Finding Employment When You Have Aspergers

Some people may argue that I am not qualified to write about the difficulties in finding employment when you have Aspergers Syndrome as I have had the good luck to be blessed with a wonderful job for the past five years, a job which I got when I had only been out of university for five months. However, along the way, I have received several job rejections and I also have a lot of friends on the spectrum who have struggled to find employment so I thought I’d give this post a try.

According to statistics from the National Autistic Society, around 80% of adults of working age with Aspergers are unemployed. I know that, in this economic climate, everybody is struggling to find work, but it is a particular problem when it comes to those of us with Aspergers. I strongly believe that the only reason I got the job I am currently in is because medical conditions and disabilities is a special interest of mine and my enthusiasm regarding working in this area was strong enough for my lack of social skills in the interview situation to be overlooked. I think people without Aspergers find it hard to understand just how limited our interview skills can be. In one interview I had for a job which I was otherwise really well suited for, I had to concentrate so hard on maintaining eye contact that I was unable to speak more than a few words as I cannot do both at the same time in a situation which is highly anxiety inducing. This is the sort of thing that people without Aspergers just don’t seem to get and, in a way, I don’t blame them. People with Aspergers are often encouraged to disclose on application forms that they have the condition but, in all honesty, I am doubtful as to how much accommodation people are inclined to give us. 

People who sit on interview panels are usually members of the population who are innately brilliant at reading people’s body language-often they have attended courses to enhance their skills in this area so that they choose the candidate that they believe to be the most suitable for the role. The way I understand it, even if they know that the person sitting across from them in an interview room has Aspergers, few of them are unable to see past the awkward body language and the variable eye contact-it’s a prejudice that they’re not even aware of. Aspergers is different from just being shy-people who suffer with chronic shyness know which body language to employ but are put off by their lack of confidence in the situation-we simply have no idea! I know, for example, that most people see the gesture of having your arms crossed as an indication that the listener is not interested. To me, this makes no sense as to why someone could read offence and boredom into a gesture that I make simply because it’s more comfortable to sit with my arms crossed. Some people with Aspergers will cross their arms as a way of stopping themselves from flapping their hands which would also be seen in a job interview as extremely eccentric behaviour. We are constantly told that some of the behaviours we exhibit are not socially appropriate and the rules just keep changing on the whims of other people.

In a way, I do understand why interviewers find it so hard to look past our physical mannerisms. They have grown up with so many social rules-rules that dictate that a lack of eye contact indicates that somebody cannot be trusted and is dishonest (don’t even get me started on that one! I know so many people who can look you straight in the eye and tell you a massive lie!) and rules that reward people who have a normal understanding and normal comprehension of body language. We are constantly playing Catch Up and the rules just keep changing! However, I do wish that, for the sake of people with Aspergers who want nothing more than to work, interviewers would make the effort to look beyond how we appear once in a while.

I know that there are a lot of companies out there who do employ people with Aspergers and there are some people with Aspergers who are hugely successful in business because they have found their niche in the employment market and gone for it. However, there are a lot more people out there with Aspergers who have been for so many job interviews they have lost count and have received rejections from every single one. Over time, their self esteem, often already fragile simply from growing up in a world that is not suited to those of us on the spectrum, dwindles to nothing and they simply give up. They are not emotionally capable of dealing with another rejection so they just stop trying. I have come across this story numerous times in online forums and it hurts me to know that there are people suffering so much out there because of society’s adherence to the social rules. A lot of interviews now are group interviews-situations which the average person with Aspergers dreads. The interview I referred to earlier was a group interview and I was completely overwhelmed by what everyone else was saying and didn’t get the opportunity to say much myself. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job even though I would have been extremely well suited to it (and that’s not me being arrogant-I was genuinely well suited to the role). I believe that people with Aspergers should be exempt from group interviews. I know that the point of them is to assess how well candidates would work in a team but, for someone who is already experiencing so much anxiety, being put in a situation that highlights their weak social skills is not fair. 

