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How does Aspergers affect Employment Prospects?

A few weeks ago, I had an amazing figure of 85% unemployment for aspies left on my blog in comments. I disagreed and decided to put it to the test.

I did a fairly unstructured and not necessarily reliable survey and came up with the following figures;

Survey Results
Of the 90 respondents, 48% were employed in either full-time or part time positions and a further 26% were studying. The remaining 26% was split into 2% housewives/househusbands, 13% not looking for a job and 11% unemployment.

The 11% figure is probably slightly higher than global unemployment figures but isn't significantly higher.

In the graph below, the red areas indicates unemployment, blue indicates employment and green indicates study/school.

It seems obvious to me that the Aspergers condition alone is not sufficient to prevent an individual from obtaining and keeping a job.

What Types of Jobs can Aspies do?
Probably the best thing that an aspie can do is to find work that is either related to their special interest or work which doesn't conflict with too many of the general aspie characteristics. While there is a tendency for aspies to seek jobs in computing and academic fields, there is no reason why aspies cannot be employed in lots of other areas.

Special interest jobs are very good for aspies as they can often be quite innovative and can easily take on leader, designer and developer roles. Unlike their co-workers, aspies often live and breathe their special interests and therefore have a genuine interest in pursing them - rather than simply focusing on the job at hand.

Low Profile jobs are good for aspies with difficult comorbid (associated) conditions or low degrees of social tolerance. Not all aspies need this but some will thrive in closed environments. Programmer and factory roles are often suitable here.

There's also a great answer on Yahoo which talks about Aspergers Employment Strengths and Weaknesses. It's well worth a read.

I've also found some free PDFs on helping aspies gain employment on the Berkshire Autistic Society Web Site.

Some useful books on the Subject
Hawkins, Gail; "How to Find work that works for people with Asperger Syndrome"

Grandin, Temple; Duffy, Kate; Attwood, Tony; "Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism"

Meyer, Robert N; Attwood, Tony; "Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook: An Employment Workbook for Adults With Asperger Syndrome"

If you look at the related books in Amazon, you'll find several other good titles.


Anonymous said…
I would be interested in knowing how many of those in part-time or full-time employment feel that they are 'under-employed' and/or 'under-paid'.
Gavin Bollard said…
It would be interesting but I'm not sure how I could compare it to NT's. I've got a feeling that if I asked NTs about these things, I'd get negative answers too.

I've been directed to some scary British research which has a lot of negative things to say. I'll investigate it and talk about it in a followup post.
Anonymous said…
A professor where I teach is being investigated for harassment. He is probably going to loose his job.

He is NOT diagnosed with Asperger's but many of us suspect it, including a professor whose son is aspie.

His research area is immunology and breast-feeding. He tends to stare at women's breasts and he will talk endlessly to people about breast-feeding. Fortunately for him, his wife is a lactation consultant and interested in his research. Unfortunately for him, some students find him "creepy" and inappropriate. It isn't just the intense interest in breasts, it is the general social cluelessness. There are so many things. Like standing too close for too long to a female student when they are alone in a lab. He doesn't notice that she is getting nervous about his intentions and just keeps on talking. This happens a couple of times and then she files a harassment complaint.

He was sent to a training on harassment years ago, but afterwards he did get a little better, but not much.

Like I said, he is not diagnosed with Asperger's and I don't think he would appreciate us telling him that is the problem. He has been accused of sexual harassment one too many times. Well, more like 15 too many times, but he keeps getting more chances because people who know him well think that he "just doesn't get it."

Like I said, he is not diagnosed. His explanation for why this is happening to him is that everyone is intimidated by him because he is so much smarter than the rest of us. That may be part of the issue, of course. Going into another professor's lab to get somethinng and then staying and taking over because she is doing it wrong has not helped his case.

There are some of us who would like to defend him on the grounds that he probably has Asperger's, but I doubt he would welcome such a defense.

I think I should ask you a specific question, but I am not certain what to ask. If you have anything to say about undiagnosed Aspies being accused of harassment, I would be interested in reading it.
macskadĂ©k said…
"It seems obvious to me that the Aspergers condition alone is not sufficient to prevent an individual from obtaining and keeping a job."

