Full Disclosure and Accommodations in the Workplace with Aspergers

Q: Should I tell my potential employer that I have Aspergers?

Oftentimes individuals that I am working with choose not to disclose their disability/ies because they feel that it will affect how others perceive them at work. While this is a legitimate concern, it is one that can be minimized with practice and self-confidence.

employment, workplace, aspergers, disclosure

I tell individuals who are thinking about disclosing their disability to really focus on their capabilities or strengths, that which they can offer an employer that stands out above what they feel they lack. It is usually in the best interest to have some solutions in your mind for the accommodations that you will need while working.

Employment with ASD: Embracing Disability Hiring

CHICAGO — Seyfarth Shaw, one of the city’s largest law firms, occupies nine floors of a skyscraper at 131 S. Dearborn St. Shalonda Sanders is responsible for picking up and delivering packages on each of them, plus keeping certain areas clean. It is a job she cherishes.

“I love my co-workers, all of them,” Sanders, 35, said of the 15-member office services team of which she is a part. “Downstairs,” she said, referring to the mail center, “I consider us as one.”

Sanders, who suffered brain damage when she was struck by a car as a child, was hired at Seyfarth about a year ago with the help of Best Buddies Illinois, after many years of trying unsuccessfully to gain paid employment.

The local chapter of the national nonprofit, best known for fostering one-on-one friendships between people with disabilities and a network of volunteers, had recently launched a jobs program to place people with intellectual and developmental disabilities into competitive jobs.

Shalonda Sanders, 35, works in the mailroom delivering letters, documents and FedEx packages to law office employees at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Sanders, who was hit by a car at age 9 and left with brain trauma that slurs her speech and causes some tremors, was placed in the job through Best Buddies. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Shalonda Sanders, 35, works in the mailroom delivering letters, documents and FedEx packages to law office employees at Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Sanders, who was hit by a car at age 9 and left with brain trauma that slurs her speech and causes some tremors, was placed in the job through Best Buddies. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The program, one of many attempting to tackle the massive unemployment rate among those with intellectual disabilities, is part of a movement away from what are known as sheltered programs that keep workers with disabilities apart from the mainstream workforce and often pay less than minimum wage. Its challenge is to show companies that tapping into this underused talent pool isn’t just a good thing to do, but good for the bottom line.

Temple Grandin Explains: Choosing the Right Job for People with ASD

Jobs need to be chosen that make use of the strengths of people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Both high and low functioning people have very poor short-term working memory, but they often have a better long-term memory than most neurotypicals. I have great difficulty with tasks that put high demands on short-term working memory. I cannot handle multiple tasks at the same time.

employment, jobs

 

Table 1 is a list of BAD jobs that I would have great difficulty doing. Table 2 is a list of easy jobs for a visual thinker like me. I have difficulty doing abstract math such as algebra and most of the jobs on Table 2 do not require complex math. Many of the visual thinking jobs would also be good for people with dyslexia.

Communicating to an Interviewer About Your Diagnosis

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Q: How should one go about communicating to an interviewer a brief summary of the world of Asperger’s Syndrome?

This is a really great question. There is a saying that goes: if you’ve met one person with Aspergers . . . you’ve met one person with Aspergers. I believe this statement is also true of how we communicate Asperger’s syndrome in the workplace.

As I have referenced in previous posts, it is important to do an inventory assessment of what skills and abilities you can bring to the workplace. The reason this is done is so that you can tell an employer exactly what you have to offer them.

It is also best to tell the employer what you need to be successful, and oftentimes I have found that the employer appreciates when expectations are set. When I have gone to interviews with my young adults with Asperger’s, I usually (if they are comfortable with it) go to talk to the interviewer beforehand, and give a brief explanation of that person’s communication style and needs so that expectations are set for the interview.

Using Informational Interviewing in Your Job Search

Employment with Aspergers

Now that we have worked on our one minute commercial, a script for networking, and learned about cold calling, let’s go over informational interviewing.

Informational Interview

Informational interviewing is an important tool to use with all three practices we have discussed. Informational interviewing is the act of gathering information about the career field, and specific companies you may want to work for. These are usually informal interviews that take place inside a company that you have an interest in.

Using “Cold Calling” to Get Information on Possible Employment

Cold calling is: calling up a person or business and informing them that you are interested in employment. This can sound intimidating, but it can be very effective for opening the doors to the hidden job market we discussed previously.

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Cold calling allows you to possibly learn about a job that is not yet posted. For individuals with Aspergers/HFA it could seem very daunting to call a stranger on the phone and ask for a job. Some individuals never will be comfortable with this part of the job search, and that is okay. Other individuals love the initial autonomy of it.

For individuals with Aspergers/HFA here are some tips we utilize to help reduce fears when cold calling:

An Inventory Assessment for Your Personal Preferences in the Workplace

In a previous post we briefly discussed the importance of the inventory assessment in securing employment. This inventory also helps employment specialists identify an individual’s personal preferences.39551a62-167a-484b-8088-ab65b3de67e9

As you know, Aspergers manifests itself uniquely to each person, so employment specialists have to know which types of stimuli will be helpful, and which will be hurtful.

Is the individual sensitive to noise? Are they comfortable working outdoors? Can they tolerate working in a closed space for an eight-hour shift? What are their social tolerances? Essentially, we need to understand if an individual is hypo-sensitive or hypersensitive. Knowing the answers to these questions in advance help to ensure future success.

Deciding if a Job is Right For You: Work Assessment

If you were given the chance to work at a job you were interested in for a few hours to assess your skills and abilities, and to decide if you are comfortable and really enjoy it before starting the application process would you do it?

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This is called a work assessment, and it is imperative to future success. Vocational rehabilitation offices offer these kinds of important services for individuals with Asperger’s. A work assessment also work in tandem with the inventory assessments.

The Hidden Job Market

Aspergers Employment

Do you know the difference between the hidden job market versus the advertised job market?

People at Work

The majority of individuals are unaware that a hidden job market exists. The hidden job market includes jobs that are not formally announced on the Internet, the companies website or even by a “now hiring” sign. The hidden job market is often used by the employer to hire someone within their network or their associate’s networks. According to statistics, 80 percent of all jobs are never advertised(Uncovering the hidden job market by Martin Lieberman)

So how does this affect individuals with Asperger’s/HFA?

What Kind of Job Should you Choose Based on Your Learning Type?

As important as it is to understand your learning type, it is also important to know what different types of job you may do well at if you are unsure where to start looking. Keep in mind that everyone is different, and their experiences are not the same. This is not an inclusive list, and is written specifically for individuals with Aspergers/HFA.

Reading girl

It is also very important to know that just because you have an interest in a certain area does not mean there is an economy where you live to support it. I would also suggest doing research about the city you live in and the outlook for that type of job.

In November 1999 Temple Grandin wrote a short essay on choosing the right job. Here is a part of the essay:

“Jobs need to be chosen that make use of the strengths of people with Autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Both high and low functioning people have very poor short-term working memory, but they often have a better long-term memory than most normal people. I have great difficulty with tasks that put high demands on short-term working memory.”