Monday, June 4, 2012

Autism in the workplace

I'm going to use the term Asperger's for high functioning autism here because it's recognizable and familiar. I could say HFA too, but whatever. This is for those who are able to go out and seek employment. You know who you are.

This post is inspired by a comment a while back:

"I've got Asperger's syndrome and so will probably be re-diagnosed as now having mild autism. Since resources are limited, those with a supposedly less severe disability such as myself will likely lose what little support we are getting.

I've read many blogs on the subject and no-one seems to be discussing the fact that the needs of people across the autistic are so very different. Many people with Asperger's, myself included, are capable of living fully independent lives but need a lot of intensive and expensive support...especially in the area of employment

First of all, we would do well to remember that our needs across all of us vary dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other. That's why it's referred to as a spectrum. It's hard for us to do that sometimes because of our social blindness that trips us up so much. That same "social blindness" (as I call it- not a medical term) can really screw things up on the job.

Seeking employment with our conditions is a daunting task. Sometimes, as you try to explain yourself, (especially if you do it in an interview) you can almost see the interviewer rolling their eyes:

"Oh gawd, seriously?"

And you know you aren't getting that job. It's a nerve wracking experience to say the least.

So what do you do? Hide the fact that you have any condition? Sure, but then if things mess up somewhere and you try to explain it, you wind up with them either not believing you or penalizing you harder. I've had this happen personally. I've lost jobs because I thought I was following directions and they came around and said, "How could you do that!"  Employment is not such an easy world for those who have autism at any level. No, that doesn't speak for everyone. Some never have a problem, or at least don't look like it. Others with more difficulty wind up with unforgiving employers who have no patience.

And that's what we need, patience and often direct and literal instruction on the job. In todays financially stressed world, there aren't as many patient employers as there should be. So there are some things that we need to do the best we can.

1: Never give up looking for ways to be employed or self supporting.
2: Get career minded and seek schooling for what interests you most.
3: Seek out special programs in your area or state that may help you get training or work experience.

I know, not all of us can do this, and many will need help and guidance. That's why the rest of us advocates need to educate employers and bring this to the attention of our politicians and special programs. Employing someone with autism may take some adjustment and clear communication skills but there are rewards for doing so.

1: Detail oriented. We can be so detial oriented that, once we know our job, we don't vary. And we'll work hard to prove it.
2: Loyalty to company. Once we get into a company and work for them, we can be fiercely loyal to who we work for. We'll be ready to go to bat. We'll help with special projects (so long as we have clear instructions).
3: While not all of us can be awesome with the public (we'll sure try!) many of us can be awesome in behind the scenes project support that will knock your customer's socks off.

Now some final advice for you seeking employment. Something you need to ask yourself:

Are you responsible with your medical conditions? If not, that can and will get in the way of your employment opportunities.  For example, if you have bipolar disorder (severe enough to require medication) and you don't take your medication, you could have problems. It's one thing to be doing the best you can with what you have. It's another entirely to be irresponsible, commit crimes, drink, do drugs, or not take care of yourself. So, if you want to succeed here are a few things to remember:

1: Hygiene... go to work clean! Take showers, brush your teeth and hair, clean yourself and wear clean clothes. Use deodorant! Use soap! Do it everyday if you have bodily odor problems. As you get older you will find your body needs it more and more. Mine sure does!

2: Stay out of legal trouble! Don't get into illegal drugs, don't abuse any drugs, don't drink alcohol. Stay away from people who do these things.

3: Don't be lazy. Get out of bed in the morning, be on time or even five to ten minutes early. Keep to your schedule.

It is hard out there. We do need support. What's sad is that there are areas where we still don't get that support and my own story proves it. I think it's about time I actually share that story.

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