You are on page 1of 41

Take an Autie to Work Day:

How Today's Autistic Workers Negotiate the World of Employment

A Word About You

Throughout this presentation, I will use the word you as a stand-in for the autistic person, although I know not everyone viewing this webinar will be on the spectrum.

The Basics
Most autistic people would like to earn a living. Most autistic people (who are not permanently and totally disabled for other reasons) could earn a living, or at least work part time, with the proper accommodations and supports. Most of us dont get them. Lets talk about why, and what we could do about it.

Most autistic people would like to earn a living.

But we cant just take any old job and made it work We like other people with disabilities need accommodations .

Dont do thisunless you really, really have to, and I really, really hope you dont.
I have spent most of my life underemployed I have tried desperately to hide my true self for fear of being found out, and doing work far below my skill and educational level. Eventually, they have found me out i.e. they figured out Im not neurotypical, even if they didnt understand exactly what was going on. Thats never been good, especially when I havent had the means to explain to people up front why Im the way I am.

It may be true that when you dont have much in the way of work experience, you will try your hand at jobs that dont necessarily sound like a perfect fit, in order to find out what will and wont work for you. This is not a bad thing unless it goes on forever.

The Right Job

is the right job for you as an individual. There is no such thing as the universally perfect autistic job, nor are there any types of jobs that absolutely no autistic person could ever do! For exampleworking retail might sound like a disastrous situation for an autistic person. But maybe not. Maybe its a situation where you have a certain deep body of knowledge (about bicycles or vintage guitars, for example) and can put that to work in a retail setting.

Where vs. What

Who you work for, and what the work environment is like, might be more important to you than what you do for a living. Some autistics do really well working at home. Im one of them. I have worked in medical transcription and text editing on and off for over 20 years (and my work disasters have mostly been when I havent been working at home). My present employers have never seen me, nor I them; I was hired remotely and work remotely.

But on the other hand

if you like to be stimulated with new things and people, having to spend 40 hours a week forever doing rote tasks will probably make you pretty miserable. Be honest with yourself about what your priorities are!

In any case
You may or may not want to disclose up front to a potential employer that you are on the spectrum. Some autistic people do not appear to have ASD and dont need much in the way of accommodations; they find that the accommodations they need are already built into the job. Thats absolutely fine. But dont avoid disclosing out of fear, either.

Which brings us to
Most autistic people (who are not permanently and totally disabled for other reasons) could earn a living, or at least work part time, given the proper accommodations and supports.

So what might those accommodations and supports be, and how do we get them?

Two Separate Issues

What are the accommodations and supports we need to successfully do the job we want? How do we get people to give them to us?

Many people get stuck on the second issue.

This is perfectly understandable. Right now we have an labor situation in the U.S. (and many other countries also) that is very hostile to workers. Its easy to get into the mindset of, Well, people just arent going to accommodate me, because most employers have a huge pool of nondisabled applicants to choose from, and since they dont have to tell me why Im not being hired, or not being promoted, or fired, they can just avoid me entirely and never have to say why. So Im just going to have to try to hide my disability and hope for the best.

Its perfectly understandable to think that. But its also wrong. And heres why:
Unless you are one of those autistics who can pass in most situations for NAS (non-autismspectrum), the subject of accommodations is going to come up. And you have just as much right to them as anyone else. Remember: The rest of the world already gets accommodations. Yours are just different!

What Accommodations Might Look Like (Depending On Who You Are)

A private work space where nobody will be constantly exposed to you stimming, scratching, or whatever other autistic behaviors you have Failing that, a private space where you can go and have some time to stim in private and have some peace and quiet and cool your jets Not having to answer phones or make phone calls (if you have a problem with phones, which could be a permanent aversion or something that comes and goes) Getting to try out a work situation in an internship, apprenticeship, or trial work day, to see how it will suit you and them

Understanding and open-minded coworkers and supervisors who dont take it personally if they see you being autistic (opting out of watercooler chitchat, having staring spells, rocking, pacing, twisting, etc.) as long as youre getting your work done and not actively preventing anyone else from getting theirs done Getting to learn new things, if you get bored doing the same things over and over again Getting to do the same things over and over again, if learning how to do new things freaks you out so much you cease to function

