How To Hire Someone With Autism

Less than a third of all autistic adults are employed, either full-time or part-time.

Less than a third. 

That means out of 3.5 million people with autism, only about 1 million of those people are employed. Most of them aren’t making enough money to live on their own. And it doesn’t look very good for the young autistic workforce.

That doesn’t make any sense. There’s literally science that says we can work and we love it!

So why won’t more people hire us?

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The Office Environment

The workplace is a beehive. Busy, busy, busy, all around you people walking to and from the copier, shuffling papers, keyboards clicking. The bright florescent lights beaming into your eyes paired with the gentle hum of everyone trying to talk low into the phone. Small talk is the only talk at the office. Cheeky smiles, ignored requests, unanswered e-mails and phone calls are just a few of the subtle, passive-aggressive ways people at the office get under each other’s skin.

People with autism don’t do well in these types of environments. Too loud, too bright, too mean. I myself work in this type of environment. I love my job, but I wear sunglasses and headphones on a daily basis. They were willing to accommodate my brightness sensitivity with light cover and a doctor’s note, but too many people complained that the light cover was too dark. If I answer a question too sharply, or respond too honestly, I get on people’s s**t list. They watch me like a hawk for about a week, and then they forget.

It sucks. I’d rather work from home.

Most employers don’t know how to treat someone with autism. Even less actually employ them. People fear what they don’t understand. We are how we are, and that’s not going to change. If we can’t change, that means employers have to.

It’s not acceptable that so many of us aren’t working when we have marketable skills and the only things standing in our way is HR’s interpretation of us. So, here’s how to hire someone with autism:

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How to Interview an Autistic Person

Don’t focus on eye contact, demeanor, tone of voice, none of that. Can the person you’re talking to do the job you want them to? Don’t worry about whether or not the person fits in with your team. If your team lacks people with autism in it, you’re not getting a full perspective anyway. Maintain an open mind, and have patience with any questions, stuttering, long winded answers, fidgeting, etc. People with autism have a knack for rote memorization, and make excellent resources in the workplace once we know the ropes.

Interview us like normal people, just be aware of our atypical movements and verbal communication skills. Just because we’re having a hard time talking to you, doesn’t mean we can’t do the job.

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How to Provide Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodation means certain things in the workplace environment can be adjusted to make the person with autism more physically comfortable. The less stimulating the environment is, the less likely we are to become overly stimulated and need breaks, and the more likely we are to make you tons of money.

Reasonable accommodations can include numerous compromises, like needing feedback regularly for job performance, requiring a 5 minute break every hour, light covers, heads-up for company changes, etc. It’s important to view these accommodations as compromises instead of negative aspects of hiring someone with autism. They aren’t negative. It doesn’t cost you anything to give your employee a few extra five minute breaks.

There are certain factors that must be considered when considering reasonable accommodations. These include the actual job itself. For example, light covers aren’t a reasonable accommodation if the job is predominantly outside.

Talking to the autistic employee is the best way to figure out what accommodations are necessary. Some of us have dulled senses instead of hyperactive ones. Some autistic employees don’t even need accommodations, depending on the job. At my job, my reasonable accommodations include letting me wear my sunglasses inside and sitting me in a darker area. In no way does this disrupt anyone, and without the light distractions I can see things so much faster, and therefore, work quicker. Productivity for the win!

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How to Give Performance Feedback

Be very clear! Make sure you have metrics in place to measure performance. Autistic people need clear metrics and expectations. We think completely differently from you, and that’s crucial to remember. For example, First Call Resolution numbers must be high, Customer Callbacks must be low, etc. My director gives my team weekly goal sheets and accounts list, and that helps me know what she’s looking at so I can work it. She’s a very intelligent lady, and I trust that she’s looking at the right accounts. If I didn’t trust her, I wouldn’t be working what she gives me, and I would be working on what I thought would bring us more money.

That said, it’s also super important to set attainable goals, and communicate them to us in a way we can understand. This will keep us on task with where our performance is at any given time, and will help us to work smarter, and make you money. Along with setting those goals however, you may need to check in a little more often than you normally would to make sure we’re on task.

