Rudy Simone found that the biggest challenge in the workplace was spending day after day with the same people. Frustrations included her skill set not being taken advantage of, being bullied, and constantly being misunderstood. These frustrations left Simone feeling isolated and shunned.
“The work was easy, people were hard.”, Simone shares. “It happens to far too many of us. We’re often good with strangers, or one on one, but it’s when people think they know you and observe your quirks that they begin to judge you.”
Social blunders abound for those with Asperger’s in the Workplace. Simone shares this story, “There was an incident where a woman with Asperger’s was strolling through the office and a co-worker had a bowl of nuts on his desk. She shouted out, “I want to eat your nuts” and of course, it was scandalous!”
Social blunders such as this one stem from an innate naïvety and in this case, the woman had no idea what she had done wrong and acquired a bad reputation as a result.
Simone is author of Asperger’s on the Job. While interviewing for her first book, 22 Things a Woman Must Know if She Loves a man with Asperger’s Syndrome,
Prepare for the Interview
“Bring two or more copies of your resume so that you don’t have to make a lot of eye contact with the interviewer(s) and also to help you keep your facts straight. A portfolio is even better, and these days, you can have samples of your work on your iPhone, whether it is documents, images, sounds, websites, whatever.”
Get advice on what to wear. You don’t have to be uncomfortable, but you do need to wear the style of clothing suitable to the position, whether it is a coffee house or an accounting firm. “Clothing is a big issue for spectrum folks. We need to find a style that suits us but also suits our job.”
Thoughts on Disclosure
“When you fight for your rights, you validate those who have gone before and help those who come after. I’m not at all keen on people staying in the autism closet. I think in the long run, from those who I have assisted or interviewed, disclosure has helped.”
“I have clients who have great bosses who asked, “what do you need?” and gave it to them. However, I have also talked to people who lost their jobs after disclosure, but then they were inspired to become more of an Asperger’s activist because of that incident.”
Additionally, “I’ve talked to people who lost their jobs due to social awkwardness and other Asperger traits and were not protected by the American Disability Act because they hadn’t disclosed.”
Prepare a Personal Job Map
Ordinary career aptitude tests do not take into consideration the myriad sensory and social issues that people with Asperger’s and autism experience. “Our interests are often very deep-seated, so we will want to work with them in some way.”
What that way is, may not be immediately obvious. For example, many little Asperger’s boys love trains. What is it about the trains they love? Is it the design, the movement, travel, metal? Is it the timetable that fascinates them? The history of trains? Statistics?
“The Personal Job Map, found in Asperger’s on the Job, helps Asperger’s folks, their teachers, parents, job coaches, etc., identify what aspect of their obsession really turns them on, and helps them find a job working with that while avoiding too many of the autistic triggers that deplete us.”
Dealing with Workplace Chatter
Small talk is a cultural ritual. Simone advises, “Asperger’s people may wish to visit with their local support group, and schedule some social time with others so they get used to ‘chatting’. It is, or at least it can be, an art form, and like playing the piano, we do improve with practice.”
Simone additionally offers, “What is small talk to one person may be meaty conversation to another so try not to judge, or to condescend. At the same time, you don’t have to engage in a lengthy discussion about the weather if it irks you, but a little bit of courtesy and friendliness do go a long way, as does a smile.”
Gossip is indeed the Devil’s Radio. Simone states, “Gossip is never good and can easily turn nasty or do harm, even if it wasn’t intended to. Whenever I hear gossip, I change the subject or walk away.”
Put in the most simplest of forms, Simone enlightens employers by sharing, “The tone and atmosphere, the spirit of any place is informed by the people who inhabit it. You can either foster an atmosphere of tolerance and goodwill, or judgment and exclusion. That is a human choice, a daily choice everywhere and in every situation.”
Avoid Filling in the Blanks
Individuals with Asperger’s often have a blank facial expression or “our expressions don’t match the way we feel.” For example, “I recently spoke at a conference and met a young man that appeared to smile all the time, even when he was sad.” Another time, Simone met another young man who couldn’t smile, who looked angry even when he wasn’t. “This caused him a lot of social problems. We need to take lots of pictures of ourselves and practice facial expressions until we are able to match face with feeling.”
Bless Your Workforce with an Asperger’s Employee
With an entire chapter in her book dedicated to extoling the virtues of those with Asperger’s, Simone shares just a few, “diligence, focus, visual thinking, higher fluid intelligence, and honesty. The very things that make a person a good employee are often part and parcel of being on the spectrum.” Simone wishes out loud, “There should be more agencies like Aspiritech or Specialisterne that find jobs for people with ASD. We are smart and we work harder than anyone.”
Prepare them Young
For parents of children with Asperger’s, Simone states, “the confidence and self-esteem necessary to be successful in life starts early and starts at home. A full understanding of Aspergers is needed, as are sensory tools and social skill programs.”
Simone continues, “Kids grow up fast, and while you don’t want to pressure them to choose careers while they are kids, they do need to learn the value and necessity of work, money and self-sufficiency early.
Simone suggests using the Personal Job Map found in Asperger’s on the Job in early high school to help determine extracurricular activities or even the possibility of vocational or technical classes in high school as well as choosing a college major and career trajectory.