Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook

In many respects Roger Meyer’s Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook is one of the first books that I should have reviewed for Asperger Management.

To begin with, Meyer is undoubtedly one of the most knowledgeable authorities on AS and the workplace, and the book unequivocally reflects this. Additionally, he is also without doubt one of the most positive – and passionate.

I had read the book some time ago now, but had forgotten just how relevant and useful it is.

Though written for people with AS engaging in jobs right across the work spectrum, it is undeniably useful for those working in white-collar/management type roles as the core messages remain the same.

The book is divided into three parts:

* The Issues Involved: this outlines the factors that impact upon the working environment. Examples here include Diagnosis & Disclosure, Social Skills, Learning styles, Interests and Talents and Personal Tools & Strategies;

* Workbook Instructions: this relates the above areas to three jobs that the reader has previously undertaken; what impact they have had on them, and then guides the reader through construction of a personal employment biography. It then explains how to undertake the entire workbook exercise;

* The Workbook itself, which encompasses tasks which seek to identify and explain the issues that emanate from the work one has undertaken, then assists in building a development pathway for the future.

The book is written primarily for adults and is basically about change. In the introduction, Meyer talks about how AS is a “hidden disability” and how related characteristics keep repeating.

A list of key issues is referred to in the introduction: about how a day at work can leave someone with AS feeling exhausted for example. The reader is then asked to work through a series of exercises in order to ascertain a development path that is suited to, and beneficial for, them.

As someone who has worked hard individually to undertake the type of self-analysis that this part of the book outlines, I personally did not spend too much time here. However, for those who have not done so previously, the structure undoubtedly provides an efficient framework that enables a person to do so. I would strongly support and encourage readers to utilise both it, and Roger Meyer’s invaluable experience, to do so.

It is analysis of the related issues that I found most pertinent and relevant, and in many ways, it is the first section of the book “The Issues Involved” which I found the most useful. The author talks with authority about the issues and offers real insight into them and the impact they can afford.

To begin with, diagnosis and disclosure are investigated. I personally found this to be the most useful of all the sections. As Meyer rightly points out, the effects of having a diagnosis can be immense.

He also makes the important point that people (i.e. clinical professionals) who are sufficiently skilled in undertaking diagnostic appraisal are rare and that, critically, if a diagnosis is received, then how one is largely left alone afterwards which can be highly detrimental. Instead, a support network is very important and must be developed.

For me these reasons, as a person who has never sought a formal diagnosis, highlight the dangers of, and the need to think really carefully before, doing so. This is especially true in the case of disclosure in the workplace.

Another reason, as the author rightly points out, is because everyone deals with diagnosis uniquely. Diagnosis should never be sought to justify oneself to others; this is a point that continually comes up when I speak to people about disclosure.

In the examples I have discussed with fellow professionals/executives with Asperger, many have cited the use by a superior manager of a diagnosis as an excuse for poor performance. In some cases, this is subsequently held against the person affected.

Usefully, the author advocates caution and working through, and evaluating, five questions as part of the process of considering whether to seek a diagnosis: i) the “awakening” – finding out and understanding fully about AS; ii) the diagnosis process itself; iii) acceptance; iv) disclosure to the first person and; v) the affect on you yourself. The reasons for this are that, often, the individual is the best judge and not a professional who may not fully understand AS as a condition. The key point is to in no way foster dependency.

I can relate to all of this in a career context. Presciently, Meyer then highlights how disclosure in a working context contains real dangers: how anxiety can escalate if unsupportive/unsympathetic people become aware and use the condition against you; how deciding what exactly can be revealed can be equally as risky as disclosure itself, as people may well then think differently of you. If one does disclose, “any” (i.e. including negative) type of reaction should be expected and prepared for.

Where this section made the most impact personally was referral to resorting to the law for protection.

Throughout time, I have communicated with a number people who have taken legal reproach, and I have to say that, consequently, they have felt better as a result of it!

However, I personally would never consider doing so for the reasons eloquently explained: the ongoing grudge will never disappear which makes future career progress much more unlikely.

More pertinently, there is the likelihood of retaliation following a “win”. This is something that I have experienced in my career, and which is especially likely give a characteristic inherent within AS – perceived (and actual) “fairness”.

In my case, I did nothing that was directly detrimental to the person involved. However, I did tread on egos and refused to accept the subsequent unfair actions and behaviour. Disapproval initially, of course however, provoked the reaction in the first place and was maintained through the effrontery felt by the other person.