Getting as many things in writing as possible and getting access to closed captioning (if you have auditory processing issues) Being allowed to answer in writing whenever possible (if you have issues with speech) Getting diagrams and pictures and demonstrations whenever possible (if you have issues with receptive language)

Getting to listen to your music while working if that helps you, or having no music on at all in the room if its too much of a distraction possibly even wearing earplugs if the noise is really bothersome and you can perform your job while wearing them Having people be more obvious with you than they would be with NAS coworkers and employees about exactly what they want and need from you (instead of expecting you to figure it out by osmosis)

Supports differ from accommodations in that they are more about what happens before you look for work, and what happens when you leave work. You might need help with figuring out what kind of work youd like to pursue. You might need help with vocational rehabilitation, educational access, finding a stable living situation, being subsidized in some way while youre looking for work, or other things.

Early DXes vs. Late Dxes

In some ways, early DXes (people who were diagnosed in childhood or adolescence) have an advantage over late DXes (those of us who were diagnosed in adulthood; I did not get a diagnosis until age 44). If thats you, you can enter the workforce for the first time knowing exactly who you are and what kinds of supports you need in order to be successful. You wont waste nearly as many years wondering why it is that people keep having problems with you, no matter how hard you try to get along. Youre also more likely to be in the system in the first place, so you know exactly what resources are available to you. We late DXes have had to learn a lot of this the very, very hard way!

The Voc Rehab Option

Vocational rehabilitation offices can potentially be good places for autistic workers to begin their job searches They need to know what barriers you, as a person with a disability, has to finding traditional employment before they help you. Some counselors have much more experience and understanding of these issues than others..

Me and the Anti-CV

A CV (curriculum vitae) is similar to a resume but goes into more detail about a persons experiences on the job (or at school). In Latin, it loosely translates as the course of my life. Typically, when creating a CV, your job is to explain to people why youd be a good employee, what your accomplishments are, and so on. I took this concept and created what I call an anti-CV, which is a backwards-chronological-order detail of the problems Ive had on every single job that were the direct result of my disability and lack of accommodations for it (including problems that arose from going undiagnosed for decades).

I did this so I could thoroughly explain to people I was requesting services from (voc rehab, Social Security, Independent Living Resources, etc.) what my barriers to employment were. I went into great detail about it, and it took 11 pages! And recently, it did get me accepted into voc rehab.

An anti-CV is something Id recommend especially for late DXes who have already tried many, many jobs without a fit, and really need help on where to go next. But it could be useful to anyone whos ever had problems on a job relating to difficulties with access.

For example
This is an excerpt from my own anti-CV. During the first four months of 2002, I worked at <redacted>, doing proofreading of financial documents. I was working overnights here, and also had to do at least 10 hours a week of mandatory overtime most weeks. I was absolutely exhausted, and highly distractible. I got written up constantly for taking too long in the bathroom and for staring into space -although once again, I got plenty of work done.

Here, though, I had to work at these long tables with dozens of other chattering proofreaders, and I told them I would continue to make errors until I got a desk in a quiet place and one where I could at least occasionally stand and work. At this time, my working diagnosis was attention deficit disorder rather than Aspergers, so legally they had to accommodate me, but it took them months before they ever did anything, and by then, I had secured employment at <redacted>.

Another sample:
The fact that my [current] employers cannot see me means that Ive had the option of not disclosing the Aspergers, and Ive opted, so far, not to disclose. They dont see: How many times I go to the bathroom (sometimes just to go, as a tension reliever) How often or where I scratch myself My staring spells That I frequently choke on my own saliva or spill or drop things or trip over my own feet How much I squirm in my chair The weird noises I (involuntarily) make The things I say to myself or to the cat.

