About Autism

What are autism and Asperger’s Syndrome?
Autism is a condition which affects the way a person sees the world, processes information and interacts with other people. People who have autism typically find it difficult to develop social relationships, to communicate with ease, and to think in abstract terms. Although a minority of people with autism have learning disabilities, others have average or higher than average intelligence and are often highly educated. People who fall into the latter group usually have a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism.

Employees with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
People with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome often have numerous (and sometimes exceptional) abilities which enable them to make excellent employees.   In addition to their individual abilities, some traits associated with autism can be a considerable benefit in the workplace. For example, many people with autism are good at paying close attention to detail and are meticulous about routines, rules and accuracy – as a result, they are often extremely reliable, and can excel at jobs such as accounting, where consistent procedures and precision are critical.

Other people with autism enjoy repetitive tasks (whether basic or complex).  In spite of these abilities, people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome often find the work environment difficult to navigate because they struggle transferring skills and knowledge to new tasks or environments.   While a person without the condition can usually see readily what is required of them and draw on their experience to complete tasks, a person with autism may not immediately see how they can adapt their skills to a new role or activities. Because of this, they often need support in the workplace.

Much of this support can be very straightforward and easy to provide, such as ensuring that instructions are precise, or that a person’s day is structured with clear priorities. Some individuals may need more intense or specialized input with a job coach working alongside the employee until they are comfortable and effective in the job.  Once they are acclimated and trained, people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome often become highly regarded and valued staff members.

The ‘autism spectrum’
Autism is called a ‘spectrum’ condition, indicating that it can range from scarcely perceptible difficulties to severe disability and impairment.  However, there are some traits that impact most people with the condition to some degree or other. These include:
• difficulty with using imagination or abstract thought, including empathizing with other people or situations
• difficulty with ‘reading’ non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expression or tone of voice.
• following particular routines (and possibly a resistance to change in these routines)
• strong personal interests and hobbies
• a tendency to take words literally (for example, phrases like “Hit the road,” and “I’m on pins and needles” may be very confusing)
• difficulty with and/or dislike of eye contact
• sensory processing difficulties – hypersensitivity (or hyposensitivity) to noise, smell, taste or touch.

The kinds of work a person with an ASD can do
People with an ASD are individuals, so the jobs and tasks for which they are suited will
vary from person to perso.. They succeed in a wide range of different jobs.   Although it is always difficult to generalize, there are areas where people with an ASD may excel.

These include:
• tasks where attention to detail and accuracy is required (e.g., research work, data input or word processing)
• tasks involving numbers, statistics and facts (e.g., finance or accounting)
• tasks where there is a clear procedure to follow (e.g., dealing with incoming and outgoing post, archiving, library work or filing)
• highly structured tasks with a right and a wrong way of doing something (e.g., IT support or computer programming)

 

The successful employment of a person with an ASD relies on focusing on an individual’s strengths, abilities and skills. The key is to treat each person as an individual and avoid assumptions about their likely performance because they have autism.

Good employees
People with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome very often make particularly reliable, hard-working and motivated employees.  Many are good at paying close attention to detail, are highly meticulous, and maintain a high level of accuracy.

In addition, jobs of a repetitive nature, whether basic or highly complex, often appeal strongly to people with an ASD, meaning that they may excel in areas where other employees lose focus and concentration or become distracted by “small talk” with co-workers. There is also strong evidence that people with autism are often extremely keen workers who thrive in a structured, well organized work environment, leading to high attendance records and potentially a lower staff turnover.

Many people with an ASD are highly intelligent and well educated. In addition, they often display the following characteristics:
• ability to concentrate without distraction on one particular task for lengthy periods
• reliability
• accuracy (often 100%)
• close attention to detail and an ability to identify errors
• technical ability (many have excellent IT skills and qualifications)
• detailed factual knowledge (often encyclopedic)
• excellent memory
• conscientiousness and persistence

Improving the skills of managers and other staff
Having a diverse workforce brings benefits to staff and business alike. Managers who have worked with people with an ASD have commented that they have learned to communicate with their whole team more effectively and to organize and prioritize work more effectively.  Co-workers are likely to benefit in similar ways, bringing multiple advantages and greater efficiency to the whole team.