Asperger’s and Employment: What I Wish I Knew Then

A man writing on a pad of paper at a desk in front of a vivid orange wallEmployment and having a disability (I have Asperger’s syndrome) can be a tricky combination. It can be even more difficult to navigate when one doesn’t know they are on the autism spectrum. I navigated my first several jobs not knowing (I was diagnosed at age 20).

With that said here are five things I wish I knew about having a job then that I know now.

1. Chain of command.

At every job I had I didn’t understand that there was a chain of command. When I worked at the video game store I emailed corporate through the chain’s internal network. Well, I actually emailed the CEO fearlessly not knowing I was out of place. However, they listened and changed a policy! I was also told not to email them again.

2. Small talk.

When I worked at the bowling alley and then the video game store I didn’t understand why my coworkers would try and chit chat about things I deemed irrelevant. Actually, I took this as a sign of the utmost disrespect because I thought, “How dare they talk to me about such things because I’m at work to work.” This isn’t to say that a person should go to work to talk, but I didn’t understand that they were trying to be my friend by talking to me about non-work related topics.

3. It’s okay to ask for help.

I worked at a racing shop as the office manager and the owner would often give me a long list of things to do such as, “Go into the shop, find this item and that item, then put them in a box, and mail them to so and so at their alternate address.” I didn’t realize I have some auditory processing delays and that anything after the first directive became lost on me. But did I write this down? No, I didn’t and I would always have to go back and ask again, and again. This angered him, but I could’ve helped myself by asking for help before I went searching by asking him to write it down instead of trying to do it without assistance.

4. If possible, find a job that is in an area of interest.

This is critical, but can’t always be done. However, if it can be, motivation is going to be higher. My second job was at a video duplicator (remember VHS tapes?) that saw me load 85 VHS tapes into VCRs, wait an hour, take those tapes out, label them, box them, ship them, repeat eight times a day. I will say I loved the routine of it and I got highly efficient at it, but it wasn’t something that I had interest in. This isn’t to say every job is going to be enjoyable, but if one is looking for a career long term then if it’s in an area of high interest the chances of burnout will decrease. The video duplicator job lasted no more than four months.

5. Team effort.

My hobby job now is that I am the flagman for two national racing series. When I first landed these jobs I was quiet about my diagnosis because I didn’t want them to think less of me. It was kind of hard to hide and when I opened up I let them know my strengths and my weaknesses. It was the best thing I’ve done because as we grow the amount of awareness and understanding out there, people are going to be more accommodating and understanding. I’m no longer put into situations that I can’t do and am instead put into areas where my strengths show. I know not every place of employment is going to be that way, but as they become so I hope the strengths of us all will have the ability to shine much, much brighter.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.


 

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