They have limited exposure to my odd voice and vocal tics. They cannot see the twitches and fasciculations and pinched nerves I get in various parts of my body which wind up taking over my brain when I have them. They dont know that I have scoliosis and a flat back and walk kind of funny. And no coworkers in the vicinity means little chance I will say something bluntly honest, or laugh at something that isnt funny, or not laugh at something everyone else thinks IS funny, or talk about things they have no interest in, or otherwise give them strong cues that I am not one of them.

The More Details You Can Give, the Better.

Dont be afraid to be a little gross and disgusting if thats where your issues take you. Talking about digestive problems and other things happening in your body as a result of your condition is perfectly fair game. Dont be afraid of boring people with too many details. They might get the idea after a few pages and stop, but if they do that, your anti-CV has done its job!

When should you tell a prospective employer about being on the spectrum? If youre getting placed through voc rehab, obviously they will know about your disability going in. But if youre conducting a job search on your own, youll have to make a decision about what to tell them and when, and theres no clear-cut, across-the-board answer for all autistics.

Your Options
Tell them never, if you think you can get away with never telling and youd rather not. Tell them when you send in your resume/CV and application. Tell them when youre setting up the interview. Tell them during the interview. Tell them after youve already gotten an offer.

Practice Your Interview

You can do this either with another person or without. But video or audio taping a practice interview, while wearing your interview clothes, will at least give you information about what mannerisms youre likely to display on an interview; whether or not you are willing and able to suppress them, you can at least be aware and ready with an explanation if you think its appropriate.

Holding Them to the ADA

So you got the job congratulations! By now, youll have requested whatever accommodations youll need to do the job. But it doesnt necessarily mean theyll get on it right away just because you ask. They might very well drag their feet on getting you a secluded workspace, for example, and try to get you to accept a less-than-ideal setup for now. What to do?

Put It In Writing
If I had to request accommodations on my own, what Id do is write everything out that I wanted and then hand deliver it to whoever is in charge of providing accommodations. Ask your supervisor who that person is. Unless its a very small company or you know that people there answer emails quickly, I wouldnt rely on email to get your message out; most people are snowed under with work-related email. And of course, keep copies of everything, preferably dated ones.

Sic Your Doctor on Them (if you have to)

Dont be afraid to call in the cavalry when it comes to getting accommodations, if your employers are putting up roadblocks. It will probably be cheaper and faster to get your therapist, psychiatrist, or other health professional who understands your condition to run interference for you, than it will be to hire a lawyer to do it. Theyve already got your records; writing you notes is part of their job.

Squillions of Books About Finding Your Bli$$

There is no shortage of books out there about finding your ideal career. What Color is Your Parachute? has been revised every year since its debut in 1970, and is still a perfectly fine resource. Barbara Shers books are all terrific. And there are many others. But whatever book (or Web site) you read about has to be looked at through autistic eyes; you have to take things into consideration that NAS readers dont.

Can I Do It?
Maybe a certain job or career sounds like it would be a good fit, but what youd have to do to get it doesnt sound like something you could handle from the social or sensory standpoint. On the other hand, its easy to fall into the trap of thinking youre incompetent and cant handle things you very well could handle given half a chance (and some well-placed help). Dont let other people tell you what you can or cant handle; decide for yourself.

Yes, Im talking about take an autie to work day for real! If a particular job sounds interesting but youd like to know what its really like, ask someone who has it to take you to work with them, so you can see what its really like. (Or you can have someone else ask, thats perfectly fine.) If possible, you might even want to get more than one person in the same line of work for a ridealong if the work sounds interesting; the same job can be very different in different environments. Try out as many different ones as you think you can handle.

And finally
.its okay to get it wrong, at least the first few times. Very few people (AS or NAS) find a job for life on their first try. If you really need money right now, you might have to grab something thats more like a survival job, and thats fine. Just know that its temporary, and if you have to, set a quit date, if that will help you get through it. And just know, there is a place for you out there, that will appreciate you for who you are and what you have to offer, as long as you dont give up!

Andee Joyce ASAN Chapter Lead, Portland, OR

Information & Referral Call Center: 1-855-828-8476 Next Webinar: Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 2:00-3:00 PM, EDT How to Date Like a Pro! PowerPoint/Recording: Email Jennifer ( to request materials!

You might also like