Workplace Success Strategies for Adults with Asperger Syndrome

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1 Workplace Success Strategies for Adults with Asperger Syndrome This is a summary of the recommendations made in Dan and Julie Coulter s June 10, 2010 APSE presentation. The presentation uses examples from the DVD: Asperger Syndrome at Work Asperger Syndrome, or AS, is considered a high-functioning form of autism. People with Asperger Syndrome tend to have normal to superior intelligence, but have difficulty with social interactions that come naturally to most people. They may also have sensory issues, such as sensitivity to loud noises, or difficulty processing certain types of information. Because individuals with AS can be highly capable and act like typical employees in many ways, employers and coworkers can interpret odd or difficult behaviors caused by their disability as intentional. Job seekers with Asperger Syndrome may require a special approach from supported employment professionals. For example, people with AS may have difficulty evaluating their strengths and challenges. Before starting a job search, a job coach should help an individual with Asperger Syndrome do a personal assessment, answering these questions: 1. What kinds of jobs interest you? 2. What are your strengths and limitations? 3. How would those strengths and limitations affect you in the jobs that interest you? 4. What are the requirements of the jobs that interest you? 5. Can you meet those requirements, and work in the environment each job requires? To get a realistic picture of their strengths and limitations, job seekers (and job coaches) should also seek input from people who know the individual well, such as parents, teachers, coaches or guidance counselors. Using the results of an assessment can help job seekers evaluate career fields they want to work in and research specific jobs. They should consider their interest in a job, their ability to do the job, and important secondary considerations, such as: 1. Can they work in the job environment? For example, do they have sensory issues that would need to be overcome? Can they work with the people, such as coworkers or customers, who will need to interact with them? 2. Can they work for the number of hours and at the time of day the job requires? 3. Can they manage the level of organization and self-supervision the job requires? How will their work be assigned? How will they know when they re finished with a task or project? What do they need to do next when they finish a task or project? Job coaches should help job seekers make a list of any reasonable accommodations employers could make to help them be productive in their chosen jobs. Discrimination and Disclosure 1. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities. 2. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations that enable people with disabilities to do jobs they are capable of doing. Asperger Work Strategy Summary v5 Copyright Coulter Video 2010 Page 1 of 5

2 3. Job seekers should decide whether they re going to disclose Asperger Syndrome to prospective employers. 4. Job seekers are not required to disclose a disability to an employer, but doing so can help an employer understand how to help an employee succeed. 5. Job seekers or employees who wish to ask for accommodations need to disclose their disability during the job interview or shortly after they start a job. Otherwise, they may not be legally entitled to accommodations. 6. If job seekers and employees don t disclose, their Asperger Syndrome behaviors may be misunderstood. 7. The employees profiled in the Asperger Syndrome at Work video disclosed to their employers and, when appropriate, to coworkers. 8. Job seekers should put any requests for accommodations in a positive light. They should talk about what they can accomplish with the accommodations; instead of saying they can t do the job without the accommodations. A job seeker s accommodations will depend on his or her individual needs. Here are some accommodations the employees in the Asperger Syndrome at Work DVD have received: 1. Getting assignments in writing, or being allowed to write notes about an assignment as it s given to an employee. 2. Having one person set an employee s priorities and give direction. 3. Getting extra training, or detailed instructions on how to do an assignment. 4. Getting a flexible schedule, perhaps with frequent breaks or a longer lunch hour. 5. Getting a shorter workday, or working a regular number of hours, but shifting them earlier or later. 6. Having a work location that s away from distractions. 7. Having a boss or colleague take notes and brief an employee on what happened in a staff meeting if it s too overwhelming for the employee to attend. 8. Being assigned to sit near, or work with, colleagues who an employee can deal with comfortably. 9. Having a designated place to go and calm down if an employee feels stressed or overwhelmed. Another type of accommodation is having co-workers agree to use cue words to alert an employee when that employee s behaviors interfere with work. Here are a few examples: 1. Take Five to suggest an employee take a break to calm down. 2. Cliffs Notes to suggest an employee needs to be more brief and concise. 3. Not now if an employee interrupts someone when it s not a convenient time. 4. I have to get back to my work when an employee is spending too much time socializing. Accommodations can also take the form of supports, such as: 1. A template that an employee can put over a document or form that lets the employee see only the information needed to do a task. 2. Written instructions. 3. Schedules that tell an employee what to do when. 4. Checklists that let an employee mark a task off when it s complete. 5. Visual guides that help an employee identify parts or pieces of equipment, or how a task is done. Asperger Work Strategy Summary v5 Copyright Coulter Video 2010 Page 2 of 5