Very much true, you need the secret ingredient for that: discrimination!
We need to acknowledge and modify the faulty logic which uses social skills as an ultimate measure of competence and is applied by many employers even in areas where social skills are not needed for doing the job right.
Anonymous said…
My husband has been in computer programming for 7 years now, but he is unable to hold down a job for very long because he can't meet deadlines. He has been fired 3 times in 2 years because of this. Yes, aspies can be employed. The question is, can they STAY employed?
And to veildglory, my husband is one of those who thinks he's underpaid, no matter how much he's making. I'd agree that is a huge factor.
Gavin Bollard said…
I honestly can't meet deadlines either which is why I'm not great at working with project teams.

Instead of moving into areas which are unsuitable for me I do two things. First, I've stayed at a troubleshooting level (a highly technical one) which means that I get problems that nobody else can solve. There's no deadline... it's supposed to be immediate or ASAP. It's easier for me to deliver to that kind of schedule.

The other thing that I do is stay away from top-level management issues like project over-runs. Instead I concentrate on delivering quality solutions as fast as I can.

I've only had three full time employers in my twenty years of working life. My first Job lasted seven years, my second, four and my third is still going at nine.

So.. I guess aspies can hold down a job long-term but it has to be the right job.

BTW: I'm always being told that I'm underpaid but realistically, what would I do with lots of extra money anyway?
Anonymous said…
You needed to ask all of them how long they were employed, how long are they normally employed, why they left their jobs.
Sara in Denver said…
I agree with the people who write that we can be employed, its the matter of staying employed. I have a chemistry degree and have exhausted that. Now I am a legal secretary and have just lost another job in that field. I am middle aged and its getting scary. It's not that my work isn't good or that I am obnoxious, its just that when I say things that sound perfectly alright to me everyone looks at me like I just suggested killing kittens on our lunch hour. I think my next career will have to be comedy. Luckily, aspies are smart and adaptable, but we must have ridiculed instability in other lifetimes because this payback stinks, frankly.
Anonymous said…
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!
Anonymous said…
Looking back on my life, I do not have asperger's disorder, but I realise when I saw some peolpe "different", thers is a good chance they had the disorder, and I am ahamed to say that I was too ignorant to understand what it is.
.I believe even now most so called "normal" people have no Idea what it is and how to treat these good people who Do have the disorder.
I wish It would be taught in School, I think many people would then make less fun of people in general if they Knew the person COULD have the disorder.
.To all you people who DO have it, you are in my Prayers constantly
Dan said…
I worked for the same company for 19 years, working for four different supervisors during that period -- the longest being for 13 years.
My trouble has not so much been in keeping the job but rather in interviewing well to get a better job. Companies love me once they see me work my abilities, but communicating the concept during the interview... Oy!
Anonymous said…
"...Unfortunately for him, some students find him 'creepy' and inappropriate. It isn't just the intense interest in breasts, it is the general social cluelessness. There are so many things. Like standing too close for too long to a female student when they are alone in a lab. He doesn't notice that she is getting nervous about his intentions and just keeps on talking. This happens a couple of times and then she files a harassment complaint...."

Nobody should have to put up with that - not you, not I, not anyone else either. I'm glad they filed sexual harassment complaints instead of staying silent.

What do you want the students to do instead, use ESP to tell which people sending them creepy signals mean it and which are clueless instead?
Anonymous said…
"a fairly unstructured and not necessarily reliable survey"

If that means you asked people you know or you posted a question online, then there's nothing really scientific at all about the survey and it doesn't debunk the high figures of the NAS study but rather shows that things aren't so bad for the people with Asperger's that you know or for the people with Asperger's who frequent the online place where you posted the survey. Your questioning might even have pulled in many self-diagnosed people and a study at Cambridge has shown that only 20% of those who self-diagnose with Asperger's actually have the condition. So there's a chance that your sample, besides being biased and skewed, consists of a group of people who are, generally speaking, much higher functioning than those diagnosed with Asperger's.

