Thursday, July 15, 2010

Improving Employment Prospects for Aspies - Part 1

This article appeared on the Columbus Dispatch last Monday and I've been pondering its deeper meanings since then. It highlights an important problem and is well worth a read.

Young adults with Asperger's syndrome struggle to find jobs
By Rita Price

The article raises important points which I think are worth discussing but it also uses some language, terminology and concepts that I'm not overly fond of. In some ways, it leads the reader to believe that while aspies are generally quite smart, their social issues get in the way so much that it becomes a "favour" when an employer gives them a job.

Employers already have enough power over their employees without us making out that it's a privilege to even be considered for a job. It's not a privilege. It's a right. An equal opportunity right.

In this series, I want to look at the aspie employment issue and suggest some ways it could be improved.

An Imbalance of Services
There are plenty of Aspergers Services for early intervention but not much for after-school assistance.

To be honest, I don't think this is a problem that is confined to Aspergers Syndrome. I think that this is also often the case for the better known disabilities such as blindness, deafness and downs syndrome. People are always much more willing to provide support for children than they are for adults. It's mainly a cute-factor thing but there's also a sense that adults can fend for themselves.

The problem is that many adults on the spectrum really can't fend for themselves. Sure, they sometimes seem very capable but the problem is that academic and social capability are entirely separate things.

It seems silly to think that someone who holds a masters degree in language or communication may actually be unable to communicate socially but it happens. The same goes for people who hold excessive qualifications in business studies but are fazed by simple forms - that's right, it's not just a social issue. Then there are sound engineers with aspergers who have sound tolerance issues. It's true, I've chatted with some.

"We weren't Ready!"
The other thing that the afforementioned article says is that society just wasn't ready for the influx of individuals with Aspergers;

"This wave of what used to be preschoolers with autism is moving on, and we're really scrambling to meet that need."

This is all based on the idea that Aspergers and Autism in general are on the rise. It seems to suggest that there was an "aspie boom" about 15 years ago similar to the post-war baby boom and that suddenly a whole bunch of autistic children appeared.

It's not a theory I subscribe to.

It's my belief that autism rates have risen due to a number of factors, mostly increased tolerance and changes in the nature of our society. Children who, in the past, would have been institutionalised at an early age now live full and healthy lives. Aspie adults can now (sometimes) find appropriate work or government support. Either way, the aspie generation now has a much better chance of passing their genes onto their offspring. It's clear that there are a lot more "carriers" around today but that in itself doesn't account for the "aspie boom".

I think that the other factor is simply recognition.

Have you ever bought something that you thought was fairly unique and taken it out of the shop only to start noticing that other people already seem to have your "unique" item. I believe that label of aspergers is similar.

Once you have a word for the condition, you start to notice more and more people who fit the description. Their numbers aren't necessarily increasing, it's just that we're now much more perceptive about their condition.

My point being... not being ready isn't really a good excuse.

Moving Forward
So, how can society start moving forward from this? Not surprisingly, the answers aren't entirely simple. There are things that aspies need to do and there are things that employers/society needs to do.

Aspie Tasks
  • Limit your education
  • Limit your expectations
  • Be less picky about your initial jobs
  • Choose suitable jobs
  • Try not to make waves
  • Consider your interests

Employer Tasks
  • Stop Focussing on the idea of "giving" jobs to the disabled
  • Recognise aspie strengths
  • Be flexible
  • Be mentoring
  • Be accepting

Next Time
Both the aspie and the employer tasks deserve exploratory posts of their own, so I'll be exploring them in more detail in my next posts.


Ms. Kate said...

My son (10.5) was dx in May with Asperger's. We were told he wasn't dx in the past because his IQ was so high he was able to compensate so well for it and was just "lumped in" with all the "regular" kids. My mother who is a therapist has been fighting the dx tooth and nail. I finally told my Grandmother this weekend, we had planned a trip just the two of us, and God bless her soul...she responded with..."Oh well. There's worse things out there. He biggest question was what's he going to do for work? I had to giggle. He's only 10 Grandma. He can do anything. Let's give him some time. Thanks for your constant uplift for me. You have been a bright spot in my search for understanding. As a special education employee...I never knew there was so much I didn't know.

Serena said...

Another thing bothered me about the article when I saw it the other day. This was written in the United States where all young adults, as well as unemployed adults, are having difficulty in finding employment.

The county's unemployment rate is growing rapidly and the country is in a deep recession if not a full fledged depression.

Anonymous said...

I"m an unemployed Autistic adult in Australia. I haven't been able to hold down a proper job since I left highschool, let alone make enough money to be independent or save things I want.

jingard said...

One positive point to make is that in some lines of work, Aspergers can be an advantage. In my appraisals, people always say that I am totally reliable, not afraid to tell people that something is wrong and stick to my guns, very focused on getting the job done, and more enthusuastic than 'regular' staff. In 13 years, they haven't noticed that I'm terrified of talking on the phone!

Riayn said...

Can you please explain what you mean by the point "limit your education" as I really hope you aren't telling people with Asperger's not to bother going to college or getting their PhD because they will always be unsuccessful so why bother.
I would find that stance really offensive.
We should never limit what have the capacity to achieve especially in terms of education.

Gavin Bollard said...