3 Remember that if an employee asks for accommodations, it s the employee s responsibility to use them. While accommodations can be a great help, employees with Asperger Syndrome also need to work hard to be flexible, and try to modify behaviors that interfere with the job. Some of the adaptations made by the employees in the Asperger Syndrome at Work DVD include: 1. Learning when not to interact with customers or patrons because it might disturb them. 2. Learning to limit a conversation and not monopolize a coworker s time to socialize. 3. Learning to deal with a bright or loud or chaotic environment. 4. Watching coworkers to learn how it s appropriate to act in a workplace. 5. Learning appropriate ways to handle stress, including recognizing when to take a break and calm down. 6. Learning to ask for help when they need it. 7. Learning that they have to do a job the way the boss wants it done. 8. Learning to ask for, and accept feedback from the boss. Before a job seeker goes to an interview, it s important to prepare and practice. 1. Use job search websites or a public library to research the interview questions applicants are likely to hear, and come up with good answers to those questions. Use the same sources to gather information about writing a resume. 2. Have a job coach, parent or friend help the job seeker write a resume, help seek out jobs to apply for, and offer counsel on how to submit a resume and ask for an interview. 3. Practice for an interview by having someone play the role of an interviewer and ask the job seeker questions. 4. If a job seeker is uncomfortable at the thought of interviewing, consider having a job coach visit with an employer first, or even attend the interview with the applicant. 5. A job coach could also talk with an employer about job carving. That is, designing a job around an employee s skills. Be ready to explain how this newly designed job would benefit the employer. 6. Research the company and learn everything possible about the job the applicant seeks. 7. Be ready to describe how a job seeker s skills would apply to the job and benefit the company. 8. If a job seeker has limitations and wishes to ask for accommodations, he should describe how productive he could be in a specialized job. 9. An interviewee should keep his answers short. From about 15 seconds for simple questions to a minute or two for more complicated topics. But he should be ready to give more details if an interviewer asks for them. 10. If the interviewer asks a question an applicant can answer with yes or no, he or she will usually expect the applicant to offer a few sentences of explanation. 11. Job seekers should prepare some questions they can ask about the interviewer s company. Asperger Work Strategy Summary v5 Copyright Coulter Video 2010 Page 3 of 5

4 12. Applicants should seek guidance from a job coach, parent or friend about what to wear to the interview. 13. Job seekers may also want to consider interviewing for an unpaid internship, or volunteering to gain experience at a job or to become known in a workplace. This experience may help a job seeker get a paying job later. 14. Job seekers should keep in mind the attributes the US. Bureau of Labor says employers seek and point out any of these attributes they possess: 1. honesty and integrity; 2. strong work ethic; 3. analytical skills; 4. computer skills; 5. teamwork; 6. time management and organization skills; 7. communication skills (oral and written); 8. flexibility; 9. interpersonal skills; 10. motivation/initiative. Job coaches can help job seekers who have Asperger Syndrome in these key areas: 1. Help a job seeker assess his or her interests, strengths and challenges. 2. Help the job seeker do research to match those interests, strengths and challenges to a suitable job. 3. Help the job seeker find individual jobs to apply for, prepare and submit a resume and prepare to interview. 4. If necessary, visit with an employer before an interview to explain how Asperger Syndrome affects the applicant, and/or accompany an applicant to an interview. 5. Disclose Asperger Syndrome to employees or coworkers. 6. Help design and ask for accommodations to help an employee be successful in a job. 7. Work with an employer to design a job based on an employee s skills. 8. Help an employee adapt his or her behaviors to suit a job and a workplace. 9. Observe an employee at work and make suggestions to the employee, supervisors and coworkers. 10. Serve as an ongoing channel of communication between an employee and a supervisor or coworkers to head off misunderstandings and promote positive interactions. Finally, working hard and keeping a positive attitude are key ingredients for getting and keeping a job when an applicant has Asperger Syndrome. A job seeker needs to show an employer and co-workers that he s willing to meet them more than half-way and that his contributions will far outweigh any accommodations they provide. * * * Dan and Julie Coulter are the producers of the DVD, Asperger Syndrome At Work. You can find more information and articles about Asperger Syndrome employment issues on their website. You can download a free assessment questionnaire to help a person with Asperger Syndrome prepare to seek a job at: Asperger Work Strategy Summary v5 Copyright Coulter Video 2010 Page 4 of 5

5 Copyright COULTER VIDEO 2010 Asperger Work Strategy Summary v5 Copyright Coulter Video 2010 Page 5 of 5

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