Because of this, I personally have always advocated against, to use the authors terminology, going “formal” and to try and avoid conflict in the first place – in part by containing my disapproval of the actions of others – and by seeking resolution.

Related to this is the danger of self-righteousness in relation to seeking “accommodations”. As is also correctly pointed out, people with AS are prone to expecting others to accommodate them; that they have the “right” to things as a result of the “all or nothing thinking” AS mindset, which is understandably frowned upon by many employers.

To emphasise this, Meyer asserts that “I must be direct about this”; rigid moralism can be highly dangerous in the eyes of others and some organisations and yet it is often, as I certainly do, practised by those with AS. It is, perhaps, one of the most apposite messages in the entire book!

When considering disclosure, caution is also advocated as to who is informed. Related to this are factors such as not being impulsive and considering carefully when doing so; asking others “how” they would do go about it and; only disclosing what is absolutely necessary, but, above all “why” as doing so could leave one vulnerable. All of this is very pertinent advice. Finally, the author recommends talking to someone else beforehand about possible disclosure and identifying allies to acquire support going forward.

Social skills are discussed next and how sensory deficits impact on social behaviour. I found reference to the use of inappropriate words particularly insightful. I have recently come to appreciate how I have used specific words without fully understanding their exact meaning and, so, have worked conscientiously to locate more accurate meaning and understanding. This has undoubtedly assisted in my communication overall.

The author then alludes to how in childhood children refuse to play the game or do so in their way, and how youngsters with AS don’t “fit in”. Often, of course this extends to adulthood and means that social interaction is largely avoided as a consequence. All of this applies automatically to the workplace.

Related to this is change; how smooth social transition between activities is important, but difficult, for a child with AS to achieve. Being innately inadequately prepared for change means that a person with AS may be reluctant to learn and, so remains stuck with a narrow perspective focused on the self. The net effect is that others view them as self centred.

People with AS – of course – don’t accept change. Until they feel it is safe and can exert control over it, they remain uncomfortable. Yet this is almost inevitable in today’s corporate environment.

According to Meyer, they are also “unfeeling” in situations which call for empathy or awareness as to the emotional state of others. People with AS may also have a compulsive obsession for order and predictability in those parts of our life they cannot control and so are insensitive to the “boundaries” of others. With authority figures they can be excessively inquisitive or show inappropriate familiarity. All of this, of course, applies significantly in an organisational context.

The point about authority relates to one made that is also pertinent, and which, perhaps, more than most applies in a corporate or work context: that “there are rules of non-play and which, as we get older, become more complex”.

Given the constraints of inevitable corporate politics, and the difficulty that a person with Asperger will have, in coming to terms with accepting illogical or unfair actions on behalf of others, or as a result, of commercial factors, this is for me, perhaps, the issue that a manager with AS has to work hardest towards resolving.

The book then moves on to learning. Early learning, it is suggested, is acquired by rote. Later however, learning becomes advanced and requires assimilation of complex concepts and more difficult assignments that require working on a number of tasks simultaneously.

This is obviously hugely applicable to business. However, it also encompasses some of the things that someone with AS does not automatically do well. As is outlined, when asked to learn under pressure – which in a work context is often the case – there is the possibility that a person with AS can be overwhelmed, particularly when they are under stress. This is especially likely to occur when engaging in complex social behaviours.

The text then looks at learning styles, another subject that I have personally researched greatly in the recent past to try and improve my management performance.

Until recently I was unaware that I was a “visual learner”. Learning that I was, however, has been hugely beneficial. I now understand that spatially laying out information to analyse concepts and issues for example, can be highly advantageous.

However, the author adds another facet that is also applicable: that when faced with a new and different situation, a person with AS tends to remain “stuck” and continues to approach problems in the same way.

It is emphasised that employers today expect creativity and flexibility when dealing with – unique – problems. In today’s rapidly changing workplace however, everyone must learn to do so given that job security no longer exists. Importantly though, the author also emphasises that workers with AS have other attributes: reliability, dedication and an innate willingness to succeed, all factors which offer employers other advantages.

Measures to improve social skills are then suggested. How context impacts is emphasised and how social rules do not operate in a vacuum. As learning social skills in the abstract is almost impossible, acquiring the basics therefore becomes more relevant.

