Employment for Individual’s with Asperger Syndrome & Non-Learning Disability
Yvona Fast’s book provides a marvellous insight into some of the practical issues surrounding employment issues for people with AS.
Comparing people with NLD (Non Learning Disability) and Asperger Syndrome (AS), it outlines the differences and similarities and how the different factors inherent in both conditions impact in a workplace setting.
The topics covered in the book are typical: socialisation, career choice, anxiety etc. However, the, book is filled with individual case studies written by people in the field in various occupations, and the lessons that they have learned along the way, and so provides a terrific mix of insight, practical advice and experience.
The author starts by pointing out that 90% of agencies and vocational workers do not know how to help someone with AS. It’s an important message. She also makes the salient point that the lack of available information about Asperger can be more of a problem than the condition itself.
As a result, the text comes at familiar issues and problems from a very different angle and, so, provides invaluable insight into ameliorative strategies.
The book is divided into three main sections:
• Part I conducts interviews with NLD & AS adults in different (work) roles;
• Part II looks at career planning and strategies to find and keep a job and;
• Part III investigates maintaining a career.
The NLD perspective is investigated first. NLD’s have difficulty with visual learning and making inferences; non-verbal information takes longer to process. The key difference between a person with NLD and AS however, is that the former have more normal emotions, albeit difficulty expressing them and recognising them in others, and so can appreciate emotion in general more easily.
Throughout the book a number of different occupations are assessed via case studies all of which give invaluable and different insight into their suitability for a person with AS: lawyer, researcher, salesperson, teacher and translator and how specific issues impact.
The lawyer disliked the corporate world and the sole objective of making money per se. and so got a job in a Business School as a Co-ordinator which enabled him to then got promoted further. In other words, get in via the back door (and so avoid the difficult and stressful interview process), learn at an acceptable pace to acquire basic skills and understanding and then move up.
It is this insight that is the source of the book’s strength. It provides many practical career tips via specific, tangible and applicable examples then can be transferred to other indivudal cases.
As much of the content in the book covers familiar issues and discusses them in a way that has been done often elsewhere, this review will focus on these specific examples and comment on their usefulness and practicality.
The importance of specific requirements in the workplace for someone with AS interject the case studies. Seeking accommodations is one, of practice and training and of proceeding slowly in order to succeed another. Intensive preparation and repetition are identified as the key to success in a number of cases.
A common theme among NLD people is of apparent intelligence, effort yet slowness of learning. Two instances are then provided as to how a third-party observer realised something amiss and then provided ameliorative support in the form of clear, step-by-step instructions.
Personally I can resonate highly with the importance of this. As someone who discovered my (AS) condition by chance, simply understanding “what” was happening to me was the basis for significant self intervention and improvement. Later on in the book, the value of constantly seeking feedback from others and how this can greatly assist a career is well highlighted.
Another interesting insight that comes out of some of the case studies is how certain occupations which have typically been viewed as inappropriate for an NLD/AS’er, can, under the right circumstances, actually be ones where real success can be attained.
A Sales Representative is one example. The ability to work independently and not having to greatly use the executive function to address issues such as establishing goals, regulate emotional output made the role highly suitable for one person.
Lots of new information did not have to be acquired and, though there were always new situations and challenges, they were similar in nature and pattern. The NLD trait of inner determination was also an important asset, along with the fact that selling something related to personal interest can make a person with AS highly convincing.
Selling is something that I, personally, would not have given high consideration to as a career option.
One teacher found that teaching young children was inappropriate due to their tendency to take advantage, yet lecturing pre-University students was ideal as she could be more personally assertive with them. An important lesson that this experience highlighted is the need to change track if something is not working satisfactorily.
There are some stories that contain pretty blunt and harsh messages, but, as a result, really achieve impact. A college lecturer with a strong track record was hounded out of one job by her superior simply because she didn’t play/fit into the political game: “I couldn’t comprehend that a manager would deliberately derail and sabotage work to create a hostile environment for an employee”.
Another particularly pertinent example was that of a Music Professor who proactively re-designed a new course, but failed to forewarn a very powerful faculty colleague who was not pre-consulted with change. That person then instigated a search for a new academic which resulted in the loss of his job.
As well as meaning that the person lost his occupation, it also led to internal depression at the inability to prevent its [job loss] occurrence. The person followed all the correct procedures and adhered to all formal grievance rules. When the only option was take up legal recourse, the person felt unable due to his dislike of conflict and the requirement to script out arguments beforehand to argue his case. There was also fear of the emotion that would be involved.
