Autism Speaks


The Autism Employment Connector Challenge

Increase accessibility for autistic job seekers to find employment and navigate the application process to connect with employers.

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed


Challenge Overview

Challange Image: Photos courtesy of Spectrum Designs Foundation


Finding a job can be difficult for anyone. For those on the autism spectrum, finding a job can have its own unique challenges. While autistics have great talents and skills that employers desire, some autistic jobseekers struggle to communicate their abilities using the current networking and job posting platforms. Whether it be the general site interface or abstract language, traditional employment websites can be difficult for many with autism to navigate. 

Autism Speaks is sponsoring the Autism Employment Connector Challenge to provide autistic job seekers with a solution to aid in the search and application process to potential employers. With the power of your big ideas, we can remove the barriers and tap into the strengths of this willing labor force. 



Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, sensory perceptions, movement, executive function, speech and nonverbal communication.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 45 adults (2.21%) in the United States is autistic, or approximately 5,437,988 Americans. Annually an estimated 70,000 teens transition out of school-based programs and hopefully move into the employment sector.

Autistics can bring unique strengths to the workplace. Evidence shows that autistic employees helped their employers

  • Increase productivity and market reach,
  • Solve problems creatively with tremendous cost savings,
  • Reduce employee turnover by half
  • And enrich the diversity of their workforce

But before autistic jobseekers can be employed, they encounter challenges at the start of the hiring process. Current employment networking and job posting platforms can be challenging for autistic people. Employers traditionally rely on jobseekers to communicate their abilities in text and according to cultural rules that might not be easily understood by people with autism. 

Current employment platforms assume everyone communicates the same way and understands the unwritten rules of searching for a job. Job postings may be written in ambiguous language with little concrete meaning that is important to people who think and process information differently. As a result, these current platforms don’t accommodate the differences in communication or information processing that some autistic people may face. 

Working with people on the autism spectrum, Autism Speaks has identified this communication mismatch as a structural problem in the hiring process and as a barrier to employment for hundreds of thousands of autistics.

When a jobseeker’s skills and employer’s needs can’t be matched due to communication and information processing disconnects employers miss out on a more diversely talented applicant pool. 

As a result, autistics are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed. This lack of employment can lead to a history of underemployment starting early in a career, lower lifetime earnings and wealth creation and mental health issues. We can dramatically transform this situation by creating an accessible system or platform that allows for the exchange of relevant information in autism-friendly interfaces with language that autistics can more readily process and that employers can easily provide.


Autism Speaks is searching for big ideas to address this situation. The challenge of this project is to develop a solution that helps increase accessibility for autistic job seekers to search employment opportunities and navigate the application process with the end goal to connect with potential employers.  

This requires identifying and removing structural biases that currently exist in the hiring process. We welcome entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, students, existing employment platform services, staffing experts, and anyone eager to include cognitive, sensory, and intellectual differences into the Diversity and Inclusion movement to take on this challenge and create a solution. 

We are looking for a solution that will facilitate functional and results-driven connections between employers and autistics. 


To register for the Autism Employment Connector Challenge, click the “SOLVE THIS CHALLENGE” button above. The Challenge Forum is your space to share thoughts and ideas with potential competitors or to create teams with similar visions. 


Challenge Guidelines

Why Does This Problem Exist?

Current employment networking and job posting platforms can be challenging for autistic people. Employers traditionally rely on jobseekers to communicate their abilities in text and according to cultural rules that might not be easily understood by people with autism. 

 For example, job candidates with autism might not understand how to translate their skills into a traditional resume with language or examples that an employer appreciates or understands. Likewise, employers may not know how to translate the information provided by job candidates with diverse cognitive, intellectual and sensory experiences. This communication mismatch causes autistic job candidates to be overlooked for jobs and leads employers to miss out on candidates who are potentially valuable employees. Working with people on the autism spectrum, Autism Speaks has identified this mismatch as a structural problem in the hiring process and as a barrier to employment for hundreds of thousands of autistics.


