Dealing with Aspergers Employees: What Employers Need to Know

Your new Aspergers employee has the skills you were looking for and is dedicated to doing the job well. The challenging part for a person with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism is the less structured, more social aspects of office culture. Small talk, picking up what others are thinking, and being imaginative about solving problems are challenging for these individuals.

Here are some straightforward tips to help them thrive:
  1. Be open to someone who may be a support person in the personal life of your Aspergers employee. Some moms and dads stay involved a little longer in the life of their adult Aspergers child as an advocate in the background. Until your employee initiates the conversation about bringing in his advocate, remember to build trust through messages that convey you value his work. Some young people with Aspergers want to do it on their own, while others would welcome their support person to coach or help them get independent with some of the more interpersonal aspects of being on the job.
  2. Be precise and specific with your instructions. Slang and expressions of speech may not translate to what you want to communicate. Details and examples help (e.g., "This is how it should look when it is done").
  3. Don’t let the "diagnosis" be a defining characteristic of your employee; it is one aspect of who this person is. The diagnosis becomes important for you to know when it helps you to help her shine on the job.
  4. Encourage co-workers to have a collaborative office culture when it comes to helping out each other. Your Aspergers employee will have strengths that will be an asset to your team. Helping others in the office by lending a hand with one’s own talents helps everyone bond socially with fellow employees.
  5. Encourage your Aspergers employee to come up with some process strategies for doing her job. For example, she might work well by recording tasks on a template she creates with visuals, spacing or organization that makes good sense to her.
  6. Help your employee relax about asking for help on the job. "Disability acts" encourage individuals to discuss the modifications they need in the work place. However, there is often hesitation because of the fear that disclosure will be a stigma or put the job in jeopardy. You want to be receptive should your Aspergers employee want to ask for an accommodation that will help her work better.
  7. Try to give a personal "heads up" if there is a schedule or routine change that your employee may not pick up on automatically. An individual with Aspergers will need some extra "signaling" at times. Keep the focus on the person's gifts, which brought him to your work place and motivated you to hire him!
  8. To set up for office place success, you will find it pays off to invest in some training time early on in some of those skills unrelated to the primary job, but fundamentally important to navigating the day at the office.
  9. Be prepared to give your input with some of the smaller steps you may not typically think of stating. Gradually transfer responsibility and accountability to your Aspergers employee, withdrawing your level of involvement as you see him catching on to the rhythm of the office environment.
  10. Be very specific about what you expect in general office matters. Help your employee to know where more and less flexibility is in order and appropriate in the daily flow of the work place. What routines must be done one way only? Observe, make notes and plan for periodic feedback time.
  11. Create a "cheat sheet" for phone coverage. If you want your Aspergers employee to "pinch hit" on the phones, have a few generic phrases that work for your workplace (e.g., “Can I have someone get back to you with that information?”).
  12. Don’t be afraid to be blunt. It will be helpful. There is a distinction between "blunt" and "rude." Your employee will appreciate and understand directness and clarity. If you are finding yourself repeating requests, you can say, “What plan can we come up with to help you establish routines that I have been reminding you about?”
  13. Have a set routine for evaluation and feedback sessions. Start the meeting by talking about the positive qualities you see in your new Aspergers employee (e.g., “Here’s where your work is very well done”). Then move on to the areas that need some re-adjusting. Be sensitive to feelings of past failure with social and organizational issues. Your employee is probably quite familiar with her weaknesses, having heard about them and struggled with them in some other past setting. You can say, “Here’s where we will work together.”
  14. Help your employee become comfortable with the social culture of your workplace. Individuals with Aspergers tend to want to stay focused on tasks they enjoy for extended periods of time. Being specific about when to go for breaks and lunch will be a cue for him to personally connect with co-workers.
  15. As you see a routine or task that requires daily attention, log it on a list. Explaining the purpose behind the task may help it to become automatic. Individuals with Aspergers like to make sense out of things.

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