As someone who has experienced an exact same scenario – one which caused great bitterness in me – I can understand this story perfectly. However, hard as though the lesson may be, it highlights once again the value in learning preventative measures beforehand to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence and how the hardest lessons can be turned into the most valuable.
Central to overcoming these problems is relationship building with colleagues, something which the book explores nicely. One store manager effectively managed people by delegating. However, he was only comfortable with people who he felt were loyal to him and in harmony with his personal (behavioural) philosophy about the way things should be done.
Although successful as a manager, he wasn’t happy working under the leadership of others or those whose methods and approaches differed markedly from his own. A key observation that I could resonate with was: “I can’t do close supervision”.
According to the manager in question, it took him time and a great deal of thought before I could understand (the different) people to the level required to operate effectively with diverse personalities on an ongoing basis. However, learn he did, and once he had done so it contributed enormously to his subsequent career success.
The same example then looks at the internal feeling of being not liked that is often – as is with me – the case for people with AS. Customer complaints against the store manager felt like a personal attack against his opinions or beliefs.
By adopting a “if you don’t worry about yourself, you won’t worry about what others are perceiving” approach to this issue however, the feeling was mitigated and was reduced to manageable proportions internally.
This example is a key message that emanates throughout the book. You can succeed if you face key issues, and learn from, past mistakes. They can be the start point for future success. It is also a way of raising the self-concept and a feeling of being able and in control. “Though my life goes and up and down always, I have learnt to cope with constant anxiety”.
Another key lesson that the manager was able to exercise was empathy and understanding others. When dealing with customers he brings something personal into a conversation such as individual interests or family welfare to show concern for them as people.
Another important dimension relating to internal well being, which is highly relevant to the workplace, is the need for acceptance and desire to please.
In the case of one medical practitioner this led to his downfall who started to take on things outside his job description and for which he was not qualified which led to poor work performance and the alienation of work colleagues.
The advice is only undertake what you are capable of and don’t over extend yourself, particularly as learning may be slower for a person with AS. Focus, therefore, only on the things that really matter.
A contributory factor in this scenario is a low boredom threshold. As concentration and interest spans for one graduate trainee were low, he took on too many tasks and constantly switched between them. The end result was unfinished work and poor productivity – a not uncommon result for someone with AS. Less not more is the clear lesson for the workplace here!
Another case study which I liked looked at issues which, though not directly related to work, are thought to have the potential to significantly enhance performance.
Yoga taught one worker how to take control of his body and focus on just one task at a time by helping to block out intruding stimuli. Exercise helped burn off anxiety. Reference is also made to nutrition. Though I have not undertaken all these facets personally, I do exercise which has proved greatly beneficial and I will be investigating the other above mentioned areas shortly.
The subject of honesty and integrity – and its potential to impact detrimentally – is then explored. The key to success for one computer engineer was not trying to hide this. By always telling the truth he continued to be “honest to a fault” in true AS fashion and gained respect for doing so which enhanced his reputation.
However, the text outlines the importance of context. The engineer believed he could only get away with being totally honest by being self employed because, though others view him as blunt and sometimes arrogant, he could focus and get the job done by not being distracted by other sensitivities and political considerations.
To reduce the perception of being aggressive and arrogant he studied books on people one truly despises! In other words, he took responsibility to address his own shortcomings.
The book then moves onto areas relating to job searching and related practicalities.
There is some particularly useful advice on networking and the need to focus on building mutual relationships, rather than, simply obtaining information or getting job leads: consider what you can give and offer to other people.
Also, instead of looking for the perfect job, look for the perfect company; one whose mission and culture is right as this is more likely to enable a worker to perform effectively.
Traditional careers advice and counselling, it is argued, may not work for someone with AS because it does not contain the specific insight into the condition required for effective career decision-making.
A good career coach for someone with AS will provide relevant and concrete suggestions by looking beyond specific job duties to identify elements such as multi-tasking, clarification of tasks etc and relevant accommodations, so as to arrive at a job description and requirements that are specific and highly personalised.
However, as the author points out: the final career decision must be down to the (AS) individual and, ultimately, personal responsibility must be accepted to fit in. This involves compromise which, if too great, means the job should be rejected.
Specific career issues are explored.
• Transitioning from School to Work.
Unlike college, which provides a structure, a work environment does not. A company pays an individual who is not in control and who has, therefore, to adapt to the organisations requirements. Plan ahead and identify requirements and clarify what is needed from you. Try to put in place support structures like routines, goals and objectives. Gradual transition is best, as change is progressive
• Maintaining a Career.
