Asperger Syndrome Job Success Secrets

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So, what do you do?

It’s one of the first questions one adult asks another when they meet.  What do you do for a living?  What’s your job?

If you’re an adult with Asperger Syndrome, you may not be able to give the answer you want.  While people with Asperger Syndrome can be very knowledgeable and highly skilled, steady employment is often a challenge.

I learned a lot about this over the last nine months as my wife and I produced a DVD about finding and keeping a job when you have Asperger Syndrome.

As part of our research, we interviewed six people with Asperger Syndrome who have good jobs, and also talked with their bosses, coworkers and job coaches.

What are their secrets to success?

SECRET ONE: They assessed their skills and challenges, and sought jobs that were right for them.

Many children with Asperger Syndrome have trouble socializing in school, even if they do well academically.  Those problems don’t magically disappear in a workplace.  If you want an employer to hire you, you need to show that employer that your productivity will outweigh any efforts that the organization needs to make to help you fit in.  So you should seek out a job that you have the aptitude, knowledge and skills to do well.  If you have a special interest, you’re much more likely to succeed if you find a job related to that interest.

Also, you need to find a work environment that you can fit into without major problems.  For example, people with Asperger Syndrome who have limited social skills tend to do better in jobs where they don’t have to constantly deal with new people.  A behind-the-scenes job such as accounting is better for some people than a sales position.  But Asperger Syndrome affects people in different ways and to different degrees, so you need to determine what’s right for you.

Of the six employees we interviewed, two work in accounting jobs, one is an administrative assistant in an office, one works with documents in a state archives department, one is a library page, and one is a veterinary assistant.  All have aptitudes that help them succeed, such as great attention to detail.

Tori Saylor, the veterinary assistant, described how a sensitivity associated with Asperger Syndrome actually helps her in her job, “I think I have a way of understanding animals in a different way than maybe other people would.  Just because I can understand, coming into a room and having all the chaos going on, it can affect me.  And I see it affect the animals.  So just having that understanding and being real calm and gentle with them, I think helps them calm down…”

What does Tori’s boss think of her work?  He was so impressed that he put her in charge of her department and made her supervisor of two other veterinary assistants, “Well, Tori is not supposed to be your average employee, right?  Well, she isn't because she's above average when it comes to that…that’s why we made her the department lead.”

SECRET TWO: They are open with their employers about their strengths and limitations.

Kevin Singh works in accounting for a large software corporation.  He’s great with numbers and highly productive, but he can get anxious when he’s under stress and tends to engage in long explanations when short ones would suffice.  By disclosing his Asperger Syndrome, he enabled his co-workers to understand the reason for his behaviors and help him fit into the workplace.

SECRET THREE: They asked for reasonable accommodations and actually use them.

Some of Kevin’s accommodations involve his co-workers.  He’s given them cue words to alert him when they see a behavior that could interfere with work and give him a chance to make a change.  If a coworker sees Kevin is getting upset, they’ll suggest that he “Take Five.”  Kevin will then take a short break, calm down, and go back to work in a better frame of mind.  If Kevin is giving too long an explanation, a co-worker can ask for the “Cliffs Notes” version.  Kevin then knows to shorten his explanation to essential information.

Kevin makes the observation, “Aspergers…you should never use your diagnosis as a get out of jail free card… (but) people are willing, if they see you are making an honest effort, you're really trying, they will, you know, give you a break.”

Giving Kevin a break enables him to be so productive that his supervisor says, “Kevin is very detailed, fast…If you give him an assignment, he can perform this better than anyone in our department because of his accuracy.”

David Moser, another employee interviewed for the program, works in an accounting position for a state agency.  While he has an extraordinary memory that makes his coworkers marvel, he also can sometimes become distracted.  Two accommodations that help David be productive are a schedule/checklist of what he needs to do during his work day, and a form template.  When he deals with a form that includes lots of information, he covers it with the template, which only shows him the fields he needs to work with.  This way he can quickly read the relevant information he needs without other numbers catching his attention.

SECRET FOUR: They are flexible, and have adapted their own behaviors to fit into their workplaces.

Drew Coulter, who works at a public library, likes to socialize with people.  As part of his job, he assists library patrons who are using computers.  But he had to learn to not interact with these patrons unless they asked for his assistance.  Also, Drew used the fictional character of a very proper and polite butler as his inspiration for dealing with the public, “After reading a good deal of P.G. Wodehouse, I’ve assimilated the manners of Reginald Jeeves into my personality for the purpose of being more pleasant and understanding of the clients.”  Drew’s supervisor says, “He’s a delight to work with.”

