Getting Work is Hard and Keeping it Sometimes Impossible
I wrote this article and offered it to a national Autism body for their blog. Sadly after many months, I haven’t heard a word from them so I assume they are disinterested. Might as well publish it here.
Most employment agencies that work in the space of helping people on the Autism Spectrum (which includes Asperger’s, Aspies for short) report figures of mid-40% of Autistic people not having employment. A consultant I spoke to said that in reality those numbers were far too low.
The issue is that the spectrum is long (from non-verbal kids who do nothing but rock back & forth to very high-functioning people who are hard to “clock” by most people) and sadly many of the people who do have jobs are under-employed. This means they have very few hours and/or they are working jobs way below their capabilities.
Under-employment is the biggest issue I see for very high functioning Aspie types. I have held Manager Roles in my almost 50 years. I have an IQ around genius levels (if you give me enough time to do the silly test) yet even an employment support specialist was suggesting call center roles for me!
What about seeing I have a couple of large websites that prove that I can self-direct & build content of high quality? That suggests I could at least be presented for mid-level website development roles? With a bit more reading on her part the support consultant could have considered me for more strategic roles. We had a discussion about my web work as she dipped into my sites. But no, call center is all I’m good for.
In some ways I don’t blame that lady. Her job is limited, her funding is limited, her ability to talk to potential bosses is limited. Why not simply take the easiest road, the guy speaks nicely put him in a call center. Ding!
What a waste of talents that should be obvious to people who claim to be HR experts. This is a waste for a couple of local employers who I happen to know are advertising to fill roles that I would not only be fit for but could excel in.
Why not Apply Myself?
This is an inordinately valid question. And a great part of the problem. I didn’t raise the jobs I was aware of with that support specialist because she seemed to have me pegged and was looking to get off the phone. It wasn’t till later that I even thought to think I could have raised those jobs.
If I pull up my socks, roll up my Resume and fire it off to both of these jobs, I’ll be amazed if I get a response.
My resume won’t sell me because like most Aspies it is scattered – I am both over & under-qualified. I have tried alternate approaches like leading with my websites as proof-of-ability to be passionate, self-directed, articulate, process ideas, synthesize cause & effect, develop strategy, implement and deliver to a schedule.
Potential employers will ignore all that my proven work says about me because it is a ”hobby” and not what they expect to see. Maybe if my websites had employer names on them it would be different but sadly they don’t. Work websites I built have shuffled off their mortal coils as the businesses changed direction etc.
If some proofs-of-ability are valid but others not then that is the essence of discrimination. If it is not easy for me to answer obtuse questions like “what would you do if a customer was upset?” because they make no logical sense with no context. Asking and judging me on that criteria is the essence of discrimination because the nature of the “pointless” question alone makes me look uncomfortable.
I was once in a job interview where I was told I had to fill out a personality questionnaire (provided by Scientologists) and within the first two questions, it was clear that this process was designed to weed out people like me. Needless to say I was out of consideration the moment the boss looked at my results.
(no great loss as this boss turned up 30-45 mins late for both times he called me in to his office)
Another interview I went to for a corporate I was popped in a corral while a lady who barely knew how to operate a computer fussed over whether I could use a mouse to operate the questionnaire (um). On completion I was shown the door incredibly fast. Don’t call us, we won’t be calling you. I encountered this test again online many years later and did it. The result came back “Rational”. A small percentage of the population – it went on to describe Aspie traits. I read in another place that most employers prefer not to employ this category of people.
Discrimination that makes it not only harder to land a job in the first place. Further, if those traits are discovered later the staff member will be run-off. Proof that many bosses don’t want all people equally.
Read the Keirsey report on me. Sure you may not want uncontrolled Rationals running around, tearing up your production floor. But surely there are a lot of traits in there that you’d pay good money to get from a recruiting company.
Do I raise a stink? No, I simply move on; hurt yes, but who wants to work for someone who doesn’t want them for who they are. Downside though is a very fragmented resume as the serially-excluded Aspie tries to find a place where they are valued. Which of course becomes another reason to exclude from consideration a person with “too many” talents.