Being candid about any personal limitations with an employer will help to secure accommodations. Telling your boss that things may take a little longer, asking people to tell you things in a clear, forthright way, and smiling and being friendly to people will be beneficial.
It is advocated that no-one is told about your condition. Instead, informing a company and manager about specific difficulties to enable accommodations to be achieved whilst avoiding the stigma and potential pressures that come from full disclosure, is a safer course. I like this advice; I think is sage and pertinent. Doing this will de-emphasise your disability whilst not exposing oneself to the negatives within it.
The First 100 Days
It is suggested that the one makes any new job the only priority in the early stages. Again, I think that this is correct.
The author rightly asserts that it is a big life change and also advocates getting plenty of rest, exercise and nutrition and downtime at the end of each day to support the transition.
Other important points include that, though you are not expected to know everything when you start, you are expected to learn. The quicker you acclimatise the better you will be received. Your contribution and continued improvement need to be evident.
The key objective when starting is to fit in. A person needs to learn the ropes, get to know colleagues, become familiar with things and the corporate culture. Identify key, important people and memorise them.
Preparation beforehand – both tangible and mental – is the key. Invest in your image and have a positive attitude by accepting change. Establish mutual respect and understanding and avoid inappropriate behaviour that can derail a career by asking for feedback.
The dangers of remaining distant are outlined. If a person remains quiet, people will turn away from them. Among other important points alluded to include: recognise authority and show respect; the boss will always have the final say; show respect for people who have been there longer and demonstrate friendliness in general.
I personally found the Work Issues section perhaps the most insightful and beneficial of all. It investigates issues that people with AS find perhaps hardest of all to address in relation to a work context.
The point is made that AS’ers have no hidden agendas, but they don’t see this in others. They are very accepting of other people and so may be gullible and not well equipped to deal with unwritten rules. Unassertiveness may make them vulnerable to exploitation.
Communicating in conventional ways may be hard and, because the disability is hidden, other people may struggle to understand why someone bright is finding things difficult. Added together many minor impediments may add up to a major impairment.
Some useful tips are then suggested to help overcome issues like these. Success corporately according to the book depends’ greatly on sociability. The higher one goes up the ladder managerially, the more important it becomes and social rules become more subtle. NT’s can cope with this naturally of course; people with AS find it hard.
For example, whereas NTs often withhold their feelings and opinions, and prefer instead meaningless small talk a person with AS will find this difficult, impolite and, possibly, manipulative. If someone with AS has something to say, they will tend to say it without considering the impact on the feelings of others.
These extremes of behaviour may antagonise others and limit the ability to work with them. The whole web of interaction needs to be considered to ensure that vital information is not missed. Learning all of this takes time of course and requires concerted, ongoing effort.
Related to this are more innately, personal factors. Emotional mismanagement may lead to mood swings and explosions of thought and, so, misunderstandings. Inter-personal boundaries may not be established and inappropriate behaviour towards a person tolerated when it should be confronted.
Again the author suggests some useful techniques for surviving in the social world: smile, visualize places and scenarios before you enter them in order to anticipate difficulties, accept that some people simply won’t like you – but remain pleasant to them whilst always asserting your rights.
There is useful comment on the perennial AS problem of getting the general picture but missing important information, and so how there is a need to let people know of the need for clear instructions in written form. Ask people about how they feel.
Having gone over common ground in areas such as multi-tasking, anxiety etc which this review does not really need to comment on, the focus then turns to the employer and what to seek from them.
Being patient; providing written instructions; stating things literally; being honest and sincere with feedback; accepting that ask many questions to assist in doing a good job, are all invaluable suggestions.
The bullying section covers much familiar ground also, but provides an excellent checklist of do’s and don’ts! Demand specific examples of unacceptable work; don’t attribute complaints automatically to you personally or your condition, along with the need to take reasonable steps initially to compromise for example.
The book finishes by outlining Individual Career Plans and good and bad career choices.
I enjoyed this book. Along with How to Find Work That World for People with Asperger Syndrome by Gail Hawkins, Employment for Individuals with Asperger Sydrome and Non-Learning Disability is arguably the text that has provided the most relevant insight for me in relation to the workplace.
Though it goes over much familiar ground in great detail, it is the snippets of specific pertinent advice and associated techniques and suggestions that make it invaluable.
For someone with AS it could well be a reference guide.