I'm degree qualified and no. I do believe that aspies should get themselves a "normal" education.

I certainly don't accept that there are limits on what an aspie can achieve if they really put their mind to it. It's more about doing things in an order which is appropriate and affords the best opportunities.

My next post will cover this topic in a lot of detail. The points I'll be making there apply equally to neurotypicals and aspies alike.

I've seen too many overqualified people talking about the jobs that they just can't get.

Just another Mom said...

This may be off the mark, but I took Limiting your education as being a good thing if you are looking for a job and are having a hard time finding one. Limiting it as in limiting what you put on an application. My mother was told by a potential employer that she was over qualified for the job she was applying for, and no one was going to hire her because as soon as something better comes along a potential employer knows that she would leave. They want someone qualified enough to do the job, but not so qualified to loose the employee two months or a year down the road when another opportunity presents itself. It costs them time and money to retrain and look for someone else. I also know several people that will not take a job that is "beneath them" due to a high education. Thus increasing the span of being out of work, which also could be a turn off to a potential employer for many reasons beyond just looking bad.

Securing a job when you are out of work proves to be a tricky and difficult thing at best for a lot of people. My Aspie son is only going on 10 yrs old, but that does not stop us from exploring the future potential employment opportunities. It is never too early to begin strategizing how to make himself a more attractive applicant when looking for a job.

Our future steps are as follows: 1)pick a field of great interest so as to use his passion and knowledge to his advantage-basically his Aspie traits 2) determine if it is something that he will even want to do, to do this he could volunteer if possible, and if he likes it and does well it is a foot in the door and he has an established relationship 3)get necessary training or schooling for the job 4)my personal opinion, never neglect schooling for business-both my hubby and I have successfully been self employed, not a bad set up for an Aspie that can do it. It allows you to create the perfect job for yourself.

My sons current interest is working with animals, we explored all the possible jobs and schooling required and he settled on wanting to work at a pet shop. He can volunteer at a vets office, pet store, animal boarding, Zoo, etc. See which one suits his fancy, then get a job when he is old enough, get appropriate schooling, and eventually own his own operation. It sounds great in theory, plans don't always work out the way we think they will, but we at least have a plan and are thinking about ways to find the right line of work and be sure about it before college, classes, degrees that take him in a direction that he may later decide he really didn't want to go in.

My job is to support my son, and make sure he has the opportunity to see all his options and test the waters if possible before he makes decisions on the paths he wants to take in life.

Working in a pet shop is his current interest, however, since 8 yrs old he has been doodling "to scale" the human body, skeletal, muscular, circulatory, and internal organs. This began at the age of 4 when he began drawing all his pictures with digestive tracts, hearts, lungs, stomach (always with food in it). I think he has the potential to work in medicine, but I remain silent and support him in just wanting to feed and care for animals. It makes him happy and it may just make him successful!

Stephanie said...


I agree the problem is huge. And while the "not being ready" isn't an excuse, it is an explanation.

I recently obtained my degree in business administration with a concentration in business management. They're not only "not ready," they don't have a clue what they're not ready for.

The training available to adults on the spectrum is not the only thing that's inadequate. Business professionals require training, too. Diversity programs tend to cram gender, racial, and ethnic diversity together--sometimes covering it all in a matter of an hour. Disabilities gets a mention, but there are no specifics and the topic of "invisible disabilities" doesn't come up--even in my months-long classes.

That's why my first non-fiction book will be a manager's guide to neurodiversity. It's needed.

Miguel Palacio said...

"The surge in autism diagnoses - the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" makes it sound like it's disease, possibly preventable. I can see why some people assign it such a stigma. Who knows? If they hang around me too much, they might acquire a shadow syndrome and before you know it they will start stimming and then before you know it the entire workforce will start stimming, and then it will become a movement! And meetings will never be the same. It will be like the Aspie apocalypse. Oh the humanity!

Miguel Palacio said...

I don't understand. Why should I limit my education and expectations? ok, I kinda get that I should expect employers to be clueless about me, but I still try to set my sights high. Also, I'm very glad that I became college educated, tho it does seem a bit overrated, too many dmoyers use a college degree as a gateway to many positions. Tho I know a true life example of a fellow who purposefully omitted the fact that he had a masters and a PhD, just to get his foot in the door. After his 6-month probationary period was over, he proudly hung his post-graduate degrees on the wall of his cubicle and yes his managers and HR were irate because it was company policy to give him a raise if he had these things. They admonished him for not saying that he had these degrees and he said that had he mentioned them he would have never been hired for his post, for which there was not much of an argument, and if they were to be an equal opportunity employer then that should not have been a factor. They begrudgingly gave him the raise.

I hate this kind of thing but this is a true reality of things, one that my fellow employee was well aware of. I celebrate his strategy and his victory!! Hurray to the doctor!!! Boo to the employer!!!!

Anonymous said...

I've recently been diagnosed with Aspergers at age 34, but never had a big problem with employment. One big advantage was my extreme interest in programming software since I was 10 years old.

Employers pretty much expected me to be a bit awkward anyways as a software developer.

The only thing which really is a problem for me is the future, because my social anxiety issues limit me to grow beyond my current position.

So I'll probably always be a developer.. Never a manager or anything like that.

That's something I'm trying to accept lately.