United States

2018 Autism Awareness Month


RSM client helps build inclusive workplaces

What would a workforce that includes more people affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) look like? Throughout Autism Awareness Month, members of RSM’s Abilities employee network group (ENG) is encouraging its people, clients and communities to reflect on how we can help bring awareness and recognition to those on the spectrum.

Aspire, a Chicago-area client, has taken awareness to the next level with its business strategy connecting community outreach and marketplace impact. Through its Career Academy, adults with disabilities—including many affected by ASD—can explore job interests, receive hands-on training in a simulated workspace and be placed in jobs that provide empowerment, satisfaction and a higher quality of living.

The Academy focuses on six areas—warehousing and distribution, big-box retail, office and IT, culinary, hospitality, and fitness center administration. Depending on the industries they choose, Academy graduates have a distinct advantage when entering the workforce. They’ve learned the hard- and soft-skills needed to pull warehouse orders, prepare a hotel room for guests and handle difficult work situations.

Understanding the strength of differences

John McIlwain, who leads Aspire’s advancement efforts, says understanding goes a long way when hiring or working with a person with disabilities, and we need to be mindful of our own perceptions.

For example, job candidates are often instructed to look the hiring manager in the eye and offer a firm handshake. Without training, these social norms might be nearly impossible for someone on the autism spectrum. A hiring manager’s unconscious bias might say this person isn’t trustworthy or is, perhaps, disinterested, when that’s likely far from the truth. “People with autism bring a lot to the table – many have an incredible attention to detail and ability to concentrate,” said McIlwain. “To get them into jobs where their strengths can shine, our training provides skills that level the playing field and help them navigate their place in the world.”

See the person, not the disability

Sonja, an Aspire participant who has autism, recently spoke to a group of employees at an Aspire client’s event. Autism, she shared, can be described as just another way of thinking, perceiving and being in the world. Like everyone, those affected by autism have strengths and weaknesses. Some struggle in unfamiliar environments, when experiencing changes in routine and while communicating. With help from organizations such as Aspire, many develop strong coping skills that allow them to become independent and productive.

If you work with someone affected with ASD or another disability, look for opportunities to understand the person. Recognize the person’s strengths and respect their differences. As Sonja noted, true inclusion will happen when the differences of people with disabilities are considered just part of the larger spectrum of human experience. “I look forward to all of us locking arms and walking together,” she said, “because together, we’re better.”

At RSM, we respect the unique skills and abilities of each of our 9,000+ employees, and we applaud our clients who have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion – a commitment that RSM shares, as we understand that by embracing cultural differences, we are better able to exceed the expectations of our clients.





Abilities strives to foster an environment that supports professionals or their dependents with special needs.

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To discuss how our team can help, contact us by phone 800.274.3978 or