Importance of High Functioning Autism Awareness for Employment

The term “high functioning” autism may make the condition sound like it’s not so hard to for the person to get a job. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case and their skills are wasted.

It’s very easy to overlook the fact that they need help in finding a job when they’re good at acting non-autistic, they have the skills for the job, or they have good grades.

Even though I only have HFA, I still have areas that I struggle with. That’s why I think we need autism awareness whether we’re “high” or “low” functioning.

My struggles include:

  • Job interviews
  • Socializing
  • Sensory overload
  • Describing emotions
  • Expressing emotions
  • Using incorrect facial expressions
  • Processing social cues
  • Volume control and tone of voice
  • Not knowing what the written rules for socializing are
  • Taking things literally
  • Difficulty understanding sarcasm
  • Misunderstanding instructions especially if they’re spoken instead of written
  • Restricted interests
  • Recognizing faces

The national unemployment rate in Canada is only 6.6% as of February 2017. Here’s a chart of the unemployment rates in Canada by province and territory.

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Source: Wikipedia

Depending on which studies you read, for autistic people, their unemployment rates can be 85%! That’s not a typo. It’s 85% not 8.5%. Unfortunately, those with HFA are similarly affected. That’s why I think they need as much help. This article also lists other struggles besides employment, and has myths and facts about HFA.

From the symptoms mentioned above, you may have a better idea why it’s so hard for them to do well in job interviews or keep a job.

When a person partially shuts down from sensory overload, it can be mistaken for lacking interest if they become quiet or refuses to participate, or lacking the skills if they have difficulty performing. You can learn more about sensory overload from videos, forums, and other articles.

I think shutting down from sensory overload can also make us unaware of our condition and make it more difficult to avoid the situation. I tend to overestimate my ability to tolerate sensory overload. That’s why I think we should be aware of it and be prepared. I’m now bringing ear plugs more often when I go out.

Sources of excessive noise that can cause sensory overload at work include music, dining areas, crowds, appliances, vehicles, and phone calls.

Since autistic people may have a hard time sensing the volume of their voice, they might not notice the need to raise their volume when it gets louder. They might speak too loud in a quiet place or too quiet in a loud place.

Difficulties with the unwritten rules and expressing emotions can affect our first impressions. For example, if we want to share our interests, how do we know when it’s too much information. I feel the need to experiment.

Since it’s hard for autistic people to pass job interviews, I think we should share our skills and hobbies online, have networks, share autism awareness articles, and try to get support. It may benefit us if we pursue a diagnosis.

Thankfully, there’s employment services for people with disabilities. Some companies actually hire autistic people because of their strengths. I’m hoping that their employment rates would significantly increase in the future.

This article only focuses on employment. There’s other areas of concern as well.

Possible Need for Ear Plugs for an Autistic Person

Ear plugs may benefit autistic people because they may prevent sensory overload.

After watching a video saying that addressing sensory issues may benefit socializing, I’m considering giving ear plugs a try when there’s too much noise even if it isn’t over 85 decibels.

Noisy environments include:

  • Cafeterias
  • Restaurants
  • Roads
  • Vehicles
  • Homes

I might be sensitive to noise because at high levels because it seems to cause me to zone out and look like day dreaming. With sensory overload, other sounds and sensory information can become faint enough that I won’t notice that I dropped some coins even though other people heard it.

It’s probably not a coincidence that preparing a shopping list at a store, deciding what to order at a restaurant, and studying in a cafeteria are much more difficult than when done at home. There’s probably too much information from other senses as well.

I hope that resolving sensory issues can improve socializing, mental capacity and endurance, and productivity.

If they’re effective, I might look for other features such as invisibility, noise cancellation, musician grade, high fidelity, volume control, reusability, and custom fit for long term use.

Importance of Clear Instructions for an Autistic Person (Car Wash Example)

Here’s an example of why clear instructions can be important for an autistic person. I’m using car wash as an example because I’ve hand washed them before.

If I’m told to do a good job washing a car, I might spend too much time removing tough stains and cleaning hard to see or reach areas, spending unrealistic amounts of work and time to get the job done.

Instead of making sure that the wheels of the car look clean, I might make sure that the water from wringing out the used towel can’t look any cleaner.