Tori found it helped to study her coworkers at the veterinary clinic and model their behavior, “Once I started working here, I had to kind of stand back and just watch how everybody here portrayed themselves…what was okay to say and what wasn't okay to say…so I just had to watch what they were doing and kind of mimic what they were doing and that is what I call my act.”

SECRET FIVE: They ask for help when they need it.

Many people with Asperger Syndrome have difficulty asking for help, especially if they’re highly competent.  Administrative assistant Katie Rogers is described by her supervisor as, “One of the best employees we have.”  But regarding assignments, Katie admits, “Sometimes I have to work up my courage, I guess, to say that I don’t really understand and if you could explain this more, I’d appreciate it.”

Getting help and support from others was one of the biggest factors in the success of the employees we interviewed.  Four of the employees have job coaches, who work for public or private agencies.  Job coaches help job seekers find the right jobs, help create and modify accommodations, serve as objective observers of an employee and a workplace, counsel employees, employers and coworkers about interacting, and generally serve as ongoing problems solvers.  Some job coaches are paid for by public agencies, at no cost to the employee or employer.

The two employees we interviewed who were working without job coaches had understanding supervisors and coworkers who provided some of the supports a job coach offers.  For all the employees interviewed, getting the right supports and help enabled them to be productive, valued workers.

SECRET SIX: They work hard.  Putting in extra effort to excel at their jobs, and whether they are naturally outgoing or quiet, to expand their social skills and show a positive attitude.

Richard Blanks is a relatively quiet person.  But in Richard’s state archives job, his good attitude, attention to detail and productivity draw high praise from his supervisor, “He’s able to go through lots and lots of pages and find things that other people have missed …if I could hire four or five more Richards, I would do it in a heartbeat, because we get so much work done.”

This is just a small sample of the ways we found employees who have Asperger Syndrome and their employers and coworkers are working together to ensure their mutual success.

It hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve found ways to overcome obstacles.   And the employees found that being good coworkers expanded their social lives by helping others see past their challenges -- and value them for who they are.  Here are a few comments from people who work with the employees profiled in the DVD:

“I think David actually has a great situation in that he is friends with his coworkers…they very much actually consider him to be their friend and appreciate his personality. They go out to lunch together. They always celebrate each other's birthdays.”

“Kevin is very enthusiastic...Kevin has had coworkers, and supervisors and managers that have been willing to work with him. And this has helped Kevin tremendously.”

“Katie tries to please everybody and she always puts forth 110%, she really does… everyone adores Katie.”

“Drew’s coworkers have done a beautiful job of accepting him. He's a fun guy. He's a joy to be around. We have a lot of fun on the job and try to make it a light experience. And he's definitely an asset to the group.”

“Richard’s just one of the guys. So that’s worked out really well.  He’s very considerate to everybody else.  And I think everybody has appreciated that as well.”

“The whole gang loves Tori to death.”

And how does it feel to be appreciated and have your coworkers see the real you?

Tori summed it up,  “…they started including me in, you know, the joking around and the conversations here, but also outside of work, they asked me to join them when they go hang out, you know they go to dinner or something outside of work.  So that has really been a huge thing for me. I mean, the people here are probably my first true friends that I've ever had.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of the employment guide DVD "Asperger Syndrome at Work." You can find more articles on his website: www.coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2009   Dan Coulter      All Rights Reserved.     Used by Permission.

Comments

I was diagnosed when i was 7

I was diagnosed when i was 7 and diagnosed with adhd at 4 spent most of my childhood in a special needs boarding school. I'm now 25 and after many different jobs I'm giving up on it.
Telling employers is the WORST thing you can do. I've lost several jobs within days or weeks of disclosing i have aspergers. And these were jobs i was good at, employment law favours the employer so unless you have spent two years working for them they need no reason to fire you (in UK)
The biggest problem i find is that all help and support services are run by people without aspergers and therefor i find a lot of the advice given makes things harder.
To me, these so called secrets are nothing more than telling a person with aspergers that they will have to bend over backwards and put double the effort in than any other employee just to try and fit in.
Some people with aspergers dont mind everyone knowing and being treated differently because of it so good luck to them,
but the majority of people with aspergers just want to be treated normally and to be thought of as normal, not the weird, social outcast that people will think of you as if you go telling employers and having co workers etc having to treat you differently.

