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Employment & the Autism Spectrum

We’ve heard the phrase… “What does autism look like?” The truth is, the spectrum is so broad, you can’t put a singular “face” to the disorder. There are varying levels of severity, some so severe an individual needs constant care and others you may not even recognize as being on the spectrum.

Many adults on the spectrum, who are a high functioning, are able to manage their autism to successfully “blend” into society and live independent lives. To the untrained eye, the average person may not immediately pick up on some of the subtleties of autism. While autistic individuals may know how to manage some of the symptoms, it’s not easy. And sometimes it is challenging in social situations and when communicating with others. The inability to maintain eye contact, for example may come across as rude or may be misinterpreted as a lack of interest or possibly even dishonest. Which poses issues during a job interview or when trying to build friendships.

Employees with high functioning autism (HFA) are very often, extremely focused, intelligent and talented, however the social aspects of the workplace can cause some issues. Building relationships, making small talk or “office humor,” is sometimes beyond their grasp. Co-workers not familiar with the symptoms, may feel they are arrogant, or odd and can breed resentments.

How can you as an employer or co-worker help to empower your fellow team members? Job duties should be assigned based on the strengths of the individual, and this holds true for those on the spectrum as well. By acknowledging your employee’s strength, while still understanding their weaknesses you are able to put them into positions where they can succeed and be a benefit to your business.

Here are a few examples of the types of positions which may be best suited for both high and low functioning autistic adults.

Visual thinkers:

  • computer-based careers – including programmers, video game development, website design, computer animation, computer technicians

  • drafting

  • advertising or magazine layout design

  • photography – still or video

  • mechanic, small appliance repair,

  • lab technician

  • building/factory maintenance

  • jewelry-making, wood carving, ceramic, etc.

  • building trades

Non-visual thinkers – those who are great at math or music

  • Computer programmers

  • engineering

  • finance, accounting, banking, statistician

  • journalist or copy editor

  • clerk or filing jobs

  • librarian

Non-verbal or poor verbal skills

  • reshelving books

  • assembly work

  • janitorial

  • data entry

  • warehousing

  • greenhouse – plant care, lawn & garden work

It’s important to remember all jobs should have a well-defined goal or endpoint, and to recognize those strengths and limitations of your employees. By setting them up to be successful you are empowering them to thrive in the workplace.


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