Workplace Discrimination and Autism Spectrum Disorders

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299

Work 31 (2008) 299–308
IOS Press

Workplace discrimination and autism
spectrum disorders: The National EEOC
Americans with Disabilities Act Research
project
Todd A. Van Wierena , Christine A. Reidb and Brian T. McMahon b,∗ a

b

Disability Support Services, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA, USA Department of Rehabilitation Counseling, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

Abstract. Using the Integrated Mission System of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the employment discrimination experience of Americans with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) is documented for Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The researchers examine demographic characteristics of the charging parties; the industry designation, location, and size of employers against whom complaints are filed; the nature of discrimination (i.e., type of complaint) alleged to occur; and the legal outcome or resolution of these complaints. Researchers compare and contrast these key dimensions of workplace discrimination involving individuals with ASDs and persons with other physical, sensory, and neurological impairments. Researchers also attempt to discern whether or not the resolutions of the ASD charges can be predicted using the variables available for analysis. The comparative findings of this study indicate that individuals with ASDs were more likely to make charges of discrimination against Retail industry employers. Persons with ASDs were also more likely to make charges of discrimination when they were younger, male, and/or of Native American/Alaskan Native ethnicity. The predictive findings of this study indicate that the odds of ASD charges resulting in meritorious resolution (i.e., discrimination determined by the EEOC to have occurred) increase when the discrimination was encountered in Service industries and by larger employers. Implications for policy, advocacy and further research efforts are addressed.

1. Introduction: Autism Spectrum Disorders
The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used
to refer collectively to the group of disorders that comprise the five specific, but related, conditions within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
Fourth Edition, Text Revision [3]. These disorders fall
under the formal diagnostic umbrella known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs): (1) Autistic Disorder, (2) Asperger Syndrome, (3) Rett’s Disorder,
(4) Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and (5) PDD,
∗ Address

for correspondence: Brian T. McMahon, Department of
Rehabilitation Counseling, Virginia Commonwealth Universit, POB 980330, Richmond, VA 23298-0330, USA. Tel.: +1 804 827 0917; Fax: +1 804 828 1321; E-mail: btmcmaho@vcu.edu.

Not Otherwise Specified (NOS). Collectively, they are
commonly described as autism.
The common, or core, characteristics shared by each
of the five PDDs generally include varying degrees of
impairment in the triad of: (1) verbal and non-verbal
communication, (2) social interaction, and (3) restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior or interests [2,9,33,37,38]. Aside from this common triad,
additional functional limitations that can often be associated with ASDs include: hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, self-injurious behavior, motor dysfunctions, arousal/activation issues, cognitive deficiencies (including impairments in abstract thought), and physical/medical features [13,

15,41,51]. Frequently, individuals with ASDs can also
have “. . . (1) problems understanding social cues and

1051-9815/08/$17.00  2008 – IOS Press and the authors. All rights reserved

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T.A. Van Wieren / Workplace discrimination and autism spectrum disorders: EEOC & ADA

facial expressions, (2) difficulty expressing emotions in
conventionally recognizable ways, (3) inflexibility and
discomfort with change, and (4) difficulty adapting to
new tasks and routines” [35, p. 163].
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