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Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Challenge of Working

Asperger's and the Challenge of WorkingSurprisingly, perhaps shockingly, between 74-86% of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are either unemployed, underemployed in jobs that underutilize their knowledge, skills and experience or wrongly employed, that is, working in jobs for which they are not suited (Barnard et al, 2001).

In addition, adults with Autism have a high degree of job switching, resulting in fragmented work histories that negatively impact the potential for successful employment and career development (Müller, 2003).

Clearly, even as basic a need as earning a living is a challenge for many adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Why is this?

How Autism Spectrum Disorder Effects Work

Autism Spectrum Disorder can lead to the following challenges in the workplace:

  • Organizational and attention problems.
  • Inflexible responses when encountering unexpected situations.
  • Difficulty juggling multiple tasks.
  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Poor emotional regulation.
  • Ineffective communication with co-workers.
  • Unusual responses to sensory experiences.

Interviews are typically the first big hurdle in getting a job. Many adults with Autism struggle with social conventions, such as making eye contact when interviewing, speaking bluntly or too honestly, knowing when to shake hands, and making small talk.



The Advantages of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Workplace

Despite these drawbacks, employers who hire adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder usually are glad they did, for several reasons:

  • They tend to have a higher than typical ability to pay attention to details and to notice errors easily.
  • When a job task is meaningful and/or related to a special interest they have, their ability to concentrate on a job task is greater than the average worker.
  • They are especially good at work that requires repetitive activity and routine tasks.
  • They are skilled in understanding large quantities of complex and disparate information, recognizing abstract ideas and drawing clear, simple conclusions from complex material.
  • They tend to be highly logical and to quickly and accurately perceive relationships between objects and systems.
  • They have a strong desire to solve problems once they are committed to doing so. Dedication to completing projects is important to them.

There is a good argument to be made that adults with Autism want to fit into the workplace, compete for meaningful and rewarding jobs, excel in whatever work they choose, and advance in their careers just as other adults do.

They may struggle with challenges that make these goals and aspirations difficult but they offer numerous advantages to employers across many different career settings.

The ability to remember and process huge amounts of information, think logically, organize and order disparate facts and knowledge, maintain focus in repetitive job sequences, attend to details and solve complex problems are of great value to many employers.

Clearly, the challenges of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the workplace should not be thought of solely in terms of the limitations it might present. Rather, adults with ASD and employers who are seeking qualified, skilled employees should think of the mutual benefits they can provide to each other, knowing they both hold essential pieces to the employment puzzle.


Dr. Kenneth Roberson

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. Click below to ask a question or schedule an appointment.

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