Autism awareness is not prevalent enough in the working world. A high percentage of adults with autism are unable to find work or work enough to support themselves. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 20% of adults with disabilities were working or looking for work in 2014.
People with mild forms of autism can struggle to find work more than other people with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome. (Rudacille, 2011). This is due to the disability often being more hidden, only to emerge when an affected individual is responding to stress. Behaviors can come out at work in very unexpected and/or upsetting ways. For example, a person who is feeling discomfort with fluorescent lighting might try to cover the light, which could bother coworkers. A person who does not filter their thoughts may blurt out comments at work meetings and irritate co-workers. A person who cannot make eye contact easily may be disrespected by co-workers because eye contact shows confidence and low eye contact shows shame or fear. These are just a few examples of the many challenges that can occur in the workplace. For such unexpected actions, the autistic employee can experience mistreatment, isolation, shame, and/or termination.
Workplaces need autism trainings
It is true that working with a person who acts oddly or rudely can be extremely difficult for other people. However, if their behaviors can be prevented, then the person can be retained in their position of employment. Even better, if a person who is struggling can be nurtured and guided, their work output can increase and the company will benefit.
Therefore, it makes business sense to have autism trainings in workplaces, especially those that may attract a higher percentage of people who are autistic. If employees are aware of the needs and differences of this population, then there is a greater chance of appropriate accommodation. Folks who are treated well tend to stay at a place of employment. Folks who are nurtured in their skills could not only maintain acceptable work behavior but also become exceptional employees.
Some companies such as Freddie Mac and Microsoft have been deliberately recruiting and supporting employees with autism. (Erbentraut, 2015). The recruits have shown exceptional skills in financial management and programming. Due to the individuals’ particular abilities to hyper-focus, attend to detail, and/or obsessively work, they are able to produce excellent work. However, such employees may have needs that are easily accommodated with some awareness and minor effort.
Accommodations benefit employees and businesses
Awareness simply means knowledge of something different. Accommodation is the action of making sure the difference does not cause a hinderance in getting a job done. Accommodations are given in schools to students with special needs so that they can succeed at their job of being a student. It would make sense to provide accommodations to employees with special needs so that they can produce the best work possible.
Youth at a certain age in high school are encouraged to develop self-determination and advocacy skills. This entails the ability to express one’s needs and make sure needs are met in reasonable ways. Once the child becomes an adult, it is fair to expect her or him to be more skilled in self-advocacy. Therefore, awareness should be pressed not only upon the employer, but also upon the employee with autism. While it is a benefit for an employee to accommodate someone who shows great employable skills, it is a benefit for the individual to also take responsibility for their actions.
How you can help
The working world can be a very difficult place with all of the hidden rules in social interaction. Hidden rules are those that are not taught, but learned by interaction. People tend to learn how to behave like they learn their native language – by immersion. Being out in public, being in school, going to church, shopping with parents… all of these outings put a child around multitudes of people who (hopefully) show appropriate behaviors in different situations. The child observes and copies the behaviors. For autistic folks, such expected behaviors are not so innate.
As a parent, friend, or someone with autism, how can you help improve things? Aim for extra exposure to other people. Since reading other people and learning how to pick up on social cues is a little more challenging, manage by overcompensating. Be okay with any additional time needed. Remember, other things in life are easier for many autistic folks, such as memory and recall, sensitivity to sounds, smells, etc. Therefore, it is okay to have additional difficulties with something like social skills. We are all wired differently.
When taking someone out, if they show stress, that is okay. If it is yourself, and you feel embarrassment at your discomfort, forgive yourself. It is all okay. Take those small steps. Just take breaks, and then try again. Aim for getting out of comfort zones, and keep going out in public, doing things with non-autistic people, and tell them or yourself to feel good for trying. People will give feedback (such as giving funny looks or saying comments), which can be hurtful, but it is like throwing your child (or yourself) back into the pool or putting them back on the bike. If they or you keep trying, they/you will get it. You are awesome. It is a hard challenge, but we all have our burdens. Keep it up. You are the bomb! 😊
Small steps toward improving social skills lead to success in the working world, and a happy future as a functioning, independent, and strong adult.
Erbentraut, J. (2015). How These 4 Major Companies are Tackling the Autism Unemployment Rate. Huffpost. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/autism-employment_n_7216310.html
Rudacille, D. (2011). People with Milder Forms of Autism Struggle as Adults. Spectrum. Retrieved March 30, 2018, from https://spectrumnews.org/news/people-with-milder-forms-of-autism-struggle-as-adults/
Mary Janca was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at 33 years of age after years of struggles, including trying to fit her unique self into various molds. She works as a high school teacher and coach for students who are of all learning and social abilities (including with ASD). She has a master’s in special education, a bachelor’s in film & anthropology, and teaching certifications in various subjects. She enjoys exercise, travel, learning, people, reading, and art. She welcomes emails at email@example.com and contact on Facebook for questions or to make a connection!
Tags: ASNC, autism, autism acceptance, autism advocacy, autism awareness, autism behavior, autism employment, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, autism support