Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Asperger’s Syndrome and Employment
OK You Have a Job, Now How do You Keep It?
People with Asperger’s Syndrome have a lot of hurdles in front of them when trying to gain and maintain employment. A lot has been written about how to manage job interviews and getting a job for those with Asperger’s Syndrome, but what about once you already have the job?
How does someone with Asperger’s syndrome make sure they keep their job?
There are several things that might not come as naturally to those with Asperger’s Syndrome as they do for others. Here are things you should keep in mind, either for yourself or for your loved one.
1. Be Aware of What is Going On Around You
People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often stuck in a little bubble, doing their work (and often doing it well), but not really taking in the things that are going on around them. It’s the old adage about not seeing the forest for the trees. People with Asperger’s Syndrome are often very detail focused, and while this can be a blessing, it can also be a hindrance too.
If you work in an office, you’ll want to be aware of what kinds of projects other people are getting assigned to do. If you are not getting assigned the caliber of work you think you should be, perhaps now is the right time to sell yourself a little. Remind your supervisor that you are eager and willing to work on projects.
How do you do that? Well, a simple “I heard about Project X and I just wanted to let you know that I would be honored to work on it” would at least keep you at the front of your boss’s mind. You don’t want to fall through the cracks.
Many offices have that one or two people who consistently work hard all the time and do a great job, but because they don’t interact with other people much, sometimes people in the high up positions forget they exist. This is a common problem for people with Asperger’s syndrome.
When it comes time to do lay-offs, a higher supervisor may not even know who you are, if your own boss has never mentioned you. So… try to promote yourself a little. Be the eyes and ears of the office and try to figure out how to at least engage in a little casual conversation with your supervisor once in a while.
2. Try to Interact With Others Even When it’s Not Absolutely Necessary
One important thing for people with Asperger’s syndrome to realize is that, in many jobs, how often office politics are involved. A lot of time whether you stick around, get promoted or get laid off has more to do with how you relate to others (and consequently how you make them feel about themselves and about you) than the actual quality of your work. Not always, but often enough.
How do you try to account for this dynamic?
As hard as it can often be for people with Asperger’s syndrome to make small talk, this is something that you should try to do with your co-workers and employees.
Common Small Talk Topics
The weather may be the one thing that all people in a given locale have in common at any given time. It is the same for everyone, affects everyone more or less equally, and people are used to talking about it.
Office or company-wide parties or picnics
Anything uncontroversial to do with your company is a good conversation starter that could lead to other, more interesting topics.
Ask about their family
First you want to be reasonably sure they have a family, of course, and aren’t single, recently widowed or so on. A good clue to this is the family pictures that many people put on their cubicle walls or desks. If you see something else that you might have in common, such as banner for a sports team you like, a program from a play or so on, you can start a conversation about this shared interest as well.
Keep the conversations relatively short and casual — five or ten minutes to start, depending on how they’re going. Try not to include too many details — try to match the other person in how much information they’re giving out. It is a common problem for people with Asperger’s Syndrome to unintentionally give out too much information and overwhelm the other person without realizing it.
Why Small Talk?
You may think it is stupid to talk about the weather or other banal topics, but keep in mind that it is more like a symbol to the other person that says “I like you enough to take the time to talk to you.” Sometimes it is the action more than the content that matters.
For people with Asperger’s Syndrome, who are often logic bound and want everything to make sense, having a conversation about a topic that is not at all meaningful often seems not only a waste of time but almost a travesty. What seems to them to be an empty conversation reminds them of how much more the interaction could be, but isn’t. But what most people with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t realize, again, is that most people like any recognition that they exist and are worth talking to that they can get.
If you don’t give it to them — well, people are often an insecure bunch. If you don’t indulge them, they probably will end up thinking you’re stand-offish and don’t like them, which of course couldn’t be farther from the truth. You’re just trying to get your work done. But humor them every once in a while.
3. Think Before You Talk
Whether it’s a fast food job, a supermarket job, an accountant or any other number of jobs, there is unfortunately an almost limitless way of accidentally offending customers, co-workers or bosses. People with Asperger’s syndrome are more prone to get into these slip-ups, for a couple reasons. One, they don’t always know what is and isn’t appropriate to say. Two, they sometimes have poor impulse control and say the first thing that comes to mind.
Before you speak on the job, ask yourself
- Is there any way that this could potentially hurt the feelings of or embarrass the other person?
- Will saying this be likely to make the other person feel inadequate or defensive?
- Did I remember to convey that I understand the emotions or experience of the other person before I give whatever piece of advice or follow-up I was going to give?
If what you were going to say does not match up to the above guidelines, then revise it or don’t say it at all.
4. Make Sure You Clarify Expectations
Many supervisors can be quite vague about the duties expected of you. People with Asperger’s syndrome often will misinterpret what is said to them, or take something too literally. Make sure you are on the same page as your supervisor before starting a job.
5. Be Aware of Sensory Issues
Many people with Asperger’s syndrome have various sensory issues. Be aware of the sensory issues you have, if you have any, and ask for accommodations if you need to. For example, you may not want to be stationed right under a speaker playing loud music, next to a colleague who wears a lot of perfume, under a bright light or so on. Sometimes little things can make a big difference in job performance.
Many people, both with Asperger’s syndrome and not, think they are doing a good job but then are surprised by a negative review or even a layoff from their job. But follow these tips, and you’ll be much more likely to be successful in your job, whatever it is. These are not all things that come easily to those with Asperger’s Syndrome, but they can be learned.
And for additional tips on employment and other issues that affect adults with Asperger’s syndrome, see Thriving in Adulthood with Asperger’s Syndrome.