Instead of just spraying the top of a tall vehicle, or a vehicle’s bottom edge or crevices with water and removing only the obvious stains, I might go as far as carefully wiping it with a towel, and wiping it dry until it’s hard to see the stains close up.

If there’s areas difficult to reach with a vacuum cleaner’s hose such as under car seats, I might adjust them for vacuuming rather than just remove objects underneath by hand even though I’ve already done it recently.

If I feel that I missed some areas, I might go back and carefully look for hard to find stains rather than see the whole car as a clean car.

You can see problems with this.

One of the reasons I feel the need to tell others that I’m autistic is that clear instructions are necessary, it’s easy to be distracted by irrelevant details, I take things literally, and have difficulties reading non-verbal social cues which may be used as feedback.

The earlier clear instructions are given, the better.

It’s a little clearer to say “make sure that the car looks clean” or say “you don’t need to clean where it’s hard to see” rather than saying “make sure that you do a very good job” because I have a better idea of where to focus. I’m more likely to see the car like their friends see it.

I can misinterpret “do a better job”, as pay even more attention to details rather than do what’s relevant.

If told to work faster, I might scrub even harder or faster.

Questions to ask might be “does the car look clean?” while standing at a distance from the car.

Things that I might try include: watch people do the work, read articles about it, watch videos about it, ask for feedback, and ask questions about what’s needed to be done.

To avoid repeating the same mistakes, I’ll have to remember not to thoroughly clean difficult to see areas for my next car wash.

It’s possible that other autistic people have more or less difficulty in this area. They can be affected in different ways.

Other areas that benefit from clear instructions may include:

  • Jobs
  • Homework
  • Lab work
  • Chores
  • Socializing
  • Social cues
  • How much is too much or too little when expressing emotions?
  • Gift giving
  • How much time to spend with friends
  • Conversations
  • How much details to give when telling others about yourself or your interests
  • How to have eye contact without staring because eye contact is considered important
  • Other rules for socializing

 

Social Cues List

As someone with autism, I understand that socializing can be difficult for those on the spectrum which is why I created a list of social cues.

most-communication
Only 7% of communication is spoken words.
  • Eye blinking
  • Eye contact
  • Movement of eyes
  • Pupil size
  • Tear production
  • Saliva production
  • Facial expression
  • Gesture
  • Fidgeting
  • Posture
  • Walking style
  • Travelling speed
  • Content of conversations
  • Framing in conversations
  • Volume of voice
  • Tone of voice
  • Rate of speech
  • Perspiration
  • Skin temperature
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Appetite
  • Thirst
  • Interests
  • Alertness
  • Respiratory rate
  • Respiratory depth
  • Swallowing
  • Distance
  • Personal space
  • Pace of work
  • Energy levels
  • Jewelries
  • Sunglasses
  • Headphones
  • Hair
  • Clothing

I tend to rely more on spoken words and overlook the social cues especially if they’re subtle.

It’s possible to learn the cues by studying them. Even then, socializing can still be challenging.

What do you think?

 

13 Interesting Facts about Autism

Here are 13 interesting facts about autism. Some of them may be contrary to what we thought.

Job Hunting Challenges of an Autistic Person

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In my last article, I mentioned that for people with autism, getting a job isn’t very easy. I want to share my challenges with job hunting and what I learned from it because I am mildly autistic and hope that in the near future, getting a job is easier.

Interviews were never easy for me. I remember that in my first few interviews, I was too quiet and took a long time to answer their questions. I feel that my interviews have improved somewhat from practicing but there is still a long way to go.

Interview questions can be vague. An autistic person can misinterpret the questions. Some sample answers don’t seem to make sense. One example is “What is your weakness?” It’s easy to give an answer that disqualifies you. When someone says he likes to finish his work ahead of time, it sounds more like a person’s strength.

An autistic person can be too honest in answering questions. One example is “how fast are you at working?” How do we know the answer when we don’t have very much experience? If they find out that I don’t work very fast, wouldn’t I be disqualified?

At an interview, I was asked about my education before. I wasn’t sure how to sell myself because my studies seem unrelated to the job. At BCIT, I completed a program called Food Technology. When you first hear the name, it sounds like a cooking class. Much of the program was about producing safe food products, testing food for safety, and testing food for quality. In a few of the courses, we did have some cooking experience.