A boss should be excited about the staff they have and the special qualities they bring.
Special Qualities Are Us
Many, many job adverts demand that to apply you must have superlative qualities; things that will help set the business above the average.
This web page alone is worth reading (all of it under the link). Five minutes on the lips a lifetime on the accounting ledger:
They may seem to lack empathy, and are often accused of being stubborn, selfish, or even mean. They can also be extremely loyal, sometimes painfully honest, highly disciplined and productive in their chosen field, and expert at whatever they decide to be expert at. They are the Aspies, adults with Asperger’s Syndrome.https://psychcentral.com/lib/adult-aspergers-the-relief-of-a-diagnosis/
Aspies may have oddities but who doesn’t – from our side of the dotted-line we find people very strange. At the same time as we have those oddities we have some special talents that, when we are allowed to put them to use, result in things that probably wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
An example: Steve Jobs of Apple-fame wasn’t an easy fellow for sure. But far outweighing any oddities was his drive to create amazing products that changed the world many times over whilst making Apple Corp into a behemoth. The easy to use Personal Computer, the Smartphone, the iPod, then rolling that into the phone along with a camera, topping it all off with the iPad that even he didn’t really know what people would do with it; but it was the single greatest driver of getting many previously disinterested people on the Internet. Steve may have been hyper-focused, smelly, blunt etc. but look what happened when he was ousted from Apple versus what happened when he came back. Aspie traits are the common cause on both sides of that equation.
I know there are some companies and special programs that are doing some good work in getting AS people into Internships and even jobs but it is all very small-fry, commonly reliant on softening the way with government money and mostly focused only on young & overtly challenged individuals.
What about fully adult Aspies who are none of the above?
Most people will be kinder, more tolerant, more likely to look for understanding before pitchforks with someone who is clearly disabled. However, if they can make the false assumption that because a person looks like them (normal) we must be just like them, it ends in tears, on both sides.
The Aspie has to do what they can to understand those around them but if the non-Aspie doesn’t then that is the essence of discrimination. Having to walk around with a badge is not something many Aspies want. We are normal. Just as a person of African heritage is normal i.e. having dark skin is not a choice or an indicator of ability. Very few people can’t accept that as true these days. But understanding that different people process and react to the world slightly differently is as fundamental a need.
None of this is about getting special favors; simply being allowed to use our true skills to generate growth, satisfaction, income etc. All the things any person needs to have a happy life. No one should be denied the right to strive for those things.
And remember that a lot of very high functioning Aspies (and people with other oddities) are commonly drivers of great change when they are well bedded into an organization. If Steve Jobs wasn’t enough of an example then consider Einstein & Newton (who both showed most if not all Aspie traits) as they changed the course of science and the whole human race.
Ok, so not all Aspies are quite that dramatic but wouldn’t it be great to have even a bit of that focus & zeal on your team? All it takes is looking at your staff & potential staff slightly differently, more at their strengths than weaknesses. Looking more at the evidence of what a person has & can do than abstracts like Resumes.
It’s a real conversation rather than a forced & stilted one.
Conversation opens understanding & opportunity.
Hire people who think differently to reap rewards – More employers are seeing the appeal of hiring staff on the spectrum.Financial Times Europe
Matthew Bennett PhD (Aspie himself) Video covering barrier to employment for ASD (unlisted)
Nova Employment (not the support specialist mentioned above)
Nice but a bit simplistic/focused on low function people
A great example of an Aspie person – takes a bit of adjustment to read but a good insight into the thought processes and conclusions. This person should be able to do a great job in a chosen space and this site should be proof enough.
The feeling of being Bullied in the workplace is exactly the same. This leads to unnecessary job losses.
The “odd” reaction to Aspies and decent list of things Aspies can feel – that can become problematic but are eminently solvable with some understanding
Musing on Philosophers & Autism