As a very high-functioning person diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, looking back on my own personal history of unemployment and very brief employment (repeatedly acquiring a job only to lose it within two weeks for reasons unknown and undisclosed to me), I have no difficulty at all believing the NAS statistics. I am very high-functioning but there is just something . . . "not there" and I can't even identify what it is that I'm lacking or where it is that I've gone wrong. It's like a complete blind spot that cripples my life but I can't even begin to remedy because I can't even see where it is.

I'll look to see if you did a later post as you mentioned, looking in to the NAS study. I'd be curious to hear more from you on this topic. I'd also like to know more about the methodology of your informal and unstructured research and what makes you feel it's more trustworthy than the NAS study.

Gavin Bollard said…

I see that you quoted my own words about my own survey "a fairly unstructured and not necessarily reliable survey".

I don't think that my "off the cuff" research is better than the NAS's multi-million dollar research and I am well aware of the BIAS introduced by doing research on the web. We immediately exclude the lower functioning individuals.


I don't think that the NAS figures are necessarily correct either simply because they exclude the higher functioning individuals.

They exclude the undiagnosed and those who are on the spectrum but are able to hide their issues to an extent which permits them to work.

Two people who are equally autistic may have completely different levels of performance due to environmental factors and their own self esteem. I've often talked about how my additional difficulty (hearing loss) actually gave me access to resources which my aspergers did not. In that sense, I was actually better off than my peers because I was "more disabled".

Both surveys introduce bias - and neither is entirely accurate.
Anonymous said…
A recent Study done in the UK which included participants from the U.S., Canada, and the UK found that 50% of adults diagnosed with Asperger's or High Functioning Autism were unemployed, and that 40% were underemployed (ie. doing a job that required less education than they had). That means that only 10% of us are working in a job that requires the level of education we have attained. As for me, I am one of the 50% who are unemployed.
Anonymous said…
I can believe 75% - 85% are unemployed.
The government will not know about aspergers. Benefits and support is tailored towards physical disabilities and mental disabilities.

Most people with AS have dyspraxia and other conditions. The selection procedures count against people with AS including the ND people.

The support is decreaing, the best support is available from Prospects in London where there are more jobs. Outside London, there are fewer jobs, the transport costs and time of ttravel is huge.

Outside London a lot of work is controlled by recruitment agencies which generally do not have a clue about dissabilities.

Graduates with AS are going to be over - qualified for many non - graduate jobs, graduate jobbs are fiercely competitive even before the recession.

Few people with AS can work in a call centre, administration job are against dyspraxic people.

I think 85% may be accurate or too high.
Lewis said…
At the moment 58% of Americans are employed.
Good work on the survey. Other replies notwithstanding, my gut feeling is that your methodology doesn't introduce all that much bias, and your sample size is good enough for web work.

I would caution you, though, to match your definition of "unemployment" to the global unemployment figures you're comparing against.

For instance, if you're comparing to a global unemployment figure that excludes children, students, retirees, and other non-seekers, and doesn't account for the potentially underemployed, for a more accurate apples to apples comparison, you should use the same rules.
Anonymous said…
I think depending on the industry, those with Asperger's Syndrome may in fact have abilities that are highly desirable, such as in the medical laboratory industry.

They can bring stengths such as organization, structure, and control into a lab, with a strong aptitude for data, and statistics.

With these strengths the person may in fact advance in their career to a level that when they are managing employees, only then do the problems begin to surface.

