Danette M. Schott is founder of S-O-S Research and blogs at Help! S-O-S for Parents. She is the mother of two children adopted from
But people with AS and HFA also have strengths and gifts that Rudy Simone spells out in her first chapter in "Asperger's on the Job." She has written this go-to book for people with Asperger's or HFA and their employers, educators, and advocates so that everyone can learn to work effectively and productively together. In addition to reading Rudy's book, I had the pleasure of being able to interview her.
As an adult with AS, Rudy is able to provide her unique insight into the struggles those with Asperger's face in finding and keeping employment in "Asperger's on the Job." As Rudy explained:
“Some with AS do poorly at interviews, others do well because it is a ‘performance’. I always got the job, it was mostly the social stuff that came after that robbed my peace of mind and kept me from staying long or rising in the ranks. My first real job had been as a singer, but when that ended, and I had no degree, I ended up in jobs that required ‘people skills’ because jobs that don’t require degrees often do require people skills—waitress, hostess, cashier, receptionists, secretary, etc. This is why I urge people on the spectrum to get their qualifications.
The last job I had where I had a boss, entailed the same social, sensory, and cognitive problems I’ve always had at work. They misread me, asked me to do things in a way I wasn’t able to deal with, or changed the methods overnight with no warning or chance to assimilate the idea of change. It wasn’t until after these jobs ended, that I understood AS was the underlying reason for my difficulties with work. But since then, I have been self-employed by choice. I still have to deal with people—employees, publishers, editors, the public and so all the principles I talk about in my books come into play—managing my social and sensory issues is a daily duty."
I asked Rudy if she could reveal some of her successes on the job. She offered the following:
“By far, being an author is the best thing in the world for me. Interviewing people, writing about it, sharing what I’ve discovered with others in the hopes of improving people’s lives. Sheer bliss, but it’s not a high-paying career for most of us. Strangely enough though, I love performing...it enables me to connect with people in a way I simply cannot do in day to day life. As far as working for others, the last two jobs I had were the best: TAPS, (the stars of “Ghost Hunters”) had a magazine and I was head writer. I simply had to ask a lot of questions and write. Being a senior editor was also good—I was able to use my special interests, going through others’ work with a fine tooth comb and pointing out mistakes or room for improvement—heaven! But I also did well in other positions, such as screening applicants at a head hunting agency in NYC. Again, it was about getting to the heart of the matter— asking the right questions."
In her book, Rudy also includes the experiences of over 50 people with Asperger's located all over the world. She presents various issues in each chapter and then provides insight into what the employee can do and what the employer can do to work through the presented issue. Comments from people interviewed for the book are generously scattered throughout the pages and help provide a personal component to each problem. Finally, Rudy ends each chapter asking thoughtful questions for the reader to consider.
"Asperger's on the Job" contains useful information for young teens with AS or HFA who may be preparing to apply for their first part time job. But I also see this book being useful for parents of children with AS or HFA. By reading the book and analyzing the potential employment pitfalls, parents can determine the areas that will be key to their child's future with regards to employment. The areas are nothing new, but when they are discussed with perspective to employment their importance seems to be elevated. Here are some of the areas of difficulty:
- Problems making small talk;
- Inability to read nonverbal cues and gestures;
- Lack of facial expressions;
- Problem recognizing familiar people; and
- Problems with sensory issues, such as loud noises, bright lights.
A child with AS struggles with these areas and these struggles will continue into adulthood without work. Parents can work with professionals to address these issues and attempt to minimize their child's problems into adulthood and on the job.
"Asperger's on the Job" can benefit both the employee with AS and HFA and the employer. Rudy does a wonderful job of looking at aspects of the work environment that can affect a person's success but is not necessarily within the scope of a job. Hopefully with her insight and advice future pitfalls by employees and employers alike can be minimized.
There is an interesting chapter towards the end of the book titled "To Tell or Not to Tell, That is the Question." Parents of children with AS or HFA tackle this question throughout their children's lives, sometimes starting as early as preschool. In the book Rudy does not take a stand on the issue, but rather she presents differing perspectives of those she interviewed. Also, the pros and cons of disclosure of the diagnosis are discussed. Since I had the luxury of interviewing Rudy, I asked what her belief has been regarding this issue and she explained:
“It is a personal decision but I would never put myself through the trouble again of being ‘in the closet’. I get tired of the same old questions and observations about my behavior—e.g. I get very quiet, blunt, confused and overloaded and all the other things that come with the AS territory. I want to educate the world as much as possible, so people don’t have to explain themselves as much. For others, if you simply can’t disclose, partial disclosure may be the way to go. But many of my clients have disclosed and have had good results doing so, i.e. they got the accommodations and understanding they asked for. If you are going to disclose, talk to an expert first if you can, to help you do it in the best way possible."
"Asperger's on the Job" concludes with a section on "Additional Tools." The reader is walked through a process to help them determine what type of job would suit them best. Interview tips are reviewed and useful resources are provided.
Rudy offered the following advice to parents of a young teen with Asperger's who will be preparing for a job in couple of years:
“Besides your special interests, you must know what your triggers are and have an artillery of things which counter them. Also work on social skills, empathy, taking an interest in others, etc. I’m not advocating being false, just expanding the boundaries of who you are. There are many different methods for improving your overall health and well-being to minimize your reactions to triggers and there are many ways to build your confidence. Find a way to express yourself that commands respect—that is the one thing we often get short-changed on, and it is very painful. Lastly, but most importantly, beware self-pity, it is an unhealthy addiction. We all get down about the difficulties, but we must be pro-active and have strategies. Depression and bitterness are not strategies."
With regards to an older teen with AS who is looking for his first job, Rudy explained:
“I have a thing in the book called a ‘personal job map’. It is a tool I designed specifically for people with AS to help them figure out what field they should be working in, by cross-referencing special interests with triggers and personal needs. It is very interesting to work with clients, when the lights come on and they say “oh, I really should be doing that!” or “I don’t think I want to do that after all” This should be done in high school, before college, and before career (as needed) to help guide the person on the path to personal expression and fulfillment. That is always what it comes down to."
Rudy's book is very thought-provoking and reading it made me curious to know more about her. I asked about her current endeavors and she shared the following:
“I have a few occupations: author (my 4th book is just being finished), lecturer and AS consultant, then I am also a jazz singer and comedienne, as well as owning property which I rent out. It is important to me to have a few sources of income, in case the bottom drops out on one, plus I get bored quickly, my mind is always searching for the next fun thing. I’ve just finished a screenplay which I am trying to have made into a movie. The other thing my occupations have in common is that they are all self-employment. I like autonomy, being able to make decisions without needing approval, etc."
I would like to offer a big "thank you" to Rudy Simone for providing this unique perspective into employment for those with Aspergers and HFA, as well as taking the time to share her insight and advice on many related issues. You can enter a giveaway on Help! S-O-S for Parents to win a copy of Rudy’s book (ends 10/1/10) or purchase it at Future Horizons.