on you when you’re in your booth eating your lunch or whatever. And I was really surprised because I’m not close, there. Isn’t someone in my immediate family that I’m aware of that that has you know, this neurodiversity? So I guess my question out of all that Keith is, are we like less educated than we should be about what skills even exist for people on the spectrum? Like I don’t want to, like pigeonhole, right future employees, what should we be doing to learn about the skills that someone on a spectrum can actually bring to the workplace?

Keith Wargo 31:40
I’m really glad you asked that, because I think that we’re making good progress. But we have a long way to go. Right, I think there is, are still stigmas and discrimination and stereotypes, right? That are there, that we need to continue to, that we need to continue to work through. I mean, I’ll give a personal example, again, I mentioned up top, I own a company. And we’ve made it a mission for it to hire folks who are on spectrum we have our warehouse staff, which is largely a warehouse business, where we have about 20% of our staff was is, is autistic. And just one concrete example, we hired an individual to do something forms, which is more or less of a, you know, a packaging and shipping job. And over time, we realized partly because as team got comfortable in expressing what he was interested in and talking to us about it was he was capable of, he wanted to do a lot more, he had any of this and he had the skills to do a lot more. And so today he is operating. He’s one of our two forklift operators. So he’s moving, you know, millions of dollars of merchandise around in an environment where safety is, you know, we can’t have safety problems that has to be everything has to be perfect.

Keith Wargo 33:06
So I think that, you know, I think it’s one of these things where success begets success, right? And when you when you bring folks into the workforce, and you see what they’re capable of, and you know, and you worked to not be an app, I think that’s true of every organization. But I think that we’re in earlier stages here, that you always I’ve always wanted as a manager, no matter what I’ve been doing to look at sort of say, How do I take, you know, how is it? Can somebody go to, you know, to the next level, right? And what are the what are those skills, and I think that’s really important in this case. And again, they’re their fundamental processes that we hold that we all do with organizations, right? I think the nuances that have to go on about it is to is to look at it, look at it from a little bit of a different lens, and to try to avoid this those those stereotypes. And that’s why you go back to this missing middle concept, right? They got I am thrilled, as as, as a parent, as a citizen, as a taxpayer in this country, to know that there are so many people with autism who are succeeding in the largest tech companies and the largest financial institutions and everything. I think I’m thrilled about that. But I’m also aware of the fact that the that, again, my son doesn’t fall into that category, he’s working, but he doesn’t fall in that category, that there’s a huge number of people that have those skills, and those skills, just like all of us, there’s those skills are different. While we have taught we have different roles and organizations.

Steve 34:35
Keith, that’s such an excellent point. And maybe a great one for folks. I’m always hoping when we do these shows, there’s one or two or three things whatever folks who listen, take away and walk away from and I think that point there would be at least one of those ones from this conversation right that much like the non neurodiverse population is wildly different and has all kinds of different skills and aptitudes and capabilities and hopes And in career paths, so does the neurodiverse community in the Autistic community, right? And they’re not all the same. It’s not a uniform community. Right? It’s a wildly diverse community in its own right. And as you said, just keep lots of folks are somewhere in the middle who it’s easy to not think about them perhaps, right, because we focus on on some of these other ends.

Keith Wargo 35:21
Yeah, and I think that, you know, one thing that we talk to companies with quite a bit about, and I speak about quite a bit as is the are the benefits that companies look, there’s benefits to the individuals, right, and it gives, I think, gives the individual purpose. It helps towards towards financial independence, and it gives them other direction in their life, I think it does, from a societal perspective helped to break down social stigma, and discrimination. But from the company’s perspective, well, I’ll take a macro, there was a recent study done that if we were able to, if we’re able to even just start to close the employment gap, which again, we only only only 20% of the individual disabilities by working, that there’s a $25 billion upside to our GDP from that happening. But another study that was done showed that companies that have committed to neurodiverse hiring of higher profits, higher revenues, and higher customer satisfaction. And by the way, lower, lower and lower employee turnover. So all those like, all those, whether you’re sitting in an HR C, or a C suite are things that you’re looking to do every single day as as as a mission. So certainly, while there’s a component of this is saying this is the right thing to do from a societal perspective, I really look at it to say it’s also just good business if it didn’t, and that that that that sort of that to me is the That to me is the is the the flywheel of why making progress here, though successful because success.

