By Grace Austin
You pass a colleague in the hallway on Monday morning, and in response to your polite, but somewhat rhetorical question of “Hey, what’d you do this weekend?” she spends the next 20 minutes retelling the plot of the movie she saw without taking a breath. When done, she turns and walks away. During a team meeting, while your boss is outlining a new project for your group, the person next to you is rocking back and forth on the back legs of his chair. When your boss asks for comments, he noisily drops his chair to the floor and says “You have structured this all wrong, so this project isn’t worth doing.” The room is drowning in silence.
These examples may bring back memories of similar situations you’ve had to resolve. But, what are the origins of these behaviors? Are these individuals just rude, thoughtless, uninterested, insubordinate, or lazy bores? Maybe. But, they may have Asperger Syndrome—a developmental disorder within the autism spectrum that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate. Individuals with Asperger Syndrome oftentimes have an intense interest in a specific topic and above average IQs, but they may miss non-verbal cues, misinterpret sarcasm, and lack tact.
Today, one in 88 individuals is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and it is estimated that one in 250 people has Asperger Syndrome. So, whether you know it or not, if your company has 1,000 or more employees, it’s likely that you already work with people with Asperger’s. Nonetheless, individuals with Asperger Syndrome are an untapped talentpool for employers. Today, 35 percent of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder are attending college, but it is believed that people with Asperger’s have a 75-85 percent unemployment rate. For employers, this is an incredible hiring opportunity. But, how can you learn to successfully manage individuals with Asperger Syndrome?
The Asperger Syndrome Training & Employment Partnership’s (ASTEP) creates and supports programs that promote competitive long-term employment for adults with Asperger Syndrome. ASTEP’s approach is unique in that its target audience is employers, not the individuals with Asperger’s. ASTEP educates employers about the skills and talents of individuals with Asperger Syndrome, the benefits they bring to their employer, and the potential accommodations needed to create a successful workplace environment for these individuals, their managers, and their colleagues.
ASTEP is uniquely qualified to be the source for employers on how to successfully include individuals with Asperger’s in their workforce. ASTEP was founded by Marcia Scheiner, a former financial service executive and parent of a young adult son with Asperger’s. Joining her as ASTEP’s Executive Director is Michael John Carley, author of Asperger’s from the Inside Out, founder of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership—the country’s largest support and advocacy group for individuals on the spectrum—and himself an adult with Asperger Syndrome. Together, their business experience and knowledge of Asperger’s provides employers with business-focused training and strategies to manage and recruit individuals on the spectrum.
Beneficial for the Employer
Aside from the obvious social good, employing individuals with Asperger Syndrome is good for business—it can attract a significant market share, reduce employee turnover, and increase productivity. The one in 88 individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder translates into 1.1 percent of the U.S. population. When immediate family members are included (parents, siblings, grandparents), the number of individuals affected by autism reaches approximately six percent. This is a significant market share for any company looking to attract issue-sensitive customers.
Additionally, SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, estimated that it costs $3,500 to replace one $8.00 per hour employee; for salaried employees, the costs jump significantly. Honesty and loyalty are trademarks of the employee with Asperger Syndrome, and individuals with Asperger’s are known to be wary of change. Provide them with a stable, predictable work environment and they will be long-term employees.
Lost productivity is another growing cost for employers. In a survey completed by Salary.com, they found that workers admitted to spending 2.09 hours per day, out of an eight hour day, not including lunch and break, on non-work related activities. Some of the top activities were surfing the internet, socializing with co-workers, conducting personal business, spacing out, running errands off-premises, making personal phone calls, applying for other jobs, and planning personal events. Individuals with Asperger’s exhibit intense focus and attention to detail and, due to their communication challenges, they are less likely to socialize on the job and more likely to stay focused on the tasks of the job.
The New Frontier of Diversity
As the government is discussing requirements for all federal contractors on the employment of people with disabilities (seven percent), employers need to take a hard look at disabilities as part of their diversity and inclusion strategies. Today’s workforce is filled with undisclosed employees with hidden disabilities, and Asperger Syndrome is one of them.
Creating an inclusive culture can encourage existing employees to disclose their hidden disabilities, giving employers a more accurate count of how many people with disabilities are employed by their company. It also makes that employer more attractive to people with disabilities looking for work.
The key to including individuals with a disability in your workplace is education. Learn about the strengths and challenges that accompany specific disabilities, understand the accommodations needed to support the employee with a disability, and work with partners that bring the expertise you need to establish a successful workplace environment for all.
I wish all companies looked at aspies in this way. I’m one and I’ve been unemployed since I graduated last year.
Forgive me I am not trying to sound insensitive or rude here, but not sure how to word this. Are there more resources for all employees to learn how to relate better to those with Aspergers? The reason I ask is a few months ago, a new employee started and his desk is about 5 feet from mine.. In this time his behavior has seemed rude, intrusive, almost harassing and a constant distraction. To the point I have been reduced to tears of frustration almost daily and sometimes just feeling creeped out by his obsession with every mundane detail of my life. Others throughout the office are complaining to the point some want him fired. I was venting to some friends and giving examples and two of them that work in the education field both told me much of what I described sounded like Asperger. The work environment is becoming very tense – people in my department no longer speak (we email people that sit less than 10 feet away.) Since their suggestion I have tried to be more open minded, but still the frustration level is rising. I would love to find a way to relate better and be able to work in peaceful friendly office again.
most aspies are not concerned with the details of other people’s lives. I doubt he is one.