What to Do When Your Autistic Employee is Socially Stepping on Toes

When I first got hired, before my diagnosis, before I was nice, I used to have problems with people in my department. Okay, all the departments. I was very nervous about making good impressions, but I didn’t have the skills or know-how to make one. My desk was (okay, is) filled with little Post-It notes to remind myself of basic social skills like, “Am I taking this wrong?”, “Humility – don’t be so prideful”, “Don’t forget to smile at people”, “People appreciate acknowledgement”, to name a few.

If your autistic employee is stepping on people’s toes, you need to let them know. We don’t do well with subtleties, so bluntly tell us that you’ve heard around the office that people are complaining about us. Tell us point blank how we can rectify that behavior. For example, if your employee is cutting in line at the fax machine, you can tell them, “People have complained that you are jumping the line for the fax machine. When you need to fax something, make sure there is not someone who was there first.”

My director gave me a book called, “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.” It was in regards to my behavior. I know because I read it, but I didn’t understand why she gave it to me. There are like, 20 habits in there, and I did a little bit of each, so I wasn’t sure if it was my whole personality that was off-putting or if there was something specific about interacting with me. With that book though, I learned about workplace self-awareness, and ultimately my temperament started to relax.

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Hiring people with autism is a very smart move for your employee base. Not only are you getting a person who isn’t interested in office politics or drama, you’re getting someone who wants to WORK. You’re also getting a new perspective. Working with people with autism gives a fresh outlook on what exactly is important in the job market, and I can attest to this, soft skills CAN be taught with the right training. I’ve been told many times by various supervisors that they wished they had 10 of me. I work hard, and even though I can be a little short-tempered on occasion doesn’t mean that I can’t make lots of money with my skills, and in the end, isn’t that what we’re all in business for?

 

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Aspie Spouses: How to Show the Neurotypical in Your Life You Love Them (by Using the Five Love Languages)

I remember when my boyfriend (now husband) told me he couldn’t feel my love. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“I do love you,” I said matter-of-factly. “What does that even mean?”

I panicked. How can I get him to feel my love? I was touching him, we were spending time together, what more did he want from me?

“I don’t know,” he said softly and sadly, “I just don’t feel it.”

“Okay well stop” I said stupidly. I wasn’t very good at making people feel better then.

He didn’t say much more on the subject, but that conversation stuck with me. I wanted to be with him, and I wanted him to know, so I set out on a mission to get my boyfriend (now husband) to feel my love.

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I had no idea where to start. I knew that the love was there, so I decided to start with a google search, and that’s where I found out about this nugget of relationship gold: The Five Love Languages.

You see, neurotypicals have different ways of wanting to be told they’re loved.

I always assumed that the words “I love you” meant that he would understand that I loved him, but some people like actions better and others like gifts and stuff. So I took the five love languages test to see if it was right about me. It was. I like physical touch: cuddling, heavy pressure (but not light touches) and being squeezed. I had my boyfriend (now husband) take it that same night.

It was a floodgate. I learned so much about him. I didn’t realize we didn’t speak the same love language, and the way he wanted love was not the way I was showing him I loved him. His love language is Quality Time. I had to Google what that means, but don’t worry I’ll tell you.

Why Romance is Important to Your NT Spouse

Intimacy is one of the most important aspects of a relationship because it provides a safe closeness between two people. Intimacy is important to every relationship. But what is intimacy, and how can you get closer to your spouse? To start, any expectations that you or your spouse have for each other must be verbalized. Us aspies process emotions through words and not subtle cues, and that makes it so much more important to communicate with each other. It’s impossible to be a team if the players aren’t on the same page.

The best way to increase intimacy in your relationship is to increase romance. But how do you know which romantic ideas are going to make your spouse happy? That’s where the Five Love Languages test comes in.

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Getting Started 

I suggest both of you start by taking this test first. I recommend you take it by yourself, but they can take theirs with or without you, as long as you both come together when you finish. I’ll tell you how to compare your answers. Set aside time for both you and your spouse to sit together with a pen and some paper.