I think this is what happens for alot of Aspies like myself. Just my thoughts on the matter...
Timothy said…
Yeah, we Aspies can be employed. But we switch jobs constantly, and the jobs we work almost inevitably play to our weaknesses - i.e. menial, uninteresting, repetitive tasks and social interaction (retail). We get used to being fired for nebulous "performance" reasons (i.e. oddness, social difficulty). So, it's as much about the fact of employment as it is about the quality of employment, and that person's resulting quality of life. I was fired 2 years ago from a job due directly to an Aspie symptom - all of which are more pervasive when under stress - illiteracy of a social situation, and being tricked & taken advantage of by a dishonest customer. Ever since that rather traumatic event I have since been self employed, and feeling it out, building in an area of interest. The money should be a consequence of an interest in order for an Aspie to do anything long-term. Aspies seldom can even relate to identifying with a company, other people's goals or another individual altogether for that matter. I think self-employment is probably the best choice for Aspies. The pressure of appearing "normal" and having to function without social and emotional senses is very taxing.
Anonymous said…
Well, I've had bad experiences and good experiences. I can definitely understand the social cluelessness, I have this, but am lucky to know people that can clue me in now. I am grateful that I can ask people, am I doing this right, socializing that is. At least now I know, to look up, not at the floor, and make eye contact. Before I would stare at the floor or away and people would swear I was looking at their feet or legs, very weird. I am also very grateful, I work with my special interest in a field that caters to it, and I have a close friend that is a psychiatrist with a son with Aspergers, she helps so much. So, I use my experience to maneuver through the social world. Aside from that, I found work with people that either have OCD, Aspergers, are eccentric, or cool enough not to care. The way they see it, we're all different, who cares, just work with God gave you. Took years to find what works though. Now, I just need more social training, and coaching on what to talk about or not talk about. Aside from that, I'm grateful I have a germ phobia, so I don't have a problem keeping my working distance to the normal. I know there's aspies that stand too close, a problem with spatial orientation. Thank god, I don't have a special interest in lactation, that would suck, no pun intended. I laugh cause I'm breastfeeding and lactating at the time. To each their own, hope the immunologist keeps his job.
Anonymous said…
I should mention beware of the eccentric Aspie use of words. And the dark sense of humour. God, that has made me look rather abnormal at times. Lucky for me, I make fun of these things very often. It's best to deal with people with a sense of humor at work. Keep that in mind.
Anonymous said…
You should remember that students, housewives and people not looking for a job don't count to the calculation of unemployment rate. Then, (if you want to compare with the global unemployment rate) your number mean an unemployment rate of 19%, not of 11%.
Anonymous said…
The suggestion that "factory work" could be good for an aspie is
misleading. A factory job could doesn't mean low social expectations and factories can be noisy, rigid environments that can drive an aspie to meltdowns.
Anonymous said…
I have counted up the number of jobs ive had and its 31. I have not been fired from jobs but i have trouble staying. Often i get bored or i find an ethical issue with either the management or the place i work and its like a trigger inside that wont let me stay. If i try to stay then i go to work angry and come home in tears everyday. I always wondered why this happened until recently i was diognosed with aspergers.
Anonymous said…
My son,19, is high functioning, but has trouble with social issues, especially when he sees other couples together, whether it's on TV, the street or in church. He gets anxious, jealous, and feels he has to remove himself from that situation or he will explode. As a result, he is seeking a job in the future as a piano teacher or in the computer field where he won't have to do much social interacting. It seems that constant encouragement and ego boosting helps him the most.
Anonymous said…
"As a result, he is seeking a job in the future as a piano teacher or in the computer field where he won't have to do much social interacting."

Since when is *teaching* a job where the teacher won't have to do much social interacting? Students of teachers are people too.
Kas said…
Hello all, I love the responses to a lot of these articles, I find it very helpful when relating to my husband. I was just wondering if anyone discloses their AS after being hired?

My husband is 30 and has had over 150 jobs, lol, I know crazy. Most of his problems, from what I understand, is his strict moral and social code, he can not stand by and watch someone be harrassed, and really takes safety seriously. He has worked as a drywaller and cook mostly.

He is very high functioning and seems to rub people the wrong way, especially bully/macho managers. It is something I don't fully understand because he is non-confrontational, funny, and very polite. He tells me exactly what he says and what the responses are, I see nothing wrong, yet he still becomes unemployed.