From my own AS perspective, I found the comment that “social rules tend to be invisible until broken” and that learning them is a lifelong process, insightful and still useful. I am not sure that I personally have satisfied this requirement, but I have increasingly come to understand that it is important and needs my ongoing, constant attention.

Related issues are also investigated. How in a working context the impact on non-verbal language is pertinent (60-90% of communication) and how at the lower end of the social scale more formal, explicit rules exist.

I can appreciate the latter point greatly. The higher one goes up the corporate ladder, the more unwritten and subtle rules come into play and the greater the need there is, therefore, for a manager with AS to understand and accommodate them.

Useful examples as benchmarks are provided. For a manager, how using soft phrases of commendation or criticism mean that the more subtle meanings inherent within them result in them possibly being overlooked for instance. Bringing subtle points such as this to the readers attention so that they can address them, is a key strength of the book.

Active listening is also advocated. Helpfully pointing out that, at the same time, learning to ascertain the meaning behind another person’s words is a skill that is hard for everyone, not just someone with AS, to acquire. The upside of doing so though is likely to be significant.

Insightfully, how important ones’ relationship with the other person and how it impacts in wider ways is also explored. Given that many of the inter-personal difficulties faced by someone with AS are with personalities that they find difficult to accept or relate to, is one point that I will be thinking even more closely about having read the book again.

In conclusion however, the author helpfully – again – emphasises that learning social skills can be done and how, once they have been achieved, they cannot be taken back. It is also emphasised how no-one needs to know how one has achieved it!

Under the learning heading, sensory difficulties are also investigated. How hearing something, understanding it and locating an appropriate response is difficult normally, especially where there is excessive “noise” is explained.

How a person with AS can address this is then investigated and how successful integration of sensory information is essential for learning. Sensory Integration Training is advocated as one way of acquiring this skill.

Perhaps most useful of all – especially in a work context – is the importance of understanding how ones learns; or perhaps more pertinently, how people with Asperger “don’t”!

Everyone learns differently. Learning effectively requires integrating all the senses. However, having AS involves additional issues, one of which is hyper (high) or hypo (low) sensitivity.

I can resonate with this easily in relation to the workplace. I have experienced sensory overload on a number of occasions, something which occasionally has caused me to overreact. Alternatively, at times, I have been insensitive to other issues such as the – unjust – criticism of others and have not confronted it sufficiently when there has been a need to do so.

Usefully, Meyer then outlines how learning impacts on a number of issues that are highly relevant to having Asperger – the way problems are solved, time management and inter-personal communication – and lists 8 different ways of learning.

I have to say that not all these resonate or apply to me. He does, however, allude to Visual Intelligence which is how I personally learn, and refers to other methods such as “naturalist intelligence” and which do alternatively concentrate the mind.

Managing means understanding how we learn. Someone with AS requires a different type of training, particularly individualised training, ideally from specialist personnel, and the author strongly advocates utilising this. The importance of trying to exploit areas of personal interest for career purposes is emphasised.

The book then discusses briefly work conditions and Asperger directly, and how the former can trigger troublesome behaviours. For example, when faced with difficulties challenge, but only confront people when necessary – don’t look for confrontation. I will certainly endorse that.

The book concludes before the Workbook with the Wish List – identifying what the reader wants going forward. I liked the reference to not “worrying about the future” enormously, because I appreciate that I am especially prone to doing so. Instead, one needs to plan ahead – bring the lessons and accomplishments from the past in our employment history to bear beneficially in the future.

To achieve this, the author advocates Person Centred Planning – how what we want drives us and so provides meaning. More than anything else, this is what the author urges everyone with to do, hard as though he acknowledges, and understands, this is sometimes to do.

Finally, Meyer then returns to an issue that one can clearly see he feels strongly and passionate about! “Professionals may tell us about what we can’t accomplish and talk about barriers” but we don’t have to accept this. I think that this is the central of the book and one which ought really ought to be taken on board.

I enjoyed The Employment Handbook immensely. In fact, reading it again after a while in order to write this review made me appreciate it even more.

I would like to have seen more references to actual real-life examples, and I found the messages at times slightly simplistic. However the book, and its overall message, remains hugely relevant from a management perspective.

Above all, Roger Meyer’s insatiable and imperturbable enthusiasm and belief that people with Asperger can succeed, is one that every person and manager with AS really should accept.

Moreover, he deserves enormous support and credit for encouraging and espousing it.

Managing with Asperger Syndrome