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Training Connection is an

educational insert designed
for supervisors in the job
placement field to train their
employees in the area of
job development.

Workplace Differences & Values for

Individuals with Autism
By James Emmett prevalent to them. I work with an individual in a

bank setting that organized rooms he would need
ndividuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder to go into based on the light bulbs that were in
(ASD) may have a variety of workplace issues that room. He loved light bulbs, so it was salient
that require special consideration by job for him to organize his world in that manner.
developers and other employment specialists. Last v The third difference, as noted, is visualization.
month’s cover article in JTPR examined workplace Most individuals with ASD prefer information and
problems and supports for persons with ASD. This instructions that are presented visually. Workplaces
article will address the differences and values that that use a lot of email and have consistent minutes
job developers and other supported employment from meetings can be very useful for workers with
professionals need to take into account when autism – both in terms of follow-up, and as a way of
serving these individuals. feeling more included in the workplace.
v The fourth difference is that individuals
Workplace Differences with ASD tend to process the world in a narrower
Temple Grandin, a famous animal scientist and manner than those of the mainstream neurotypi-
autism self-advocate, believes that the coaches cal sub-culture. Put another way, many individuals
and mentors that support workers with autism with autism have “tunnel focus,” in which they
the best, are those who recognize that persons might not understand the “big picture.” For exam-
with autism are from a different sub-culture. This ple, teens with autism in high school Shakespeare
means there are some similar mainstream values, classes may struggle to find the “larger meaning” of
but there are also some different areas that the play. They focus more on a specific component
individuals with autism tend to value. of the story or a certain component of any situation.
Readers may have heard of the term, “neurotypi- In the work setting, supervisors need to be aware of
cal.” There are a number of potential differences this tendency and emphasize concrete aspects of the
between the autism sub-culture and the mainstream, job, as opposed to “big picture” concepts.
neurotypical sub-culture: v The fifth difference is in terms of shifting
attention. Many individuals with ASD have certain
v The first one is receptive language. Most sensory sensitivities, which often lead to a situation
individuals with ASD have a lot of difficulty with where a person might be working on a specific job
information presented to them verbally. They are – but he or she will suddenly shift attention due to
typically visual learners. The problem is, in the a particular background noise or smell.
workplace, instructions are typically verbal, and a v The sixth difference is that many persons
lot of verbal processing can be difficult for many with autism quickly become prompt dependent.
individuals with autism. Typically, this stems from individuals with ASD
v The second difference between the two sub- who look to build routines immediately as they
cultures is organization. Many persons with ASD enter an environment (often as a way of coping
organize their world differently than mainstream with everything going on around him/her) – and
neurotypicals. Some of our systems of organiza- routine building includes workplaces. In a verbally
tion, like room numbers, do not always make as based work setting, if there are verbal directions
much sense to persons with autism. They tend to on the first day of work, the person with ASD will
organize their world based on what is salient or look for the same verbal instructions on the second

May 2011 JTPR Training Connection 1

day, third day, etc. However, verbal prompts are and to the reinforcers that are available in that
difficult to fade. Individuals with ASD may need specific work area.
verbal prompts through every step if we don't look In my work, we see individuals returning three,
at promptly fading these procedures. four, five, and six months later who’ve had a pattern
v The seventh difference is in terms of of job hopping. Many persons with ASD go to work
generalization. Many persons with autism who are because they have a great job coach or someone
environmentally sensitive will learn a specific task else who pushes them, and so they want to try the
in a workplace in one specific room or environment, job. They get into a routine and become so used to
and them go to another room or setting and are going to work that they don’t have the initiative or
not able to perform that same skill. For instance, a communication skills to come home and say, “This
company may provide training in one facility, and job stinks. This is not a good match for me.”
then after the training period, they ask individuals Typically, this manifests itself in terms of job
with ASD to go to a different workplace, and they performance. We see people either quitting or
typically can’t generalize the skills they’ve learned. losing their jobs due to motivation and value.
Generalization really needs to be planned. They just weren’t happy in that specific environ-
v The eighth difference is a long response ment. Therefore, looking at what a worker with
time. Verbal information or questions typically ASD values is critical to job satisfaction and
requires extra time for individuals with autism. retention. It is important to dig past the surface
Supervisors need to be aware of this. by asking questions and observing behavior.
v The ninth difference is stereotyped behavior. The majority of workers with ASD have either
Many persons with ASD will do finger flapping or lost their jobs, or haven’t been promoted because
some other stereotypical movement that is part of of social communication and social interaction on
their milieu, but these actions often appear strange the job. They didn’t know the right time to say or
to other employees in a work setting. do a certain thing. They acted inappropriately at a
meeting or they didn't “schmooze” the right boss.
Workplace Values As a result, social coaching is an added skill
According to the Minnesota Work Adjustment for employment specialists, and it takes training
Theory, having the skills that match the job require- to be able to assess not only the workplace social
ments is the first part of job success. The second requirements, but also the individual’s social
key component lies in matching a person’s values skills and barriers. Supports that match an indi-
to the job reinforcers. Job placement counselors vidual to a workplace are fine, but it’s difficult to
and vocational rehabilitation specialists have often build sustainable social supports. I think this is
missed the second part of this equation. We do why we see workers with autism as job jumpers.
a good job of accessing skills and matching this They can do the job, but the social interaction
person to the job requirements, but we often miss piece eventually gets them in trouble, and they
what the worker values. either lose their job or quit.
For example, one of the individuals with The reality is that there are a lot of bad and
autism in our project was very motivated by the unfair things that occur in workplaces, and there
fact that he got to wear a uniform to his job site. are often no second chances. As a result, it is up to
This was a concrete representation of fitting in, supported employment professionals to maximize
of being part of a team, and of feeling important. the chances of success by teaching individuals with
Things that motivate the neurotypical population ASD about inappropriateness and consequences. 
don’t necessarily motivate an individual with
ASD. It is crucial to examine what made this James Emmett is the co-owner and behavioral consultant
with Integrated Behavioral Systems, Inc. (www.integrated-
person happy in the past. What are some typical (Editor’s note: This article was
themes that bring out a person’s values? teased in April as appearing as this month’s Training Tool-
Understanding what these values are enables Kit. That was later changed to Training Connection due to
us to better match an individual to a work site, this insert being a better fit.)

2 JTPR Training Connection May 2011