That’s just a misperception that people with ASD are not socially minded (they just don’t understand it, get so overwhelmed with sensory issues-from a ticking clock to a person clicking a pen, to the sound of the AC-and then think usually in literal language which makes most human conversations confusing). It’s more of a give up and focus on what makes sense thing.
I think it’s really good of you Karen to acknowledge your needs. I think that like with Special Education it’s not a one way street. There is open-minded and respect needed on both sides. There is an need for people with ASD to be supported structurally in the workforce, but then also people with ASD to learn that they have an affect on people around them (that’s not something that many of them understand).
Having lived, worked with, and learned about my own ASD issues (women show differently though we tend to hyper-do the “normal” thing even if we’re confused by what it means) I know it’s tough working with people on the spectrum in terms of social issues. I think it’s something that, as you suggest with training can be done though, not with just “figure it out” approaches. There’s a company in Norway called, “Specilisterne”, that is in software and hires only people on the spectrum. My understanding though is that they have a 6 month training process for dealing with clients, and then there is no problem in general after: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/software-company-hires-people-autism/story?id=10260617
I know you posted this a while ago, and it may have gone south since then. But you being open to the discussion is a start. And you’re right I think. There needs to be support and understanding for people with ASD, but there’s also a great opportunity for people on the spectrum to learn more about how they have a role in social interactions.
Depends. If he is trying to correct his behavior then he could come across as overly, creepily interested. That is an issue I had. I learned the walk but never fully understood it so came across as a creep when I went through the motions.
Our agency has a higher than average number of employees with Asperger’s because of the kinds of work that we do. I have it and occassionally have butted heads with others that also have it. I’ve found that if the person is self-aware enough, you can generally be up front. BUT, you have to explain the effect steming from their cause. AND, you have to diferentiate between them as a person and the actions that’s driving you nuts. Most Asperger’s that I know, and I’m this way myself, are generally honest to an annoying degree, but they usually appreciate that in others as well. Be frank without being condescending; some of us do get that. Also suggest to your supervisor that your fellow employee be situation in a corner where they aren’t so overwhelmed. They may be over stimulated.
Karen you are not wrong with your feelings. Dealing with people who are different is tough. And everyone is entitled to a good working environment. Education is the key. The person with asperger’s should be trained how to behave in the workplace, and everyone needs to understand the characteristics of person with Asperger’s. I suggest you be very direct with the person and tell him how his behavior is bothering you. This person may or may not know he had asperger’s As long as you use a calm ,non- threatening voice, you may talk to them and correct their behavior, but you may have to remind them many times. Establish a relationship by finding something in common you may talk about. Your employer needs to accommodate both of you.
Use specific, accurate, detailed language. The might miss a mere inference, or assumption others have, and sarcasm is confusing.
Couldn’t have said it better, myself.
My hope is that people begin to recognize that social cognitive deficits are real, not a choice. Then it becomes yet another issue at work that everyone can help problem solve.
I work for a DoD agency and it is NOT Aspie friendly. Especially for those of us with no interest in bureaucracy, red tape, or political manuevering; those of us that just want to get the job done as efficiently and effectively as possible. I’ve actually been denied advancement because a senior supervisor told me that I needed to work on how other people perceive me. Because I’m too detail oriented and don’t see the big picture. It’s bad enough at work (and with my adult family members) that depression ad anxiety are now just my way of life. If I could afford it, I would just quit.
what if someone with Asperger’s doesn’t want to work
Should aspies tell their employers/coworkers about their condition? I had to train a man a few years ago who was constantly picking at his eyelids and nose, would look up and stare at activity that did not involve him and had to be given the same instructions over and over. I vented to a friend that is a special Ed teacher and she said it sounds like autism with ticks caused by medication. Once this employee was fully trained he was great but training was brutal and it got to the point where I asked him if he needed a tissue when he picked his nose. If he had revealed his condition on the interview I fear he wouldn’t have been hired but at the same time is it better for everyone to think that someone is off or for them to know the exact condition in order to learn how to train/work with the person?
I'll have to be honest, but up until now at 30, I was too afraid of failing that I never really tried when it came to actively seeking a job. I see myself as capable and I don't necessarily think of Asperger's as a disability. Some may have some specific challenges such as how I cannot handle working around small children, but there are also a lot of non-Autistic people out there with irrational fears of their own. Why are the unemployment rates for aspies so dramatically high? Do we stand out that much? Is maintaining a job, let alone passing an interview really that impossible? Why, it seems society is just setting us up to be failures in life. It can really be disempowering and depressing because I do not see myself as some hopeless, helpless basketcase who literally can't do anything or go anywhere.
To be perfectly honest, aspies do stand out a lot. There are a lot of social cues – everywhere, all the time – that they miss and as a result they act in ways that people find strange. It doesn't make you automatically incompetent, but it does make it difficult to get hired when the employer is worrying about the trouble (and cost, and dissatisfaction of existing employees). Even though they shouldn't legally be discriminating, it is hard not to when they're reasonably sure they'll be able to find another person in the huge pool of college degree grads that is just as skilled, but doesn't require accommodations. And with the type of questions that interviewers ask, it is probably pretty easy for them to have some idea of what it'll be like working with you. That's the point, after all.
Another thing, interpersonal interaction is vital when it comes to most jobs, to the point where is definitely a hindrance – imagine being the most talented artist in the world, but blind and deaf. Is art impossible? Of course not. But it's much, much harder. Same goes for aspies – is it possible to work in a likely-collaborative environment where interaction with others is unavoidable, while lacking social skills? Yes, but ridiculously hard compared to most other people.