If you are an adult with Asperger Syndrome (A.S.), and have been struggling with your job, you can advocate a better work life for yourself. Knowing your skills, strengths, weaknesses and limitations is vital to your success in your existing or new field.
What is Asperger Syndrome (A.S.)?
According the the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Two core features of A.S. are: “a) social and communication deficits and b) fixated interests and repetitive behaviors. The social communication deficits in highly functioning persons with Asperger syndrome include lack of the normal back and forth conversation; lack of typical eye contact, body language, and facial expression; and trouble maintaining relationships. Fixated interests and repetitive behaviors include repetitive use of objects or phrases, stereotyped movements, and excessive attachment to routines, objects, or interests.” Thus, in a work environment where social relationships and business relationships are key to making things happen can become very problematic for these individuals.
Take a look at your strengths
Adults with A.S. should first look at their strengths, instead of their weaknesses; Among them are creative problem solving, reliability, high intelligence, visual thinking, and unique areas of specialized interests. That is the upside to A.S., and will benefit various careers. However, when A.S. adults have difficulty handling their workplace, their negative qualities can appear quite fast. For instance, being obligated to work with someone else in the workplace, as well as seeing their boss break rules, or staring at bright lights, and experiencing distractions in tandem will not benefit the unique gifts of an A.S. adult. “Adults with A.S., when in the right environment can show that they have very sophisticated thinking and can focus on a specialized area of interest,” says Dr. Ulland.
Adults with A.S should look for a certain environment in their workplace. Depending on the adult and their preferences, a quiet and calm workplace is better than a noisier, unstable workplace. Adults should look for a boss who is laid-back and allows the adult to work at their own pace. Adults with A.S. should have a workplace with clearly defined rules, expectations and roles. Sometimes, this may mean a completely new career, but maybe one in the same field, such as a general Ed teacher working with one or two children at a time, instead of dealing with an entire classroom. “Dealing with a classroom full of youngsters forces a teacher to take on many different roles all at once: counselor, social worker, mother, and a teacher. That will make an Asperger’s mind spin in circles” says a professor at Hamline University. Another very important element is to have an environment with very little office politics. Because the A.S. brain does not understand the “unwritten” rules of an organization or group, it is best to have a job in which are no office politics, so that there is no guessing at what employees “mean or inference” by their actions or statements.
A true story
Mary, a French teacher for years who worked for Minneapolis Public Schools, loved her subject and had a passion for French culture. Yet, the management and toil of the classroom and its uncertainty on a day to day basis was making her job unbearable. “I wasn’t sure if I fell out of love with French, or if I truly should’ve just left teaching. I was coming home exhausted and full of stress everyday. It would’ve broken my heart to leave teaching, because I love being a student and being a teacher. I loved studying my subject, and reading educational research. But that had very little to do with the job of managing high school students.” After a bit of soul searching and having attending job fairs as well as having read about Asperger Syndrome, Mary found that working with smaller groups would be better for her work style. She took a year off of teaching in the classroom to work for a tutoring company, translate French documents and searched for a smaller school where she worked with smaller class sizes, and where classroom behaviors were expected to be good. “I took a huge pay cut, but my anxiety dropped, as well as my constant stress of being in the general classroom with blaring lights, loud voices, and constant disruptions. I’m a much happier teacher now, and able to focus on my love of French with a class half the size, and work for a principal whose supervision is open and understands differences.”
Other possibilities of good work situations for individuals with A.S. is work that is highly predictable in its nature and in its schedule, and does not involve heavy deadlines. This will cause an A.S. employee stress and interfere with their thought process. Having a work environment with having to do heavy planning and being able to see the “Whole picture” will not fully utilize the specialized brain of an A.S. adults. “Asperger adults have a hard enough time seeing the trees for the forest,” and this type of job will only confuse them more” says Dr. Ulland of the University of Minnesota. “The more specific and one which involves a lot of attention to detail will benefit this individual,” says Mary Einarson. Also, she adds, “A.S. adults will do well to go into business for themselves, and allow them the type of schedule that works for them.”