Autism: Getting a Job with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
Written by Emma Burbidge Posted in Mental Illness, Careers, Disability
Affecting 1.1% of the population, and occurring more frequently in men than women, Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of mental disabilities that can affect a person’s communication skills and social interaction.
Autism Spectrum Disorders can also occur with learning difficulties, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and Attention Deficit Disorder, as well as other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression.
People with these disorders occur on the Autistic Spectrum which includes: Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Autistic Disorder and even rare severe autistic-like conditions like Rett Syndrome.
While most focus is on children and diagnosing and treating children who display symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, many adults have an Autism Spectrum Disorder and have gone through childhood and adolescence without realising they have it.
Contrary to the popular perception of people with Autism as being dumb, some people with Autism Spectrum Disorders, such as Aspergers Syndrome, usually have average or above average intelligence and can excel in things like maths and music. Most will be able to live normal lives, and carry out a job as well as anyone else.
However, it is important to understand the common symptoms and be clear and honest with employers about any needs you may have or adjustments you may require.
Overcoming Asperger's Syndrome in the Workplace
In order to overcome an autistic spectrum disorder in the workplace, we need to look at some of the symptoms and assess how they might be contained.
Problems with Social Skills: You may have difficulty interacting with others and be awkward in social situations. You can appear shy, find it difficult to make friends and initiate and maintain conversations.This could mean you may have difficulty settling into a new work place, and you have difficulty fitting in or convincing an employer at interview that you are a good ‘fit’ for their organisation.
You may not be a natural at interview, true, but neither are a lot of people who don’t have Autistic Spectrum Disorders: it needn’t be a handicap to success. Look at questions that are commonly asked and practise with people you know, that way interviews will appear less daunting when an opportunity presents itself.
Don’t get consumed by shyness, but instead keep telling yourself that you are a confident and interesting person. This should at least put a smile on your face, and hopefully conversation will start to come more naturally to you.
Eccentric or repetitive behaviour: You may have a propensity to do repetitive movements such as hand wringing which others might find odd or annoying. Try to avoid doing this at interview.
Unusual Preoccupations and Rituals: You may be continuously preoccupied with certain topics or tasks and develop OCD-like tendencies to carry out tasks in a certain way or order. This could affect your ability to adapt to change in an organisation or deal with stressful and intensive working environments.
It helps to be honest with your employers that these are not things that you find easy, and speak up when particular issues arise so that your employers can help you deal with them.
Communication Difficulties: You may have difficulty with making eye contact and understanding body language. You can also be quite literal in your language, often taking language out of context.
Body language is really important at interview, so it is important you try to improve this through practice and mock interview. Ask a trusted friend to analyse your body language specifically and give you feedback on areas that need particular improvement. For other language issues, if you do not understand something, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Limited Range of Interests: You may have an intense, almost obsessive, interest in a few areas and spend a lot of time learning as much about these topics as possible. This could appear to other people as slightly odd, unless they have the same interests, so it could help if your interests are related to the career field you are looking for. Having a lot of knowledge about a topic is also a good thing as it shows your ability to research and become an expert in a topic which is definitely an asset!
Skilled or Talented: You will have exceptional abilities in a range of skills, so make sure you utilise them and show them off to employers as much as possible. This is a real gift, so make sure you take the time to continue to get better at it and help others develop in the same way. This will win you brownie points, and help you shine in the workplace!
Asperger's Syndrome and the Law
So being on the autistic spectrum should not be a barrier to employment. Under the Equality Act (2010) a disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
Therefore, if your Autistic Spectrum Disorder is such that you are unable to understand tasks given to you, and this is something that continues beyond a period of twelve months, then this is classed as a disability in a legal sense and can open you up to further support.
There is no reason why, with the right support, you can’t have a highly successful career with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder such as Asperger’s Syndrome.