By Alex Burgos

Autism Awareness Month 2018 officially ended this week. Now, we must commit ourselves to ensuring this cause and its mission continue to motivate us year-round in raising awareness and acceptance, providing affected individuals and families with the support they need, and leading bold efforts that help show the world the enormous talents people of all ages with autism possess.

As we learned last week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among our nation’s children now stands at 1 in 59 — a 15 percent increase from just two years ago — the challenge only continues to grow.

Now, more than ever, the tech industry is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role not only in supporting research efforts, but also in demonstrating what people with ASD can contribute to our workplaces.

Our innovations are helping unlock the mysteries of ASD while enhancing the way people on the spectrum live their lives, learn, and express themselves. For example, cloud computing is boosting autism research by supporting the storage, analysis, and sharing of genetic data being collected in this field with the goal of better understanding ASD’s causes and risk factors and improving treatments. Recent studies offer hope that artificial intelligence and machine learning can lead to earlier detection, helping researchers better understand how the disorder develops in the earliest years of children’s lives and enable faster intervention.

Robots are enhancing the way children with autism learn. Google Glass is helping children with autism better understand social cues and improve their interactions with others. Through both autism app offerings in its app store and technologies like the iPad, Apple is helping people with ASD find their voice. Amazon not only offers a seemingly endless catalog of books about autism in its online marketplace; through the Amazon Echo, Alexa empowers individuals with autism to be more self-sufficient. These are just a few of the many cases in which tech is enabling people with ASD to learn in their own way and harness their unique abilities.

In addition, for families and others who comprise autism support networks, information and moral support has never been more easily accessible than it is today through the internet and social media. That includes parents who may be struggling to explain to their children what autism is and why it should never be an impediment to friendship and acceptance. In an instant, they can turn to YouTube and find Julia, the autistic Sesame Street character who debuted in 2017.

While the power of innovative technologies is helping many people with autism, tech companies are also showing the world the ways adults on the spectrum can strengthen our workforces and make valuable contributions to our society.

For example, this recent CBS Sunday Morning segment showcased the important work Microsoft and other tech companies are doing to recruit people with autism, integrate them into their workforces, and unleash their talents.

Through its world-renowned Dandelion Program, DXC Technology is a leading pioneer of workforce recruitment and development programs that are inspiring other companies around the world to tap into the pool of talented workers with autism and showing them best practices for doing so.

Although the U.S. currently lacks a reliable estimate regarding autism’s prevalence among adults, it is estimated that approximately 500,000 young adults with autism will enter the workforce in the next decade. Some estimates suggest that at least 80 percent of adults with autism are now unemployed. By committing ourselves to reversing this trend, we will position our companies, our industry, and our country to be models for others around the world to follow and help many people with ASD realize their potential.

As the Microsoft and DXC Technology examples make clear, these recruitment and workforce development programs are not workplace experiments designed to make people feel good; they are irrefutable evidence that people with autism have inherent dignity and valuable talents that have simply gone unnoticed and unutilized for too long. In the 21st century, we need to change that. What these companies and their programs are beginning to show is that, over the long run, investing in people with autism and believing in them is not just the right thing to do; it is a smart economic investment in the future of our innovation economy.

At the same time, our efforts to increase autism awareness and support cannot simply be limited to recruiting talented people with autism. We must also support working parents raising children with autism. On this front, the tech industry’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace can serve as a model for others in the private sector when it comes to making sure that more working parents like this one at Accenture can devote the time necessary to raise a child with autism.

Those of us with loved ones on the autism spectrum understand why this cause is so important. This issue is personal to us. We know that every child is a gift, and we understand the unique challenges raising children with autism presents. Each day is a mystery filled with uncertainty and unease about when an unforeseen trigger may turn the happiest of moments into the most difficult ones. It becomes hard to think about the future and not worry if they will ever truly fit in and lead productive, self-sufficient adult lives.

At TechNet, we are proud to work with companies that are not only creating technologies that are revolutionizing life with autism but also understand the inherent dignity every person on the spectrum possesses and the valuable contributions they can make to the world. Their words of support are backed up by actions that, slowly but surely, are building hope for the future that the unique talents we know people with autism have will be able to “shine on” for all the world to see.