The Challenge Breakthrough 

We envision a solution that:

  1. Allows autistics and other job candidates with related conditions to communicate their strengths, skills, abilities, and value to employers in alternative ways that are meaningful for employers,
  2. Can be utilized by and provide value to employers who are invested in inclusive employment recruitment options


What you can do to create a breakthrough

  • Click SOLVE THIS CHALLENGE above to sign up for the challenge
  • Read the Challenge Guidelines to learn about the requirements and rules
  • Share this challenge on social media using the icons above. Show your friends, your family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.


Your submission should include:

  • Description of your design
  • Description of how autistics will interact with your design
  • Description of how employers will interact with your design
  • Description of how this design handles the social communication barriers
  • Description of how this design will allow employers to improve their workforce diversity
  • Description of current technology you are using or technology that could be used to build the idea
  • Wireframes or drawings of your design
  • A proposed three-year timeline describing how the idea would be implemented and how the solution can grow with the candidate.
  • Members of your team including their area of expertise. Biographies should be included.



The top three winning solutions will receive $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000 USD, respectively. We appreciate that there will be many valuable ideas submitted to the challenge. Ideas not awarded one of the top three awards may be selected to be highlighted to our millions of followers on social media, print, and multimedia, and the Autism Speaks website. Autism Speaks reserves the right to adjust the prize distribution model based off submissions. 



Open to submissionsJanuary 18, 2022
Submission deadlineApril 29, 2022 @ 5pm ET
Judging March 2 to April 1, 2022
Winners AnnouncedApril 8, 2022

How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at minimum:

  • Satisfy the Judging Scorecard requirements
  • Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions
  • Be scored higher than your competitors!


Judging Criteria

  • Allows activities related to special interests to be included.
  • Accomplishments are highlighted over positions or titles.
  • Work history timelines are structured to respect the autistic experience including breaks in employment.
  • Volunteer and part-time work is treated equally to full-time employment.
20 points
  • Explains how users will adopt this technology.
  • Accommodates more than one communication method such as graphic, text based, audio, video.
  • The platform technology is widely available.
  • The system or profile concept is easily amenable for all.
15 points
  • Accommodates participation of all levels of intellectual ability.
  • Enables parents, teachers, vocational rehabilitation specialists can assist in the operation of the tool.
  • All job types and economic sectors are included and equally treated.
  • All geographic regions are included and equally treated.
  • Information is equally shared to those in expressing an interest in an industry.
  • Algorithms (if included or represented) are purposeful and transparent.
20 points
  • Autistic applicants or those who support them in the job search and application process determine who can communicate with them.
  • Autistics can opt out of communications.
  • Autistics choose which jobs interest them.
  • No recruitment to specific candidates without permission.
  • Autistics can determine the flow of information.
15 points
Universal design 

Design engages all autistics users regarding

  • Communication and information processing preferences
  • Sensory preferences
  • Executive function preferences

Design formats information regarding

  • Communication and information processing preferences
  • Sensory preferences
  • Executive function preferences

Design allows users to express information according to 

  • Communication and information processing preferences
  • Sensory preferences
  • Executive function preferences
10 points
  • Does the technology exist to create this idea?
  • Is the technology required for users easily supported?
  • Do users have a past mental model that will help in operation of this model?
10 points
  • How much time, effort, and cost to maintain usage of tool?
  • How do you see the solution being used and maintained in the future?
  • A proposed three-year timeline describing how the idea would be implemented. How can the idea grow with the candidates?
10 points



Participation Eligibility:

The challenge is open to individuals age 18 (eighteen) years or older who are U.S. Citizens or permanent residents of the United States, organizations that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States, and, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams comprised of otherwise eligible individuals or organizations and are led by an otherwise eligible individual or organization, All Innovators must be able to participate without violation of any third-party rights or obligations, including without limitation an employer’s policies or procedures. Individual Innovators may not be (a) an Autism Speaks employee or (b) a member of any Autism Speaks employee’s immediate family.

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English. 

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of software or autism is required. Prize organizers encourage outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions. 

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.


Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before 5 pm Eastern Standard Time on 1 March 2022. All uploads must be in [PDF format]. No late submissions will be accepted.

This challenge allows multiple submission[s] per individual/team. Should you have multiple entries to submit to this challenge, they will be considered separately. Whether or not multiple entries from the same individual or team may be chosen for a prize is up to the discretion of the Challenge Sponsor. You are not required to submit multiple entries, if that option is available.