Disclosure and work

Sounds like you've had some real challenges.  Disclosure is not the best thing for everyone.  If you can succeed without disclosing, there may be no reason to share that information.  For may people with Asperger Syndrome, however, their Asperger-related behaviors at work can become a problem that can get them fired.  Disclosure is not a cure-all, but in the right situations, it can make the difference between keeping a job and getting fired.  I think you're right about getting the proper support.  You do need people who understand about Asperger Syndrome.  It's a hard truth that it's especially hard to convince many employers to hire a person with a difference such as Asperger Syndrome. Employers want people who they think are going to fit in and be productive.  Unless they are convinced that a person with Asperger Syndrome can fit in and that his or her productivity will outweigh any accommodations, they're not likely to take what they see as a risk.  So we've got to either find ways to fit in and not disclose, or find employers who will be open to learning enough about Aspergers and a job applicant that they're willing to hire that person.  Getting assistance from qualified people who understand Asperger Syndrome and can help you prepare for the workplace can make a huge difference no matter what path you choose.

AS at work.....

I know in my heart I am on the Autism Spectrum, probably AS......but now it's like, so what? I'm 59 years old and I am a Special Education Teacher........my AS affects me in that I am not able to see the "big picture" of how things interlock at work....very frustrating. I want to help my coworkers and students, but struggle in knowing how to do that......it's like everyone is speaking in a foreign language......it's like there's something important that needs doing and others know about it but it seems they take glee in knowing that I can't see what that important thing to do is.......I understand well how an accounting or programming job would be well suited for me, but that's just not the case......perhaps I made a mistake going into a position that requires dealing with people on many diverse levels throughout the day........I mean, just give me a job repairing row boats or something!! I debate about whether to disclose at work, but I don't think that would be a great help - I know I would FEEL better if I disclosed (just because I wouldn't have to be carrying around that burden alone anymore) but I also fear reprisal.........again, frustrating

Disclosing decisions

You might consider getting in touch with a job coach or counselor familiar with Asperger Syndrome to get an objective opinion.  This person could help you weight the potential positives and negatives and assess whether disclosing could be the right thing for you in your current job, or whether you should keep your current job and look for something you feel would be more suited to you.  It's hard to go through every day feeling frustrated.  A job coach or counselor could help you see options you might not see on your own.  The final decisions are yours.

Best of luck.

Dan

help - coworker with Asperger's

Hi Dan.

I think my coworker has Asperger's. I can't say too much since this is searchable. But long story short his way of working makes it impossible for me to do my own work, and I'm at my wit's end.

He started as a programmer - perfect job for him - then was promoted to a position that requires a lot of teamwork, leading meetings, flexibility, etc. He is now in a job that is completely ill suited for him except for the programming part. My work depends on his (I use his work to complete mine). He is frequently late because he can't see how his work impacts my department. He can't see the big picture so he will find something requiring change and not realize how it can impact other things. His emails are pages and pages. We work in different offices so only communicate via email and phone.

I don't know what to do and am about ready to quit my job. It is giving me near panic attacks as I find out everything last minute and can't extend my own deadline.

I know his boss knows of the challenges. But he is still left in this position - and so am I. What can I do. I try to be understanding, be direct and clear. But I actually can't function. help

Dealing with Coworkers challenges

The best approach in a situation such as this is to look at the big picture and analyze how your coworker's challenges are affecting the work that gets done in the office.  If you use this perspective when you talk with folks in charge, it sound less like you're a complainer thinking only about yourself and more like a reasonable employee trying to make things work for everyone.  You need to make sure your concerns are reasonable and prepare to discuss them in those terms.  You mentioned his boss knows about the challenges.  You need to discuss those challenges with your boss, making it clear that you're looking for help with a solution that works for everyone. If taking the issue to your boss fails and your company is big enough to have a Human Resources department, you can contact them and ask for assistance with the problem.  With this set of circumstances, it's likely others are affected also, including the person with Asperger Syndrome.  There are a number of possible solutions.  Hopefully, the company can reach a cooperative resolution with some reasonable accommodations for the person with Asperger Syndrome and some modfications of his behaviors -- and possibly some modifications of his responsibilities.  The person's boss or the Human Resources group might want to bring in a job coach who understands Asperger Syndrome to offer suggestions about how everyone can get along and be productive.  You can't do this on your own.  Luckily, there are lots of instances where companies have resolved these sorts of issues to the benefit of everyone involved. Best of Luck.

my coworker has Asperger's-help!