Steve 36:57
Yeah, I love it. Keith, we could go on and on. On this, I’m glad we were able to take some time with you today to learn a bit more certainly about Autism Speaks, learn a bit more about your story, and then kind of uncover some of these other areas of exploration on on a subject, quite frankly, I felt like I knew a decent amount about before today. And I felt like I’ve learned a lot more myself through this conversation, which is quite frankly, really encouraging for me, and hopefully for the listeners as well. Last thing keep I want to just ask you is for folks for especially for folks representing organizations, HR leaders, business owners, etc. or listening to this, who want to maybe more formally embrace some of the programs at Autism Speaks, what would you have them? Add them deal?

Keith Wargo 37:48
Sure, yeah. So again, when as part of the part of our programs, you can come to our website, which is www autismspeaks.org/win, or you can find it through a menu. And, you know, again, we have these online training program we have, we have numerous resources there that will help companies start to understand some of the things we’ve talked about some of the benefits that we’ve seen, and back that up with, with the data and the studies, etc. Case studies of one of the companies we’ve worked with, etc. But, but those online training tools, they’re 100%, free, we just, we just spent a lot of time updating and expanding the repertoire and library, because we’re hearing from companies and individuals, where we know where the gaps were. And we’ll continue to iterate that as we continue to learn, but that’s a great place to go. You know, the other thing I would just say is, I was honored to testify in front of Congress a couple days ago on this topic, there’s a lot of really good work being done on a state level. So depending on where an individual or company is located, I encourage them to look into into those into the, into the state enterprises as well. Because, again, from a legislative perspective, you know, it has not escaped lawmakers that in a relatively full employment environment, that there is a population that can increase the economy and move it around. But please come to our website, all the tools are there. And we welcome companies, we welcome having individual dialogue with them as well on how to enhance the possibilities here.

Trish 39:47
Keith thank you for all of the resources you’ve shared. I know I’ve just barely started digging into those and last week as we prepped for the show, and it’s just mind boggling how much information is out there how much education is out there. And to Steve’s point, you can think you know a lot about a topic, but until you really start looking, and the benefits are really, really good. So I do encourage our listeners to do that. As we wrap up, Keith, this is our 15th year of doing the podcast. So we’ve been celebrating this year. But thank you, we want to ask every guest What are you celebrating? And that could be you, personally, you and your family. It could be Autism Speaks, is there anything that that you’re celebrating this year, or the feeling like something’s really kind of go in the right way for you?

Keith Wargo 40:37
Okay, so yeah, so what we’re celebrating this year is that our son AJ does have a job. So we’ve been fortunate for that, or last couple of years, but we got to the point where he felt he was ready to live independently. And so he moved out a few months ago. He lives in town with us, but has his own apartment. And it’s been great for him socially has been great for him. From a pride perspective. He is definitely putting dollars into the local economy goes all the restaurants, goes to the gym every single day, etc. And even a few years ago, we had no idea whether that was something that either he could aspire to or that we’d want to aspire to. So that’s something we’re celebrating right now.

Trish 41:33
That may be our best celebration so far. That’s a big one. All right. So wait, does that now make you an empty nester? I know you said he had another child as well.

Keith Wargo 41:44
Indeed, I have a child who’s also in college. So we’re basically empty now. So we’re getting there. We’re getting there fast.

Trish 41:52
Yes. So difficult. Right.

Steve 41:55
We’ll have to do a whole nother empty nest show.

Trish 42:00
I’ll start crying. I don’t want to.

Steve 42:02
This has been a fantastic conversation. Keith Wargo, CEO of Autism Speaks so great to meet you. Great celebratory story. So that’s much, much better. Please visit autismspeaks.org. Learn more about the organization and how your organization can get involved. Keith thanks again for taking some time today. We really appreciate it.

Keith Wargo 42:25
Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure, guys.

Steve 42:28
All right, Trish, great stuff. We love this topic. I’m so glad we’re able to revisit it thanks to our friends of course at Paychex for all they do for us and their community as well. Trish for our guest Keith Wargo, for you too, Trish. My name is Steve Boese. Thank you so much for listening. Catch all the show archives at HRHappyHour.net. We will see you next time and bye for now.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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