He is working at the same production company as me now, it is a good place. They seem to like him, he does good work, but a lot of the patterns are starting to repeat themselves. It seems to be one manager in particular who 'contadicts himself regularily and changes the subject when he is wrong'.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is if anyone has disclosed their AS? How did that go? Any advice for staying employed?
DMV said…
It doesn't matter....he will likely face the same problem is he discloses the fact that he has AS. I have done both. When I did disclose the information I was told the dynamics of the job may not be a suitable fit for me. They give you just enough rope to hang yourself then tell you thanks but no thanks.
Nick said…
I have always had problems with my working life, particularly with professional work and have suspected AS for a few years now. My awareness grew about 10 years ago, but I put it to the back of my mind until recent events brought it forward again. I am 50 years old now and wonder about the value of a formal diagnosis as I have had so many years now working things out for myself. I have always had TREMENDOUS difficulty landing a job. This is partly due to the generally bad times for work and jobs I grew up in but I have found it much worse than most of my contemporaries of similar education and background. I can honestly say I have only had two half decent posts despite having degrees – bachelors and masters and numerous professional qualifications that I have collected like a hobby!…usually to try to kick-start a mediocre career. These two jobs I feel I only managed to land because I didn’t have to go through the formal interview process for them properly. One, they were so desperate for as many men as they could get you could almost fall into it, and the other because I had met the director and his wife. When in work I have always had problems relating and working with colleagues and just not understanding what motivates their behaviour. I have always thought just to work hard – but that is not enough. Office politics…? I do not even really percieve them. Employers, supervisors and managers have mentioned to me that I have some kind of problem in working and communicating with colleagues. Some have got nasty and become angry over this while others have really tried to be helpful and to understand – but not really been able to and ended up at a loss. I find myself now facing the idea of possible AS as I left a job recently I had been in for 13 years to relocate with my wife for her career and for personal reasons. I am lucky that my wife is wonderful woman with whom I have a great marriage with. However, in three years I have been totally unable to get off the ground professionally despite numerous interviews, really putting myself around chasing potential openings and an innumerable number of applications getting nowhere. I have had a number of low-grade fill-in type jobs but ended up in conflict with clients or colleagues over something – which always came as a bit of a surprise to me and again nothing anyone can really put their finger on. I particularly fall-out with people in the work place who may have a somewhat bullying style and who use put-downs while deftly staying within the social rules – sniping from behind the battlements so to speak. I have always locked horns with those types. I am Ok if the gloves come off and its open conflict but with the cloak and dagger stuff I’m lost. I have now become self-employed, building on what is for me an absorbing interest, so hopefully I can find long-lasting success there. When I look back at my life I have always found problems fitting in, making and keeping friends and behaving appropriately, but I have always managed to muddle through and work things out. I actually thought that was what everybody did but most were just better at it than me. I have not made many lasting friendships and don’t have a collection of friends and aquaintances reflecting various stages and places I’ve been in life. I have very often found myself the odd man out and spent an awful lot of time alone during my schooldays. And it always comes back to haunt me. I didn’t actually figure out dating until into my 20’s and was often extremely up-tight and angry about how I seemed to be locked out of really getting to grips with social life. The only thing that got me anywhere was a single-minded determination not to miss out and try with every effort I could muster. Looking back at how I was as a school kid, I feel if I had been the child I had been in the 60’s now in the 21st century, I would have been labelled AS.
Anonymous said…
@Nick..I am a female grew up during the 80's and 90's and I've gone through exactly what you described. I am not diagnosed but I strongly suspect AS with Dyspraxia. I related to most AS symptoms but felt alot of my disabilities were left unexplained until I read about dyspraxia, which then, was the last piece of the puzzle.

"We need to acknowledge and modify the faulty logic which uses social skills as an ultimate measure of competence and is applied by many employers even in areas where social skills are not needed for doing the job right."