I have a co-worker who I am certain has AS. It all fits. Thing is, I'm not sure HE knows he has it. Everyone around the office knows there is something different about him and cut him some slack. But HE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY. I have had to work with him on a project and he has been so incredibly difficult and antagonistic that I pretty much hate his guts now. He focuses on trivial matters ad nauseum, can't come up with plans or solutions, can't decide anything, and doesn't do any of the actual work. He says and does inappropriate things, and seems genuinely surprised that people are ticked off. Get this - he's 61 years old! That strikes me as PLENTY of time to figure out better ways to conduct himself at work, and it looks to me like he isn't even trying. I want NOTHING to do with him, yet he won't even do me the courtesy of staying out of my face. He keeps emailing me and trying to strike up conversations, like he wants everything to be OK again, totally missing the point that he can't jolly it along, that it is also my decision whether things are OK. And they're not.

And it's not even like I can say "do you have Aperger's?" because that would probably be perceived as harassment.

HELP!!!!!!! What do I do?

Coworker may have Asperger Syndrome

I think the best approach is to work the issue through your supervisor.  You don't have to bring a possible diagnosis into the equation.  Just explain the circumstances and the problems this is presenting in the workplace.  By sharing your observation that the co-worker seems generally surprised that others are bothered by his actions, you can let your boss know that you realize this challenging behavior doesn't seem intentional.  You're not asking for your co-worker to be punished or fired, you're trying to find a solution that will let everyone work together efficiently.  You can even say that if your company can come up with a plan to solve the problem, you're willing to keep an open mind and be flexible to help resolve it.  Depending on the size of the company, an employee in the kind of difficulty you're describing could be put on a performance plan.  In the plan, an employee is clearly told how his or her behaviors or performance needs to change, and how the company will offer assistance or training in meeting these goals. Smaller companies may not have a human resources group in-house to deal with these situations, but they still need to manage them so they respect the rights of everyone involved.  The best resolution is to help employees with challenges find ways to fit into the workplace and be productive.  This can involve helping an employee modify his or her behaviors, having that employee change jobs within a company to find a better job match, and other steps. If an employee discloses a disability, the employer may offer some reasonable accommodations.  You don't have to solve this problem alone. Getting your supervisor involved in a no-drama, concerned co-worker kind of way is a good approach to create a  solution that works for the employee, co-workers, and the business as a whole.

Disclosing not always a good idea.

Hi Dan,

Good precise advice but one point isnt always right - disclosing. Disclosing your aspergers can often be a bad thing - if you live in a rural area, or you work outside the software and computer industries, or cant retrain in these areas; the label can be bad and often leads to prejudice. Im asperger's myself and, perhaps true to form, believe in straight talking and have found professionals over-idealistic on these matters. The "conventional" or "right" way isnt always best.

Many of us "aspies" reject the label as it can lead to a social passivity/naivity where you rely on councilors etc and the goodwill from staff where you work. People do get sick of being the "different" guy with special needs who is the "nice guy" in the office but not the guy you would actually consider as a real friend/partner.

There's so much good news on your site but there's much more bad experiences that doesnt get reported.

Kind regards

Eugene

Do Not Disclose.

I think the Poster is Eugene...

Regardless, WHAT HE IS SAYING IS 100% Right On...

Never Disclose.. You'll Be Directly or Indirectly Sidelined....

Furthermore, I agree with the poster.. He Brings up an Amazing Point...

You Ever Notice these blogs, websites, NEVER mention anyone relating Negative consequences to Disclosing..

Also, despite popular legend, NOT Everyone with AS or NLD is a Genius or Amazing at Engineer & Computers... ... I NEVER Heard Reports of Adult with AS/ NLD that are NOT Scientifically Gifted.... Seems Like Selective Abstraction

Disclosing

I hear you.  We advise people to consider disclosing, but it's always a personal choice based on the situation. Of course, you don't have to disclose a condition to be open with your employer about your strengths and challenges.  We have found that, with the right supports in the right job, disclosing Asperger Syndrome can often help people be more understanding and accepting.  We think of it as a tool that can work well if you use it in the right situation.

Asperger Syndrome Job Success Secrets | Coulter Video

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This is a good information

This is a good information for me. Having discovered that I have Aspergers it has been difficult for me to fit in all my life. I work at retail outlet and have had difficulty socializing with others. I do my best to cope but at times dealing with others. This article explains this so much clearer. One problem I am dealing with though is at age 50 employers are not exactly clammering to hire me especially in this economy.

Getting Hired

Glad you found the information helpful.  I'm hoping more and more employers see the advantages of hiring people such as yourself.  I have seen some stories about employers hiring older workers because they're more reliable than younger workers.  Hope you find the right employer for you.