Aspergers awareness has made employers more sensitive to the needs of "Aspies." More employers know how to approach an interview with an Aspie as well as how to create a workplace environment for them. As awareness increases, more employers recognize the value of Aspergers employees, and some even offer special job training to help these employees adjust to the workplace.
The social and communication problems inherent in people with Aspergers (high functioning autism) create challenges in job-hunting and in sustaining long-term employment. Common social and communication problems that can affect a job include:
- Sensory processing issues (e.g., responds in an unusual manner to certain sights, sounds, smells or tastes)
- Repetitive and obsessive behavior (e.g., rocking back and forth, skin picking or hand flapping)
- Problems understanding the emotions of others, and as a result, may react inappropriately
- Needs a structured routine and may get extremely upset by routine changes
- May not work well with others
- Inability to understand verbal instructions
- Difficulty maintaining a two-way conversation
Some of these symptoms may create misunderstandings with co-workers and make it difficult for Aspergers employees to fit into the workplace environment. Here are 25 tips for employers who are considering hiring – or have already hired – an individual with Aspergers:
1. Adjust your evaluation process. During the interview, be aware that the positive “body language” and “non-verbal cues” you might expect to see may not be forthcoming from someone with Aspergers.
2. Allowances should be made for the Aspie’s idiosyncrasies (e.g., giving “progress updates” may not be seen as particularly important by the Aspie, so managers may need to ask for them as a matter of course).
3. Aspies can handle jobs that deal with facts or logic (e.g., computer science, software design, engineering, research, and math). So if there is a particular job task that deals with some of these areas directly or indirectly, it might be a good fit for the Aspie.
4. Be very precise in the job description. A prospective applicant with Aspergers is likely to take words and phrases literally.
5. Many Aspies have a desire to help people – but they also lack social skills. Thus, a task where the Aspie can assist others “indirectly” (i.e., not face-to-face) may be a good fit (e.g., delivering supplies).
6. Because of their interest in fairness and justice, job tasks that require honesty and trustworthiness are good (e.g., depositing money, writing company checks).
7. Don't force Aspergers employees into social gatherings or events without full consent.
8. Don't force employees with Aspergers to take part in unnecessary team-working processes that add nothing to how well something gets done.
9. Draw on shared experience. Take advice from support groups and listen to all parties during recruitment and beyond, including care-givers and the employee him/herself.
10. Ensure that the Aspergers employee has an advocate. A line-manager is probably not the best person because his/her management role may conflict with a supporting and caring role.
11. For multi-step plans, give your Aspergers employee a clear written list of steps to follow …or, if he has trouble seeing how all the steps relate to each other, then treat each one as a separate task.
12. Individuals with Aspergers don't always do well with open-ended questions. So instead of saying, “What job task would you like to do today?” …say "We have these three tasks that need to be done (then specify what they are), which would you like to do?"
13. It can take time for an Aspergers employee to settle into the workplace, so whether it's a job in a high-powered professional environment or at a more administrative or vocational level, initial reactions from co-workers and managers will greatly influence whether or not it works out. Thus, one role of the mentor can be to explain the Aspie’s shyness and/or hesitancy in social contact to others.
14. It is beneficial for the person with Aspergers to have someone to go to for advice and answers if he/she thinks something at work does not seem right.
15. Know that hypothetical scenarios, much used by interviewers as a way to test a candidate's problem-solving skills, are unlikely to draw the best from an Aspie, because most are not very good at projecting themselves into imaginary situations.
16. Know that most Aspergers employees tend to work better alone. Thus, if there is a job assignment that does not require a group effort per say, it might be best suited for the Aspie. Consider tasks where the Aspie can work individually, rather than on a team.
17. Make reasonable adjustments. If the Aspie is over-sensitive to bright office lights, background chatter, or prefers to work at home – do what you can.
18. Make regular performance checks. Even if things are going well, review the Aspie’s progress regularly. This is crucial if the Aspergers employee's behavior changes. If so, find out why the behavior change is occurring, and consider what can be done to help.
19. Most Aspergers employees are less likely to get bored with repetition since they tend to find comfort in routines, so they can be better able to handle repetitive jobs that require attention to detail.
20. People with Aspergers are more likely to be bullied or taken advantage of in the workplace. For example, some assume that whatever the supervisor tells them is true, so they do not question it, which makes it very easy for a supervisor to abuse them. Thus, it may be beneficial for the Aspie to know the basics of employment law, so that if a supervisor tells him something different, he knows better.
21. Telephone order taking or survey taking can work for some Aspies because they have scripts and do not require face-to-face interaction. If something like this is available – consider it.
22. The Aspergers employee should be assigned a mentor, and there should be training for staff who will be working with the Aspie. If managed well, the highly developed analytical skills exhibited by people with Aspergers can give companies a valuable competitive edge.
23. Think about the recruitment policy. Standard job ads and selection processes are unlikely to encourage someone with Aspergers to apply for posts they may be qualified for. For example, look at the emphasis placed on communication skills. Does the role really need those skills?
24. Understand that some Aspies are very set in their own ways of doing things, and as a result, they may question everything the supervisor says.
25. Perhaps most importantly, remember that each individual with Aspergers is different, so there aren't any “one-size-fits-all” tips. Every person with Aspergers is an individual, and some will manage well in the workplace with small interventions. Companies need a better awareness of the condition, because there's a lot they can do quite easily that will help.
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook