You are on the spectrum and searching for jobs. You’ve prepared your resume, practiced interview skills, written cover letters, applied for jobs. You also might have considered whether or not to disclose your diagnosis. If you were diagnosed as a child, then, growing up everyone around you already knew you were on the spectrum; telling new people can be difficult. Does your employer need to know?
You’ve worked at a job for a while and have had some trouble navigating workplace politics. Recently you’ve read about Autism Spectrum Disorders and decided to pursue a diagnosis. You were then diagnosed with an ASD. What next? Do you share the diagnosis with your employer and colleagues?
You’re a parent of a young adult with an ASD and you’ve been assisting your daughter/son prepare for a job. You know that you cannot attend a job interview with your young adult child, but you want to make sure that she/he is able to convey her/his challenges to her/his new employers. How do you help?
Now, consider a subject you know nothing about. For example, I know nothing about surfing. If a surfer came up to me and began describing the names of particular surf moves, I would not understand what the surfer was talking about. This would make it considerably difficult to have a conversation or to communicate without a lesson in surfing. Next, imagine you have just told your boss or potential employer you have an ASD, a subject with which they are not familiar. Although Aspergers, Autism, PDD, Spectrum, ASD, Aspies, and Spectrumites are familiar jargon to most in the Autism Spectrum Community, these terms hold no concrete meaning to those outside that are not educated on the subject. They are now no closer to knowing or understanding you or what ASD is and how it affects your ability to work effectively and efficiently.
The previous illustrations describe a lack of Common Ground. Common Ground means that the individuals in the discussion share the similar knowledge and experiences necessary for mutual understanding (Clark & Van Der Wege, 2002). If the people in the conversation do not share similar background understanding, as is the case with my awareness of surfing lingo, clear communication is not possible. So, instead of disclosing an ASD diagnosis with an employer or potential employer, who may or may not be familiar with the topic, consider finding the Common Ground.
In the workplace, the goal for both employers and employees is a successful, smooth operating business. In order to achieve this, employers need their employees to be as efficient as possible. As an individual with ASD, some challenges may make it more difficult to be the most productive on the job. This can be a stressful and anxiety producing situation. How does someone convey those challenges without having to disclose a diagnosis, which, as previously described, may not necessarily solve the issue?
In order for someone to convey her/his challenges on the job to employers, she/he needs to understand her/his self well enough to know what to ask for. She/he needs to be able to self-advocate. For instance, many individuals have overhead lighting and visual stimulus issues which makes it more difficult to process information. If there is a concern on the job about lighting, the employee could ask her/his employer for a workspace lamp or to work near a window for natural light. The employee self-advocated for her/his needs, which allowed her/him to be more productive without disclosing a diagnosis. Another example, involves verbal instructions. For many ASD individuals, auditory processing can be difficult. An employee with this challenge can self-advocate by requesting that they be given written instructions or guidelines about their job position, tasks, duties, and projects. Although an employer may not have ASD or understand what it is, an employer does understand what it means to need assistance and ask for help. This dialogue and collaboration creates the Common Ground, without the need for further explanation of the reasons for the request.
Under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), all people who are diagnosed with ASD and who qualify are provided a Free and Appropriate Public Education. This protection changes after someone becomes an adult. Under the ADA (American’s With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Rev. 2008), all people diagnosed with ASD cannot be discriminated against during the interview process or if they disclose after becoming an employee. Unfortunately, we have members of GRASP who have experienced discrimination because of their ASD diagnosis in both of these situations. This is one of the reasons we are advocating for people to consider utilizing self-advocacy before disclosing. By finding Common Ground and self-advocating for workplace needs, the employee (or future employee) is more likely to keep her/his job and be the best employee possible.
By finding the Common Ground of understanding and communication with an employer and self-advocating for workplace needs, the employee can become a better worker and assist the employer in creating a successful, productive business without the need for disclosure.
For individuals on the Autism Spectrum seeking employment or who are currently employed, we suggest reading the following books: Temple Grandin & Kate Duffy’s Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome, Roger Meyer’s Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook, Valerie Paradiz’s The Integrated Self-Advocacy ISA Curriculum: A Program for Emerging Self-Advocates with Autism Spectrum and Other Conditions, Rudy Simone’s Asperger’s in the Workplace, and Zosia Zaks’s Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults. If these books help, but someone is having difficulties implementing the authors’ suggested strategies, we recommend consulting a job or life coach for assistance and direction.
This article serves only as a suggestion based on our experience working with individuals on the spectrum. GRASP is not responsible for loss or termination of employment due to an employee or a potential employee’s decision to disclose or not disclose their disability to an employer.
Kate Palmer, MA, CCP, is Executive Director and Lindsey Pfundstein, BA, QMHP, is Programs Director of GRASP. GRASP is a 503c non-profit organization dedicated to improving and enriching the lives of adults and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum along with their families. For more information please visit our website, at www.grasp.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clark, H. H, & Van Der Wege, M. M., (2002). Psycholinguistics. In D. Medin (Ed.), Stevens’ handbook of experimental psychology. (3rd Ed., Vol. 2, pp. 209-259). New York: Wiley.
Grandin, T., & Duffy, K. (2003). Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Aspergers Publishing Company.
“IDEA – Building The Legacy of IDEA 2004.” IDEA – Building The Legacy of IDEA 2004. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014
Meyer, R. N. (2001). Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Paradiz, V. (2009). The Integrated Self-Advocacy ISA Curriculum: A Program for Emerging Self-Advocates with Autism Spectrum and Other Conditions. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Aspergers Publishing Company.
“Search ADA.gov.” ADA.gov Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
Simone, R. (2010). Aspergers On the Job: Must-have Advice for People With Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and Their Employers, Educators, and Advocates. Arlington, Texas: Future Horizons.
Zaks, Z. (2006). Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults. Shawnee Mission, Kansas: Autism Aspergers Publishing Company.