As the aspie, before you compare your answers I should warn you that this conversation is an emotional minefield. It’s an explosion of good emotions, this is true, but an explosion none-the-less, and it’s important for you to know about your own preferences before you can learn about your spouse’s. This will help you from getting emotionally overwhelmed and shutting down during the conversation. Know what you want from your spouse and practice communicating that for when the time comes to talk and exchange answers.

Once you’ve both completed the test, ask each other the following questions:

Was the test spot on about what your love language is?
Is there anything I do now that hurts your feelings?
Is there anything I do now that makes you feel loved?

When you compare your answers, make sure you take notes of what your spouse says. Listen very carefully for things your spouse says they like, want more of, want less of, and would like to do or try, and then write that stuff down. Don’t hesitate to ask them to wait while you write. They love you and they’ll be happy to wait.

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Here is a breakdown of what each language means, and examples of speaking in that language:

Quality Time

Quality Timers enjoy feeling like they have your focused attention. Eye contact is difficult for us aspies, but they extra love it, so if you can stand it for a little while I highly recommend doing it whenever possible, it makes them smile and feel good. If it burns though don’t worry about doing it, there are other ways of showing them your attention, like conversations and dates. Make sure to ask about your spouse’s day. Here are 36 questions you can ask your spouse that are proven to increase trust and intimacy.

Physical Touch

Physical Touch doesn’t mean just sex. Physical touch is a nonverbal sign of love: a shoulder rub, holding hands, touching legs, footsie. You don’t need a lot of words for this one, but if your spouses love language is physical touch and touching is a no-no for you, then you have to ask yourself how much of a compromise you’re willing to give. It’s important that you are aware of what you’re willing to tolerate and what you aren’t. If holding hands with your spouse isn’t painful and just annoying, then think about how good it makes them feel. Compromises should include comfort for both parties.

Gifts

Gifts can be from anywhere as long as they are from your heart. If your spouse like clocks, make one and give it to them. If they like plays, buy tickets for a date night. Use a calendar to plan out gift giving. Start with once every couple of weeks and adjust as necessary. Don’t forget to give gifts during special occasions. Make sure that if money is an issue for you that you don’t spend too much. Here are some good ideas (here too) if you’re not sure what to give.

Words of Affirmation

Words of Affirmation means that your spouse likes to hear how much you love them, what they mean to you, and how much you appreciate them. They also like it when you say nice things to them about how they look or what they can do. This one can be tricky for us to do randomly because of our communication problems. Tell your spouse something nice and thank them whenever they do something that benefits both of you.

Acts of Service 

Acts of Service means your spouse likes it when you do stuff with them and for them. This shows your spouse you care. Easy ways to do this would be to take your spouse’s car for a wash, gas or maintenance. You could wash the dishes when you see the sink is full. Breakfast in bed is another good one. Most Acts of Service don’t cost a lot of money, so if that’s an issue for you you’re in luck.

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One thing to keep in mind if your spouse is talking using strong words or a harsh tone: don’t instantly assume they want you to fix their issue. That means don’t ask them what they want you to do about their problem. Ask first if they are just venting. Venting means they want to talk, but they don’t really care if you have anything to say. Neurotypicals like to talk out loud when they are upset, but don’t necessarily want an answer to their problem.

So when your spouse confirms they are venting, don’t offer a solution. Offer sympathy instead. “I’m sorry, how did that make you feel?” can go a long way. When neurotypicals say we don’t have empathy, they really mean we don’t show sympathy, so this one little thing will get you far in social skills, not just conversations with your spouse.

Relationships between neurotypicals and aspies are very complicated, with lots of communication and lots of compromise. It’s important for the neurotypical to educate themselves on autism but it’s equally important for the aspie to educate themselves on neurotypicals if the aspie wants to be in a relationship with one. An AS/NT marriage is a marriage of two separate worlds, and learning about each other’s world in a positive environment allows for self awareness, open-mindedness, and lots of love, as long as both parties are willing to put in the work to be together and love each other.