I do believe that there is a job out there for everybody. People with Aspergers do need to be positive and keep looking but employers also need to give them a chance. One strength of a lot of people with Aspergers, including myself, is being highly punctual and reliable and having an attention to detail which means tasks are carried out to a high standard. We are often perfectionists so want to carry out tasks to the best of our ability. We are often loyal employees-we just need people to look beyond first appearances and give us a chance. Please, if you ever sit on an interview panel, don’t instantly dismiss the person opposite you who twiddles with their hands or can’t look you straight in the eye. Don’t assume that they are hiding something-delve deeper and, if you feel that they could be successful, give them a chance. You will have more impact than you know on improving their self esteem and making them feel valued in the world.

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What it’s like growing up with undiagnosed Aspergers

This is a guest post written by a good friend of mine from my university years who was not diagnosed with Aspergers until her late teens. She volunteered to write this post for me as several people had asked me to write a post about late diagnosis but I did not feel I could do the issue justice as I was diagnosed at the age of eight and therefore didn’t live through those years of uncertainty. Below is my friend’s experience exactly as she wrote it. I found reading it extremely poignant and touching and I hope that reading it can help people who grew up without a diagnosis realise that they are not alone. It also helps me appreciate just how lucky I was to be diagnosed and therefore given access to support at such a young age.

“I was born in the year that Lorna bird rediscovered Hans aspergers original German text and translated it. However this was only available to a select few in the medical community and was not to see the Light of day for quite some time. This would cause quite a few problems in my life as nobody had a clue what if anything was wrong with me. My mother insisted to various medical professionals that something was awry so I would go for tests some times lasting a day but to no avail. It probably drove my dad up the wall. I remember one batch at 11 where they analysed my urine etc to check for foreign components. Lots of talking and checking to see what I could and couldn’t do. Ironically it was only found out that I had inverted hips and knees at 17 after my accident and diagnosis. The result was always the same whether in the north, south or Midlands. She is a bit eccentric but other than that she is fine. So I struggled on, being bullied, never having friends or really understanding the world around me but insulated by my own mind. I was very good at school extremely dedicated to learning with an insatiable thirst that I still have. I pity anyone who takes me to a museum and isn’t prepared to wait while I read everything in sight. I’m very thankful to my dad who helped me understand maths at 6 but I lost my magimathematical ability after that fateful near fatal car accident at 17 on the morning of doing my SAT exam. I was so full of hope and promise entering into my final year at school, understanding myself but it was all taken away by a tourist who couldn’t drive properly. I was lucky to be treated by a Bosnian doctor who had worked in war so knew what to do when. If it was not for him I might not have been around now to write this. My English ability improved to compensate but I will only just be average at maths now. Its lucky that I can even do maths as I struggled to add 1+1 directly afterwards. I had to relearn everything with my mother’s help even down to walking and when to go to the toilet. It was an intense 9 month recovery involving physiotherapy, occupational therapy and seeing a psychologist every week. My social skills are improving but I will forever say embarrassing, inappropriate things. I can’t help it situations are too diverse for there to be rules for everything. It’s taken a long time to cope with the fall out and in some ways I will never fully deal with it. The world that means even if you have tried every single arts and craft, have a basic cooking ability, are computer literate, well qualified and can entertain yourself when needed but cannot become employed despite govt help is a cruel place. Autism is a curse and a blessing it just varies with the situation. So far it hasn’t helped but hopefully in the future it will. I can only hope because without it leads to despair and depression with the world that does not want me in it.”

I would like to thank my friend for having the courage to write this as I know it can’t have been easy for her. I hope all of my readers join me in wishing her the very best of luck for her future-I cannot think of anyone who deserves it more.

My thoughts on the Avonte Oquendo case

As someone living in England, I had not heard of the case involving Avonte Oquendo until a friend of mine suggested that it might be a good idea to read up on it and write a blog post about my thoughts on the case.