I just recently lost an opportunity to be permanently employed because of this. I worked in the diagnostic imaging field as a temp or fill in for a couple years, same academic credentials as any colleague/co-worker, no competency issues ever just social cluelessness is what haunts me. The rejection speech from upstairs is always "the other candidate was a better fit". They didnt care if I have 3 children and the other candidate was a young single female living at home with her parents,no children.She was offered the permanent position after being there one month..she is set for life and i continue to struggle. My last job in this field I was grossly underpaid because I just didnt understand how to assert myself to a boss and negotiate a salary. I'd ask for more money but would get turned down, next person would get significantly more, same experience as me.
Dating was a nightmare. I was a late bloomer was severely taken advantage of and abused by men. I just couldnt get it and the frustration of seeing other girls younger than me get it and work it to their advantage realy screwed with my self esteem. I paid and paid dearly. Always had the wrong friends..I clung to people who I perceived "got it" and saw them as mentors- I was never respected. I knew that real connections were few and far between for me so I clung onto anyone who tolerated me and gave me attention, it was always to my expense.
I have 3 children with a man I thought was the one,unfortunately he turned out to have severe mental issues (BPD, major narcissist with anxiety issues)he can be very verbally/emotionally abusive because of my limitations the narcissist in him becomes contemptuous and resentful when I dont live up to his lofty standards. I have trouble with balancing chores, errands, and interacting with my kids. I make sure they are properly fed and kept clean but I am terrible at executing every other priority/tasks. I know what needs to be done but I just cant do it. It takes hours to do something that an NT housewife would accomplish in minutes-I become very wrapped up in all the datails of everything im supposed to do and pulled in so many directions without actually finishing what I start then to be consistently interuppted by the kids and their schedule. I cant get back on track and by the time I can I have very little physical energy because I also have hypothyroidism, so im exhausted very easily. I need copious amounts of down time zoning out in front of the tv to calm me down...I have no desire to interact with or relate to my children, read to them or play. I hate going out so they stay in mostly. I am utterly exhausted at doing the bare minimum, which for NT women would be nothing to them, another day of being a working mom or stay at home mom...I dont excel at either.Im pretty good at my job but I end up being the oddball weirdo. Im attractive but I always look basic because i cant fuss with hair and make up, I'd get too overwhelmed in the morning if I had to fuss...sooo iyts not like I have looks? to motivate and employer to keep me and male coworkers to pine for me. Im now unemployed while my coworkers flourish in nice homes, vacations, nice cars (my field pays well) stuck I dont even think I could get disability for this. I could work somewhere else but I know its the same story, I would get pushed out as always.
I hate myself, my life and I feel sorry for my children that I am their mother.
Anonymous said…
The 85 percent is of those in the workforce (those who are capable of and who want to work including those who have given up looking). It includes both those who are are unemployed or underemployed. Underemployed individuals includes both those who work part time but want to work full time and those who are working in positions for which they are significantly overqualified
LindaG said…
I think another aspect you didn't include would be 'how long have they held their job?'.
We only recently came to learn about Aspie. We are pretty sure our youngest boy (now almost 25) has it. He has several of the symptoms. He was treated for ADHD for 7 years or so when he was younger. If Aspie had existed then, he probably would have been diagnosed with it.
He has held 2 jobs so far. Both he was doing very well in and then lost unexpectedly.
We do not live near him now, so we don't know the circumstances of his latest job loss. But we suspect it has to do with Aspie.
(Both jobs were minimum wage, part time. The last in computers - something he really likes.)
He doesn't have medical insurance, we're pretty sure, so do you have any idea how he could claim job discrimination and get his job back?
Don't mean to put you on the spot. If you don't know, don't worry. I'm doing a lot of searching on the subject.
Have a good day.
Gavin Bollard said…
Hi Linda,

Without knowing exactly why your son lost his job, I really can't tell you how he can try to get it back.

The reality of it though is that nobody really should try to get their old job back in these sorts of circumstances as organisations tend to have long memories and it's not likely to be a comfortable experience for him.
Anonymous said…
Interesting post re the Radiographer who got passed over for promotion. I too worked as a Radiographer and was passed over in a similar way. I am undiagnosed and have only recently been thinking I may be AS. I have a son who is diagnosed. I have had what could be described as burnout and the job, marriage etc. are gone. Radiography is a good choice for Aspies since it involves a degree of repetition whilst working on your own with a patient for a short while. I was lucky to have worked in a department that may have had 1 or 2 other Aspies working there and the other staff were an idiosyncratic bunch full of characters that made for a good atmosphere.

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