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Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…

5 Ways to Solve the Terrifying Reality of
Long-Term Unemployment

Recent research has shown that employers do not want to hire you if you have been unemployed for more than 6 months. This is a SERIOUS problem for many of those on the autism spectrum who often are the first to get laid off and the last to get hired.

Why do those with autism get laid off first?

Unfortunately, competence is only part of the equation in terms of keeping a job. First of all, let’s think about your boss. He really doesn’t pay your salary. The company does. It is not HIS money. But, he has to work with you, side by side, day in and day out.

Bosses (as well as co-workers) want to work with people with whom they get along. The “nice guy” tends to keep his job during a layoff much more often than the “competent guy”. Now this may be a simplification and over generalization, but it is basically true.

Those on the autism spectrum often seem distant and unfriendly

People skills and social skills are typically not strengths of those who have autism. Do you ever have trouble understanding jokes? Telling jokes? Those with autism have difficulty understanding sarcasm and nuanced plays on words. The implication of this is that those on the autism spectrum can seem cold, aloof or simply just not fun to be around.

Long-Term Unemployment is Scary

Long-term unemployment is scary for anyone. It can destroy your self-confidence, damage your self-esteem and of course lead to financial ruin. But as bad as this is, it is especially devastating for those with autism. 

Without the steady stream of a paycheck, it is difficult to go on a date, hard to hang out with friends and minimizes the chance of meeting new people at work.  People with autism have great difficulty making friends. Many people meet new people at work. But with no job that avenue is closed to you.

Dating? No way. You do not have the money to take someone out.

Hanging out with friends? Probably not, because you can’t afford to go to a ball game, bowling or a bar. So when you are unemployed, any friends that you may have will start to avoid you. They will not even invite you to attend a social gathering because they know you can’t afford it.

Two Labor Markets

A recent study has shown that from an employer’s perspective there are two labor markets. One is people in transition. This is a group of people who have been unemployed for less than six months.

Most employers find being out of work for less than six months acceptable…it is a transition period. They realize many people take time to write a resume, interview and find a job. But employers’ opinions dramatically change if you have been out of work for more than six months. You become “tainted”.

After six months you become the “long-term unemployed.” Employers perceive (rightly or wrongly) that anyone who has not been able to find a permanent position within six months is too risky to hire. The employer thinks, “What do other employers know that I don’t?”  when considering a person with a period of long-term unemployment.

Recent research shows that an employee who has been out of work for more than 6 months is dramatically less likely to get a job offer and this is true across all socio economic strata tested including young versus old, a blue-collar versus white-color worker, or high school versus college education level  —all that matters is how long you have been out of work.

Job Experience is trumped by Unemployment Duration

The same research study also showed that employers are more likely to hire someone who has been unemployed for less than six months with NO industry experience over someone who is long-term unemployed WITH industry experience.

Long-term Unemployment is difficult to overcome

Employers, who often get hundreds if not thousands of resumes for any job opening, appear to be pushing to the back of the pile any job applications from a person who has been unemployed for a long time.  Basically, no matter how talented, educated or strong you are at the position, your resume may not even get looked at. Today, employers look at how long you have been unemployed more than anything else when they screen candidates for job interviews.

Self-isolation and Giving up on life

A serious issue for those with autism is that they may give up if they are not successful. After many attempts at trying to find a job, it can be very discouraging. Anxiety and depression can set it. I receive emails daily from parents of adult children worried that their adult children with Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism have basically given up on life. They spend all day in their bedrooms on a computer. They play video games or World of Warcraft .

Failing to make the transition into adulthood

To be successful in life there are only two critical elements that must be mastered for those with autism.

  1. Being able to develop and maintain long-term nurturing relationships
  2. Being able to get and keep a job

I used to think that these were equally important. I no longer do. Getting and keeping a job is MUCH more important because without the self-esteem, independence and cash that a job brings, it is very difficult if not impossible to establish long-term nurturing relationships.

Dating with no money? Good luck. Having friends but you can’t afford to buy a cup of coffee? Not likely. And what woman wants to date a guy who is unemployed? Unfortunately, long-term unemployment and living at home with mom and dad translates as “looser” to most females when thinking of a person with whom they might date.

Self-isolation and Giving up on life

A pattern exists where those on the autism spectrum who do not successfully transition into adulthood may end up in self-isolation and giving up on life. What do I mean by self-isolation? Basically, they will stay in their room. They will simply play video games and have virtually no interaction with other people.

It has become so painful to constantly fail year after year that they would prefer to stay in their cave and not come out. They become the walking dead. Essentially while they technically are alive, they are not living. They have no friends, no prospects of getting any friends, they have no apartment they can call their own and they have to live off of handouts from parents.

What can you do?

1. Focus on the Transition into Adulthood

Parents, irrespective of the age of your loved one on the autism spectrum, you should focus on the transition into adulthood. Once your child is a teen start thinking of logical career opportunities. Also ensure that your constant focus is on building social skills so that your loved ones have friends.  There are many adults who are very happy in life who cannot do math and cannot spell but they are married, have children and are employed. Focus MORE attention on social skills and developing friends than on the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic).

2. Pick the right career

Those on the autism spectrum typically have poor social and people skills. Focus on career goals where these skills are not needed. For example, jobs which are very routine, where a person can work alone in an office or possible can work from home. Good career options in this category are computer programmers, scientists, mathematicians, accountants and factory workers where the task is repetitive.

3. Identify friendship opportunities for your loved ones

Do not solely rely on the school system or your loved one’s therapist to help your child. Go out of your way to establish play groups, join social clubs or interest groups and find outlets for your loved one where they will interact with others.

4. You are never unemployed—you are a consultant or freelancer

You must fill in the gap in employment on a resume so that it does not appear that you are unemployed. I have always joked that white collar employees are not “unemployed” they are “consultants.”  If you have been laid off and you are a programmer, if you know how to use Microsoft Office, if you can write, proofread, edit video, anything…offer your services on-line as a consultant or freelancer.

Great places to offer services include www.elance.com, www.fiverr.com and www.odesk.com. I have friends who started to sell crafts on www.etsy.com and others who offered to clean out neighbors’ garages and sell items on www.ebay.com to earn some extra cash. You might actually make some money but when you create a resume, you can list yourself as a consultant or even the president of a company offering these services. Remember, self-employed is technically employed! You may explain to a new employer that you have always had a passion to start your own business, but with the current economy it has been difficult building up a large enough client base to make ends meet. Therefore you are seeking full time employment with his or her firm. This shows initiative and fills in any gap in a resume.

5. No one said you have to be paid in your current position

If you are unemployed, find a position where you can volunteer. At least you can have a nice job title, it will get you out of the house where you can meet people, and you can put a job on your resume. No one has to know you are not getting paid. If it comes up simply say that you took the position temporarily to gain experience and the firm wanted to bring you on as a full time employee but has been unable to get management approval to turn your job into a full time position.

Keep an eye out for my new employment training class

Employment is so critically important for everyone -and especially so for those on the autism spectrum-that I and my staff have been working on a major training class, “Hot to Get and Keep the Job You Love“. This will be a major video training class with workbooks and online coaching calls. Hopefully we will be offering this in the next month or two.  Here is a small segment of one of the training videos that will give you tips when you go into an interview. Enjoy!

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