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Five Secrets to Workplace Success for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Tips for Employment Success for Adults with Aspergers
Tips for Employment Success for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

What do Mozart, Einstein and Bill Gates have in common? Each are suspected of having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). (Wiki Answers)

Many people with Autism have excelled in their vocations due to their intelligence, creativity, perseverance and attention to detail. In spite of this, steady employment is often a challenge for adults with ASD.

It is a challenge that can be met and won.

Here are five recommendations for overcoming the difficulties of Autism and achieving success in the workplace.

1. Assess Your Skills and Limitations

If you want an employer to hire you, you need to show that your productivity will outweigh the obstacles of having Autism Spectrum Disorder. This starts with a careful assessment of your aptitude, knowledge, skills and interests. If you don’t know what you can and like to do, how can you convince someone to hire you?

The same is true for your limitations. If you don’t have a skill, say so in an interview. Employers want to know whether you can actually do the work and they will appreciate it when you are honest about your actual skills.

Look for a job that maximizes your strengths. If socializing is not what you do best, a position in sales may not work whereas software design, engineering, accounting, and mechanical work, all positions that depend less on social skills, might be a better fit.

As an adult Autism psychologist, I often tell people that the first key to job success is finding the right match between one’s skills and employment opportunities.

2. Ask for Help

Many people with adult Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulty asking for support and guidance from their employers regarding their job performance and expectations. Whether it’s due to fear of rejection, worry about being unable to perform adequately or another reason, it can be hard to reach out for help.

Getting help and support is one of the biggest factors in successful employment for adults with Autism.

You may need to ask for specific instructions in the interpersonal skills necessary to work effectively and cooperatively in a team. It may help to solicit advice regarding the organizational skills required for your job, especially work priorities and time management. You may want to get regular feedback confirming your job success, areas where you need make improvements and specific guidelines on how to strengthen your performance.

3. Learn to Compensate

You can offset the challenges of ASD by practicing behaviors that make your working interactions more comfortable.

For example, instead of interrupting your coworkers and bosses with questions, email them so they can respond when they are ready.

Try to have one-on-one conversations rather than risk being overwhelmed with group interactions.

Embrace routines, schedules, order and organization, typical strengths of adults with ASD.

Practice making eye contact and small talk.

Ask for a mentor who can teach you the rules and social culture of the company and who will introduce you to people who can assist you in your work.

Adapting to unfamiliar situations may not be your strength, but when it comes to job success, whatever adjustments you can make to accommodate your challenges will only increase your chances of succeeding.

4. Ask for Reasonable Accommodations

It’s okay to expect your employer and co-workers to make adjustments for the challenges of Autism.

Ask them to signal you when they see you behave in a way that interferes with your work.

Request a schedule and checklist of what needs to be done during the workday to keep you from getting distracted with unnecessary details.

Suggest to your employer the kind of workspace that works best for you, one that accommodates your sensitivity to fluorescent lighting and certain sounds and smells, for example. My work as an adult Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist has convinced me that the sensory sensitivities of those with adult ASD must be addressed if they are to be at all effective in their work.

5. Consider Being Open About Who You Are

It’s a personal decision whether or not to tell an employer or fellow employees about your adult Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some people come right out during a job interview that they have ASD and explain that they might see the world a little differently but it will not affect their job performance.

Some choose to keep it a secret, fearing they might not be accepted equally.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a medical condition, and according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with ASD cannot be discriminated against.

Dinah Murry in her book on disclosing ASD describes the pros and cons of letting people know your condition. As you might expect, there is no one right way to decide this matter. You have to decide what it best for you.

All things aside, my rule of thumb as an adult Autism psychologist who has studied workplace effectiveness is to be open with your employer about who you are. Honesty usually pays off.


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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