I don’t have any formal statistics regarding Asperger’s and the workplace. However, I have read enough comments on Facebook Asperger’s Support and Asperger’s forums to know that the world of work can be very challenging for many talented inviduals on the autism spectrum.
Sensory sensitivies, the confusion of office politics, and other social challenges can contribute to a lot of stress and anxiety. Many individuals on the autism spectrum are highly skilled, but run into roadblocks that lead to unemployment.
Today I want to share some tips to make employment work for you. These tips come out of Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke’s new book, Social Thinking At Work: Why Should I Care?.
Specifically, I’m going to share some of their pointers on understanding how to relate to the office hierarchy at work.
Office Hierarchy and Office Politics: Understand What It Is And Why You Should Participate
I know many kids who love to play Pokemon and other video games. Every video game has its characters and rules. Without rules, the game would not make sense. I’ve also learned that some kids are savvy with learning ‘cheat’ codes to play the game better.
However, these kids can’t disregard the rules. On the other hand, they can’t be too rigid either. If they insist that everyone who plays must play without cheat codes, they may end up playing alone for quite a while.
In the same way, every company, no matter how large or how small, has its rules. You may be upset that it has rules. Or you may think that your boss does not know anything. Or you may be too rigid in your interpretation of the rules.
Whatever the case, it will help if you understand that the office hierarchy exists to help the company run smoothly and predictably. So next time you find yourself thinking what you believe is incompetence, try to develop a flexible brain by remembering that it’s just the way the office structure is put together.
Office politics refers to the many unspoken rules about how you ‘play the game’ in the world of work. You may have thought that you just need to come and get your work done. That’s where you will do best.
But you need to acknowledge that social thinking may not come easily to you. You’re going to need to take time to study the unwritten rules of work.
‘Unspoken’ Aspergers Employment Codes Regarding Workplace Hierarchy and Culture
(Disclaimer: this book is written by Americans for a largely American audience. Please, if you are reading from a country outside of the United States, remember that cultural codes may dictate the rules of work in your particular country)
Questions and Advice
When you first start at work, it’s expected that you will be asking questions as you get to know your job. However, over time, you should not be asking questions as frequently as you were when you were first beginning.
The higher up a person is in the company, the fewer questions you should be asking of them. Try talking to a trusted colleague first. Then talk to more senior members on your team. Ask questions of your manager selectively.
Learn and Respect the Company Hierarchy
It may be helpful to obtain an organizational chart of the company during your training. If you can’t get one formally, just create your own informally. This can help you know which people in which positions to go to for certain answers. If you are unsure, you may want to talk to a colleague you trust to get ideas of who you should talk to for particular situations that come up.
Be Willing To Work During Off Hours
Ms. Garcia and Ms. Crooke make the mpoint that it’s an unwritten rule that employees will go above and beyond to learn the details of their jobs. If you’re a salaried employee, it’s understood that you will be willing to work overtime at times to learn these details. It’s part of your salary.
If you’re an hourly employee, be willing to work at home to study what you need to study to become a better employee.
Since many individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with difficulties in the area of reading social cues and culture, I suggest that you apply yourself to learn social thinking and social skills.
Here Are Some Aspergers Employment Resources (for Social Thinking and Social Skills) You Should Take Advantage of
Rudy Simone has written an excellent book. She is herself diagnosed with Aspergers, so she writes as an Aspie to Aspies: Asperger’s on the Job: Must-have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome Books)
Of course I also suggest that you study Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke’s new book, Social Thinking At Work: Why Should I Care?.
Michelle and Pamela, apart from being expert speech-language therapists who work with individuals on the spectrum, young and old, also train many indviduals on the job. They also help job coaches better understand the challenges that individuals on the autism spectrum face.
Penelope Trunk is a highly successful blogger and start up entrepeneur who writes extensively about career advice for everyone. She is, herself, diagnosed with Asperger’s, and has written some helpful articles on the subject of dealing with Asperger’s syndrome at work. Here’s one example.
Work With A Coach!
I recommend working with Brian King. He is himself diagnosed with Aspergers, and he is a licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience.
Or you may want to find a psychotherapist who specializes in working with individuals on the autism spectrum. Look at your healthcare insurance card, flip it over on the back, and call the mental health number. Let that person know that you want to speak with a therapist who specialized in autism spectrum conditions and work.
Coffee and Lunch Breaks
If you study and become ever more proficient at social thinking skills, you will be able to start interacting with your co-workers at coffee and lunch breaks.
Here’s the deal. You might think that work is the most important thing. It is! But you also need to realize that if you are not engaging in relationship building with people at work, you are missing out on building an important work resource: business relationships.
More than ever, it’s not just What you know, but Who you know. You might not like it, but it’s true.
And don’t approach business relationships as “something I have to do”, but as a learning adventure. By paying attention to others, being interested in what they think and what they feel, and finding out what is important to them, you will be sending the message that you care about them.
Working well with people requires trust, and trust is someting you have to build with others. Doing a good job is only one way to show you’re someone to be trusted. Asking coworkers for help (but not too often) shows you trust them.
Another way to create trust is through on-the-job networking, or asking your coworkers about their lives outside of work. You want to stand out as being a hard working, but also to be seen as someone who is making healthy connections.
I hope you found some of these tips helpful. I’d love to hear your ideas and input, especially in terms of solutions that have worked for you! Please comment below.
photo credit: burgermac