That is the question…
A good friend of mine asked me to write about the hiring practices for folks on the spectrum. I loved this question – because it’s something I often think about. How will Tucker do as an adult? Will he be a good worker? What types of job(s) will he have?
As you know by now my life’s larger purpose has been to teach Tucker how to advocate for himself. So I think of this often – how will his skill of advocating for himself work when it comes to gaining employment. My first question was, “Well…should he tell in an interview?” If he were to get an interview should he tell them right up front that he is on the spectrum? Yes, this could be detrimental, but if ‘coached’ in the right way – couldn’t it be an asset?
One of the first rules of interviewing is to turn your negatives into positives, right?
So, I’m a bit obsessive about organization. I like things to have a place and be in their place. However, that means I don’t lose things and I am ‘usually’ on top of everything I need to do.
So, I’m a bit scattered when it comes to my thinking. I move from topic to topic quite quickly. However, that means that I am ultra creative, intuitive, and love thinking outside of the box.
My friend and I have gone back and forth several times and I’ve learned quite a bit. I suspected that she could not ask specifically if a potential employee had a disability of any kind. From her email, “we cannot ask specifically. If they are interviewing for a specific job we can ask if they’d be able to perform the functions of the job (which we would have to ask that question to everyone that interviewed and not zero them out), but if they do have a disability (whatever it might be) we need to consider if we can make reasonable accommodations which would allow them to be successful in performing the job. It is not illegal for them to disclose on their end. What is illegal is that our hiring decision (not to hire) is based on their disability…which may put us in a difficult situation sometimes.”
I found that quite helpful – so Tucker could disclose that he has autism and what types of accommodations he may need to perform his job successfully. Does that still put him at a disadvantage? Possibly – unless he is able to advocate for himself in how his ‘disability’ actually makes him more ‘abled’ in specific tasks.
In our community there is a great example of how this can happen. The story involves a local company, CUNA Mutual and Inclusion Connection, a nonprofit that works to find employment and other opportunities for individual with disabilities. (http://www.inclusionconnection.org)
An example of this mutually beneficial relationship was reported: http://wcfcourier.com/business/local/inclusion-a-priority-at-cuna-mutual/article_97ae82ff-8108-59b7-9e45-991d55b70ae3.html
“Richards, of rural Fairbank, has Asperger’s syndrome…Individuals with Asperger’s often possess above-average intelligence and thrive within a structured environment. They also tend to hyper-focus in a specific areas of interest and communication, and social situations can present challenges.
Kayleen Symmonds, a consultant with Inclusion Connection, sat down with CUNA Mutual management to discuss Richards’ abilities, among them strong technical skills and computer savvy.
CUNA Mutual compared their company’s needs with Richards’ potential and recognized a possible match. “I knew Aaron was very skilled in the area of computers,” Symmonds said. CUNA Mutual found the input of Symmonds and Inclusion Connection to be a valuable resource.
“That’s a big first step in making this a success,” said Jim Denholm of employee relations at CUNA.
A few perplexing situations have come up. Once a colleague noticed Richards fidgeted during meetings, McCampbell said. Instead of assuming movement equaled disengagement — he retains information well — staff gave Richards a digital device to serve as a quiet outlet for his need to be in motion.
Denholm and Symmonds encourage employers to be open. The goal isn’t to force a fit but to explore possibilities.”
That is doing it right. Right there – taking someone’s strengths and allowing those strengths to overshadow any difficulties they may have. Don’t we all do that?
My friend’s second question was, ‘How do I make them feel comfortable in the interviewing situation?” There is so much truth here. Though many people with autism go on to college or higher learning they may have trouble getting a job because of their difficulties networking or being successful in an interview. So, here are a few ideas (with Tucker as the character)…
- Allow time. Tucker may take some extra time to put their thoughts together. If he senses that you need him to hurry or that you are getting anxious – it will make him more nervous and anxious.
- Provide questions. If Tucker had the questions before the actual interview he could really spend time thinking them through. We could work on the answers together. Trust that we wouldn’t prepare ‘canned’ answers – they would be honest, but he will have had practice putting the words in the correct order.
- Provide paper. If Tucker had paper (and was told he could use the paper), he would make notes as you asked questions. That way he would not be so overwhelmed with all he needs to/wants to say.
- Don’t judge. I know – your job as an interviewer is to judge. In this instance, give him an opportunity. He will probably fidget. He probably will not have great eye contact. Trust that he is doing the very best he can. Listen to his ideas and answers – and be patient with the rest.
- Make small talk. If you begin the interview by asking him about himself he will be put at ease. Just allow him to talk about the Vikings for 5 minutes…it will help his senses to focus and calm. Then, begin the ‘real’ questioning.
Her final question was, ‘knowing the types of tasks people on the spectrum would be successful at would be very helpful.’ First, understand that jobs that require high demand on short-term memory, high-stress, or immediate recall would not be a good match. Here is a list of skills generated from several sources and my own ideas:
- Great attention to detail
- Will bring a different perspective that could help with efficiency and creativity
- Precise outcomes
- Well-communicated beginning and end points (for project work)
- Flexible project work (provide project details and ‘let them go’)
- Writing and communicating precise instruction
- Step-by-step – won’t skip details
What does that list actually mean? Here is a list of jobs where a person on the spectrum could (and would) really shine:
- Detail Oriented Occupations
- Procurement Process
- Supply Chain Management
- Computer Programming
- Lab Tech
- Library Science
- Inventory Control
- Spatial Oriented Occupations
- Computer programming –
- Equipment Design
- Occupation that focus on ‘whole process’
- Appliance/Lawnmower Repair
- Building Trades
- Drivers (memorizing maps and routes)
- Occupations that involved ‘flex’ schedules and freelance work
- Commercial Art
- Webpage Design
- Computer Animation
- Copy Editing
I’m sure I will learn and realize much more in the coming years – but knowing this information will help my brain begin processing now. ‘Tis the life of a mother of someone on the spectrum…always thinking, always preparing, always planning.
Some resources used in this writing: