You are on page 1of 2

WORKPLACE

This insert is designed

Connection
to share with employers
to educate them about
employment for workers
with disabilities.

Asperger’s Syndrome at Work


What Employers Need to Know – Part II
By Barbara Bissonnette

A
sperger’s Syndrome is estimated to affect 1 The Amendments Act shifts the focus from whether
in every 250 people in the U.S. As a result, an employee is disabled to whether the employer
chances are that employers are likely to meets its obligation to reasonably accommodate a dis-
come into contact with workers with this disorder. abled individual. And under the ADA, employers are
For instance, an owner or high-level manager may protected from having to make accommodations that
receive a call from a supervisor about an employee would pose an undue hardship on the organization.
who is smart but doesn’t “fit in.” The employee in For information on the ADAAA regulation and to
question usually has no idea that something is wrong. learn more about the changes made to the defini-
Interventions that do not match the unique way that tion of “disability,” visit www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/
these individuals process information will not work. qanda_adaaa_nprm.html.
In many cases, there are low-cost and even free ac-
commodations that will enable an employee to meet New Tool Helps Businesses
performance requirements. A job coach or other sup- When it comes to having a workplace that welcomes
ported employment professional can help. ALL qualified individuals, most business owners want
Last month’s article defined Asperger’s Syndrome to do the right thing. But understanding responsibili-
(AS), and characteristics of workers with AS were also ties under nondiscrimination laws and regulations can
listed. The conclusion of this two-part article will de- be daunting, especially for small businesses without
scribe how AS relates to the Americans with Disabilities dedicated human resource or legal functions.
Act, and the importance of workplace accommodations. Fortunately, a new tool makes understanding
disability nondiscrimination laws, including the
Asperger’s Syndrome and the ADA ADA and ADAAA, a lot easier. The online Disabil-
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says ity Nondiscrimination Law Advisor helps employ-
that employers must provide equal opportunities to ers of all sizes quickly determine which disability
qualified individuals with disabilities. A qualified
individual is someone who meets the employer’s Resources
requirements for education, skills, experience, and  Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers free
job performance. The ADA does not contain a list of information for individuals and employers on work-
specific disabilities. Instead, “disability” is defined as a place accommodations and disability employment
physical or mental impairment “that substantially lim- issues: www.askjan.org.
its one or more major life activities” which can include
“walking, seeing, speaking, breathing, learning, per-  Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Sup-
forming manual tasks, caring for oneself and working port (OASIS) provides resources for individuals and
medical professionals: www.aspergersyndrome.org.
[etc.].” 1 Depending on the nature of the impairments,
a person with Asperger’s Syndrome may – or may not
 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Com-
– be considered disabled under the ADA.
mission (EEOC) investigates charges of discrim-
The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act ination against employers: www.eeoc.gov.
of 2008 (ADAAA) lowered the threshold of “substan-
tial limits,” and stated that mitigating measures (e.g.  Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center lists
medications to control symptoms) can no longer clinics, support groups and professionals nationwide
be used to determine if a person has a substantially (including adult resources): http://medicine.yale.edu/
limiting impairment. This increases the number of childstudy/autism/resource/index.aspx.
people who qualify as disabled.

May 2011 JTPR Workplace Connection 1


Connection
WORKPLACE
nondiscrimination laws apply to their business and The use of check lists, electronic reminders, and
their responsibilities under them. a personalized “rule book” of processes, procedures
To do this, the Advisor asks a few relevant ques- and where to go for help can address problems with
tions, such as nature of the business, size of staff, and short-term memory. A number of organizational
whether the business receives federal funds. Based problems can be solved with written instructions,
on responses provided, it then generates a custom- color-coded filing systems, and a quiet work station.
ized list of federal disability nondiscrimination laws Regarding the all-important area of social skills, be
that likely apply, along with easy-to-understand mindful that usually what looks like a behavior or atti-
information about their requirements. tude problem is a communication problem. People with
To check out the Advisor, visit www.dol.gov/ Asperger's often don't know that they have offended
elaws/odep.htm. or angered a colleague. They are confused by general
statements like, “You’re rude,” “You are not a team
When an Employee Discloses player,” or, “How could you say that?!” Don’t take their
There are a number of things that employers can blunt remarks or social gaffes personally. Rather:
do to help individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome to
be productive and successful at their jobs. Obvi- v Use clarifying questions to understand the
ously, the diagnosis of Asperger’s must be made by a individual’s intentions.
qualified medical professional (usually a neuropsy- v Be specific, direct and matter-of-fact in pointing
chologist) and it would be inappropriate, unethical, out inappropriate or unacceptable behavior: “When
and illegal (under the ADA) to imply or ask some- you tell people to ‘be quiet,’ it’s considered rude. Instead,
one if they have a medical condition. ask them if they would ‘lower their voices.’”
If you have an employee who is struggling with v Assign a “work buddy” or mentor to explain
communication, organizational skills or other social norms, encourage social interaction, and answer
aspects of their job, it is perfectly acceptable to dis- questions. People with AS may hesitate to ask ques-
cuss behaviors that need to change. If an employee tions out of fear they will appear “stupid” (likely a by-
discusses Asperger’s Syndrome, you can talk about product of being bullied or ostracized in school).
how, specifically, it impacts their performance and v Educate HR, managers, and employees about
determines reasonable accommodations. Asperger’s Syndrome. The prevalence rate of 1
These discussions need not be adversarial. On in every 250 people makes it likely that you have
the contrary, I have had a number of cases where interviewed, hired, managed, worked with or even
relatively simple adjustments have resulted in the fired someone with AS. Increased understanding is
retention of skilled and loyal workers. For example: directly proportional to increased employment suc-
cess. Retaining even one employee at risk of derail-
v To accommodate a receptionist with Asperger’s, ing more than covers the investment in training.
her employer agreed to turn off the lobby television dur-
ing her shift, eliminating a distraction that led to errors. Summary
v A sales manager’s auditory processing problems Understanding Asperger’s Syndrome enables
made it impossible to follow the rapid conversations in an employer to bridge the gap between individuals
meetings. She was given an agenda in advance; along with Asperger’s and others in the workplace. “One
with the questions she would be expected to answer. reason I was successful as a Peace Corps volunteer,”
explains a 47-year-old IT specialist with AS, “is
Be patient with training and break instruction into because they train everyone on how to act in the
small segments. If the individual is asking an excessive foreign culture. If I could have lessons on how to act
number of questions, it could indicate anxiety or con- in the U.S., it wouldn’t be so bad for me here.” 
fusion about assignments. Provide specific, quantifi-
able expectations whenever possible. For instance, “the Barbara Bissonnette is the Principal of Forward Motion Coaching. She
specializes in career development coaching and workplace advocacy
draft is due in 3 days and should have at least 6 ideas for for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome, and consults with professionals
improving efficiency.” Regular feedback about perfor- and employers. She is the author of the Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace
mance is beneficial to any employee – but particularly Survival Guide, available at www.forwardmotion.info. 1 Job Accommo-
dation Network, www.askjan.org. For a list of other references used in
to an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome. this article, contact Barbara at barbara@forwardmotion.info.

2 JTPR Workplace Connection May 2011