What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that results from a central nervous system disorder. It is diagnosed using specific criteria evaluating impairments to social interaction, communication, interests, imagination, and activities. Autism manifests itself before a sufferer turns three years old, typically by delays in their social interaction and communication.

Visually, an individual with autism looks no different from others. Autistic individuals, however, generally display behaviors that are atypical of those who do not have autism. These behaviors include: not responding to one's name, an inability to explain what one wants, an inability to explain what one wants, poor eye contact, slow speech development, frequently places hands over one's ears as though he or she is not listening, and throws violent temper tantrums.

Ways in Which You Might be Discriminated Against Because of Autism
  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
  • Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work
  • Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for therapy or counseling sessions
How the Law Protects You if You Have Autism

To state a cause of action for disability discrimination, an employee must be disabled, regarded as disabled, or have a record of being disabled. The employee must then show that:

  • his or her disability results in physical limitations
  • that he or she can still perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations)
  • and that the employer took some adverse action (such as not hiring, firing, or demoting the employee) on the basis of that disability

Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act provide protection against disability discrimination for individuals with mental disabilities. Autism is such a disability, deserving of protection from discrimination. Accordingly, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's autism. The employer also has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with autism so as to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The law will protect an employee whose employer does not provide these necessary accommodations. For example, individuals with autism typically must undergo extensive therapy and counseling. An employer has an obligation to accommodate an employee's therapy schedule, unless doing so would place an undue burden on the employer.

Further Information