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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11 Responses to Finding Employment When You Have Aspergers

  1. Patricia says:

    Thank you for drawing attention to this issue. I so much want to make a career in this type of work. I know there are a few organizations that function as personnel firms for people on the spectrum (Specialisterne), but they have pre-existing relationships with companies, and a very narrow scope. I’m not in a place to start my own business, but if I could, I would work with companies to educate them about the benefits of an autistic component in their workforce. Bridges of communication and understanding need to be built, because there is such an untapped resource out there – if only those who hire could SEE.

    • I have recently got in contact with specialisterne but like all companies eg national autistic society that help autistic people, they are only based in london. It would seem to me that they only help people that are good at computer science too. There are lots of charities out there but if your not severly autistic they cant really do anything. Not even the job centre or the council are much better. Starting your own company is really unfortunately the only way to employ yourself I have found. Although if your the ideas person and not business minded thats nigh on impossible.

      • Patricia says:

        They’ve got some branches starting in the US (Delaware, Colorado), and some in Europe as well. But yes, looks like computer science focus. Sigh. Well, awareness is growing, so hopefully we can make the tipping point happen in other places and other ways 🙂

  2. alexforshaw says:

    This is a subject that is of great importance to many autistic people — thank you for covering it. I’m also in the lucky minority who was able to (eventually, after many months of failed interviews) gain employment doing something that leverages my primary special interest (computer programming). Now, 18 years later, I have been employed continuously except for a 6 week period after I was fired after failing on a project that put me in a situation I could not deal with (interviewing people in a business analyst role).

    I self-diagnosed as autistic about 5 years ago and have since had this backed up by my doctor and my therapist although I have not pursued a formal diagnosis yet (I got as far as making an appointment but then other things in my life took priority and I put it on hold). This has made me much more aware of my own strengths and weaknesses, and since then I have worked actively to be more true to my autistic self. This has had the benefits of reducing my stress and exhaustion from trying so hard to fit in, as well as improving my work since I have been better able to get the job done since becoming more attuned to my physical and mental needs.

    Some things you mention, like crossing my arms for comfort, resonate with me. I do this a lot, and it took a while for my wife to stop misinterpreting it (along with my lack of affect) as a sign that I was either not interested in her or did not care about her. You are so right about the prejudice we face because of our lack of conformance to NT body language expectations. I agree with the positives too: loyalty, persistence and reliability are very common traits. Just don’t expect us to always join in the social side of things.

    And I would second your good advice to be patient and remain positive when seeking a job. The only reason I got my first job (the first step is the hardest) was that they focused on my technical skills — at that point I aced the test and have never looked back since. Eventually you will get the chance you need to show what you can do.

  3. JF says:

    Great post! The interview process can be a nightmare for an aspie. Whenever I had a job interview, I ended up “acting” my way through it – I learned what actions were viewed as positive during an interview, and I did those things. I actually became quite good at pretending to be a good interview candidate!

    Not only is the interview process a problem for those with Aspergers holding down employment, but landing the right type of job is essential. Positions that require lots of personal interaction with others are going to be tough for aspies to deal with. However, there are jobs that aspie traits can be an asset. I work in a high stress environment where lives depend me doing my work accurately and quickly; my “aspieness” blocks me from fully processing this heavy responsibility and instead I just focus on what’s in front of me. Keeps me sane and gets me through the day.

    I agree with what you said about the need for both aspies and employers not to give up. There are situations where both parties can get enjoy great benefits; the trick is finding those diamonds in the rough!

  4. Peter Donely says:

    Fantastic post, perfectly sums up how I usually feel during an interview. I was surprised by the NAS’ statistic about unemployment rates.

  5. Steve says:

    Thank you for this post, the thoughts and statistics — which I wasn’t aware of. I am happy that you have found good work, and it’s also nice to know that other people struggle with the same issue. I was googling this topic after reading a CNN article (http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/30/health/irpt-autism-in-the-workplace/) and I wanted to share what I wrote:

    I have Asperger’s, and yes the cards are very, very stacked against you.

    Regardless of how much time you spend with your own mental health, how much time you have spent applying methods or cognitive behavioral therapy towards being more “effective” socially, or how much effort you put into emulating normal social interactions during an interview, it will always be socially awkward to some degree. As my resume reviewer from college has said: social connections get you a job, and people hire based on someone they’d feel comfortable hanging out with all day.

    Now if you are black, the interviewer knows, and he/she (should) know that it cannot be a factor for getting or not getting the job. If you have Asperger’s, they don’t know, and if you tell them then you are less likely to be hired because it is a disability. So you seem awkward to hang out with, there is no explanation, and if there is then you lose either way. So equal protection under the law is impossible.

    So you get hired by some miracle, you do good work, but you aren’t good at office politics and you’re not the easiest person to talk to. That makes you the most expendable employee, and the first to be laid off. You’re intelligent and perceptive, but things just slip by you, like when you’re blamed for someone else’s mistakes or you aren’t vocal enough on a regular basis to garner respect. Then (this may only apply to my video field) you have jobs which last 6 months on your resume, and you stop getting interviews altogether because it’s perceived as being an unreliable employee.

    Not to mention that employers check candidates for any “mental problems” whatsoever. So, guess what? If your Facebook or blog has any posts which show discouragement, fondness for weird movies or strange music, it is a bad thing. If you’re a normal person applying for a job, just NOT liking the local sports team can be a bad thing. People with Asperger’s have had to rethink everything from the ground up, so they can have wildly different interests: from anime, different religions, video games, sexual orientation, obsessive activities, and so forth. All of this weighs against you.

    Asperger’s is never, ever viewed as a “good” thing for a job, your qualifications are a “good” thing, and if they suffer indirectly from Asperger’s then they aren’t such a good thing, and the “bad” thing is anything social starting with the interview.

    As mentioned here, I would carefully choose your career path, because you will not be able to do what you want to do, or what you’re good at, if it is any type of social field. For example you may think art or graphic design is a field where you sit by yourself and do work, but it is massively social in terms of getting a job, promoting yourself, selling your work, networking.

    Asperger’s is only conventionally a “disabilty” based on function in society. Ultimately it is not a disability, no one with Asperger’s believes it is, only the residual effects like social anxiety disorder or depression are disabilities. Your brain is just wired differently. However, you will never be treated equally as the law says we should be, so be prepared for that. You can still have an amazing life, but I’m just being real.

  6. Angela Goodwin says:

    Thankyou for that insight into employment. It’s more feedback then I have ever received from an employer probably because of political correctness and inability to actually say the real reason. However this doesn’t give us a lot of hope to try to change this situation. How does one with autism actually get a job and overcome all of these hurdles?

  7. Reblogged this on patriotmongoose and commented:
    Yes, I have Aspergers and this article hits it right on the head.

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