Intellectual Property Rights:

Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant Autism Speaks a royalty-free license for any information included in the submission. The terms of this license are available in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.  

It is Autism Speaks’ preference that innovators commercialize their own technology and make it available to Autism Speaks through a commercial contract, or other terms.  

Nonetheless, Autism Speaks may seek a license to the intellectual property contained within winning submissions.  These licenses ensure that Autism Speaks has access to further develop the technologies if they are not further developed by the participants/innovators themselves.


Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the highest votes from the Judges.

In the case of no winner, Autism Speaks reserves the right to withhold the Prize amount. In place of the original prize amount, Autism Speaks will issue a Consolation Prize to the team or individual closest to the winning solution to be determined at the end of the challenge. 


Awarding of the Prize:

The Individual Submitter or Team Captain is automatically designated as the Recipient of the prize monies. The Individual’s or Captain’s name must also match the Authorized Person on the receiving Bank Account. No changes are permitted to the prize Recipient after the Submission Deadline date. If you wish to change who would receive the prize monies, those changes must be completed prior to the Submission Deadline. View our Knowledge Base article here for how to change Team Captains.


Judging Panel:

Choice in employment is an important component of success, and individuals with autism will be represented as judges. Additionally, judges will be comprised from members from human resources, technology, and other stakeholder groups.


Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to adhere to the HeroX Intellectual Integrity Policy and promises to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.

Challenge Updates

8 Hours Remaining to Submit!

April 29, 2022, 6 a.m. PDT by Lulu

If you're still assembling your submission, you have exactly 8 hours left to complete it! 

Here's a Tip: HeroX recommends innovators plan to submit with at least a 3-hour window of time before the true deadline. Last-minute technical problems and unforeseen roadblocks have been the cause of many headaches. Don't let that be you!

Two Day Warning and some extra inspiration

April 27, 2022, 10:06 a.m. PDT by Lulu

This is your official two-day reminder!

That's right, the Autism Employment Connector Challenge will be closing this coming Friday at 5pm Eastern Time (New York/USA).

Please be sure to complete your submission form well before the exact cut-off time. At exactly 5:00 pm ET, we can no longer accept new submissions! 


If you were looking for that last bit of extra inspiration, check out this awesome interview that David Kearon participated in on Fox Good Day Street Talk. What you are participating in as a competitor in this challenge is so important and the world is so interested in solutions and advancements for the autism community. Be sure to bring it home!


Got questions?

Now is the time to speak up! Comment directly on this update with any questions about the submission process and we'll get back to you right away!

1 week remaining... Are you ready?

April 22, 2022, 10:03 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

This is your one week warning! The final submission deadline is 29 April 2022 at 5pm Eastern Time (New York/USA). No late submissions will be accepted, so make sure to give yourself plenty of buffer time.

If there’s anything you’re unsure about, there is still time to ask for help. Post on the discussion forum or leave a comment on this post. We’ll keep an eye out for your questions.

We can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on. 

Best of luck finishing up your submissions!

2 weeks to go!

April 15, 2022, 10:01 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Hi Innovators,

Can you believe it? It’s that time already! You now have two weeks left before your solution to The Autism Employment Connector Challenge is due. 

If you’re feeling behind on your project, don’t panic. You still have time to hunker down and get it done. You got this!

No late submissions will be accepted (yes, even if your computer crashes an hour before the submission deadline). 

Give yourself wiggle room by aiming to get 75% of your project done a week before it’s due. This way, you’ll have time to deal with unforeseen problems as they come up.

If you have any questions, head over to the project forum or comment directly on this post. 

Good luck!

1 Month Remains!

March 29, 2022, 10 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Dear Innovators,

We are just 1 month away from our submission deadline for The Autism Employment Connector Challenge!

This message is to remind you to complete and finalize your submission before the deadline on 29 April 2022 at 5pm Eastern Time (New York/USA). The HeroX platform is automated so your submission must be finalized before that date and time for it to be considered for the judging stage.

View a how-to video on completing your submission here.

If you have any questions regarding the competition, please don’t hesitate to ask us directly or leave a comment on the forum.

If you encounter any technical issues, please contact