For those of you who have not heard of the tragic case, Avonte Oquendo was a fourteen year old boy with severe autism who was not capable of communicating with speech. Some articles concerning the case are linked below.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2548245/Tragic-new-video-shows-moment-dead-autistic-teen-Avonte-Oquendo-runs-school-doors-left-ajar-30-minutes.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/21/avonte-oquendo-missing-teenager-remains

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/wake-funeral-held-autistic-teen-avonte-oquendo-article-1.1591055

http://nypost.com/tag/avonte-oquendo/

There are many articles on the Internet concerning Avonte’s disappearance from different news sources (I chose four but there are plenty more) but what they all appear to agree on is that Avonte’s disappearance was primarily down to a lack of supervision from staff at the special needs school he attended. In various articles I read that Avonte was known to have a history of wandering during transition times.This is significant because he disappeared after lunchtime while transitioning to his classroom. CCTV images accessible on the web show him walking out of the school unsupervised with not a staff member in sight. Avonte’s body was found three months after he went missing that fateful day on October the 4th 2013. He had been washed up by a river. Nobody knows the truth of what happened to Avonte that day-I have read that some of his relatives suspect foul play as he was found in underwear that was not his and he was believed by police to have drowned yet, according to his family, he feared water and would not have been near a river voluntarily.

Whichever way Avonte lived his last hours or days, his death is a huge tragedy and what makes it even more tragic is that it could have been so easily avoided. As somebody who works with children and teenagers with complex needs just like Avonte, I know that he should have been staffed on a one to one basis, especially during periods of the day that were known to be difficult for him. If a member of staff had been there to support the transition to his next session, there would not have been the opportunity for him to wander out of school. News reports (I will edit this to give links tomorrow as I am writing this on my phone) state that Avonte’s mother was not contacted by the school until an hour after Avonte went missing. Neither were the police. Aside from the whole neglect issue of failing to inform the most important person in a child’s life that their child has gone missing as soon as they knew that this was the case, the delay also meant that a highly vulnerable teenager with severe autism and associated communication problems was left to wander unsupervised in New York, one of the busiest, most crowded cities in the world. Scary enough for your average teenager, it must have been terrifying for Avonte. Despite extensive searches by the police and concerned members of the public, including his family, Avonte was not found until January.

In my opinion, so much more could have been done to prevent this tragedy.  If one to one staffing was not enough to keep Avonte safe, he should have had two to one staffing. Why were the doors not secured during the school day? Why was there an unacceptable delay in informing the authorities that a vulnerable person had gone missing? Nothing can bring Avonte back but it is clear that lessons need to be learned fast. To someone who works in the same area (not geographically but with students with needs similar to Avonte’s), the failings in this case are unacceptable. To lose a child who should be monitored vigilantly throughout the school day is shocking. I actually genuinely can’t get my head around what happened that day. I know, of course, that there are two sides to every story but the fact remains that Avonte should have been monitored at the time he went missing in order to keep him safe.

I don’t feel that this post does justice to the whole case-I will post up some links when I am on my laptop but I would ask people to look the case up for themselves-it is a lot more complex than I can give credit to in a blog post. What matters most is that a fourteen year old boy with complex needs has tragically died. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the Oquendo family. Avonte sounds like he was one of life’s characters. Rest in peace Avonte.

This is the reality of my Aspergers

Disclaimer-as mentioned in the title, these experiences of Aspergers are mine and thus they are related to my specific manifestations of the condition. Other people with Aspergers may not recognise themselves in everything that I write here but it is a personal account and so this is describing the reality of my Aspergers.

Thinking over and over again for weeks, months and years after an embarrassing or awkward situation has occurred and remembering it all in excruciatingly painful detail-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Being able to speak in public about a topic that I am interested in but being so nervous about making a phone call that I literally cannot speak-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Being so upset that there was an odd number of Pringles in the pack that I waited until everybody else in the house was asleep and then sneaked downstairs to open another pack and eat one more Pringle to make sure I had eaten an even amount of Pringles-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Circling every line of text in a newspaper in a frenzied manner to remind myself that I had read it all-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Being able to read medical advice books cover to cover at the age of six but not being able to dress myself at the same age-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Being able to read and comprehend complicated books but not being able to understand sarcasm or jokes-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Always being wanted on quiz teams because I know the most random facts-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Not being able to understand why people place so much emphasis on such shallow and superficial things when what truly matters is the soul of a person-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Being unable to stop myself correcting other people’s little mistakes even though I know I make so many myself-this is the reality of my Aspergers.

Always feeling like everyone else has got the rule book in social situations and you’re the one left baffled, wondering how everyone else instinctively knows what to do without having to be told-this is the reality of my Aspergers.