How we frame our answers is important. In interviews, we want positive framing. When they ask questions that seem to disqualify everyone, there is still a way to frame the answers positively and be honest at the same time.

One example of framing is:

  • “10% chance of success”
  • “90% chance of failure”

Both mean the same thing but the former is framed positively and the latter negatively. This example is easier to frame because there is only one word to change. In more difficult examples, you will have to add more information to frame positively. Sometimes the negative statement sounds like raw information. One example from Career Horizons is:

  • Negative Statement: “Nobody’s hiring and the economy stinks.”
  • Positive Statement: “While times are tough out there, for sure, things could definitely be a lot worse — we’re not in Haiti — and it seems like there’s been some increased movement and hiring activity taking place so far in 2010, based on what I’m seeing out there.”

Since I haven’t got a job yet, I realized that I needed help so I went to employment agencies. They help people write resumes and cover letters. They also help you answer interview questions. Some agencies have you answer questionnaires to discover your interests.

Unfortunately, not enough interviewers are trained to detect the skills in autistic people. They still need to go through the interview process. I think interviewers should test autistic people based on how well they will perform on the job. I’m not saying that questions irrelevant to the job description should not be asked because a good character is definitely important.

Friends can help find a job. Even though autistic people tend to have fewer friends, their relatives may have a lot of friends. They can recommend somebody to an employer or hire that person. In the past, I was hired by family friends for temporary work such as lawn mowing, irrigation, and other chores for a few summers.

Some companies hire autistic people who can be great with computers. Last summer, I worked as a Technical Assistant. In that job, I used Microsoft Excel documents to display results from a database. The program had to be user-friendly and free of errors.

In my previous studies, I discovered that two of my non-autistic classmates found job interviews easy which seemed too good to be true because I’ve never found them easy to pass and there are lots of applicants out there to compete with. It made sense because they were outgoing, friendly, and confident. It’s also possible that their friends worked with their interviewers. I have yet to discover how to portray that positive impression.

Interviewers hire based on first impression. They look at our posture, clothing, eye contact, and attitude. One article says that in an interview, a hiring decision is made in the first five minutes. Some studies even suggest that first impressions are formed within a fraction of a second so it’s important to be aware of our body language before, during, and after the interview. This means we should look confident even before we enter the building.

There’s a saying that you only get one chance at first impressions. I wonder if autistic people can get second chances by disclosing their disability during or after the interview.

I find it hard because I tend not to be very expressive. Perhaps at interviews, I answer things in a way that’s too robotic.

Since autism has affected my ability to get a job, I’ve been getting help online and paying more attention to how I act whether in public or during interviews. I’ve even attempted to smile the whole time in public areas just to look friendly. I learned to use a mirror to make sure that I’m using the correct facial muscles. It should look natural.

In my recent job hunts, I’ve been practicing smiling while handing out resumes to businesses such as retail stores and restaurants. Smiling seemed to make the staff friendlier and happier.

My goal is to be perceived as approachable enough that the interviewer becomes interested and accepting. This would make the interview easier and the autistic applicant less nervous.

In conclusion, I think people should not be hired based on first impressions. I think people should be hired based on good character and skills. After all, how accurate are first impressions?

Why Adult Autism Awareness is Important

I’m writing this article to promote autism awareness because I recently learned that according to a study, only 15% of autistic adults are working. This applies to all people on the spectrum including those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Even if an autistic person can do the job very well and has a degree, getting and keeping a job is still tough because of the lack of social and communication skills.

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Employment rates for autistics compared to those of other types of disabilities. Source: http://www.slideshare.net/marjoriemadfis/autism-employment-and-yes-she-can-inc

Autism is pretty common. About two percent (1 in 68) of the population is autistic. Relatives, friends, friends of friends, classmates, or college grads may have autism spectrum disorder. I am autistic too and I’m learning how to have a good first impression for my job search.

Autistic workers can have skills that benefit employers which include:

  • Deep interest and focus in certain subjects
  • Tolerating and even preferring routines
  • Being able to concentrate on tasks that appear boring
  • Attention to details

To pass a job interview, a good first impression is required. Interviewers look for social cues to predict how confident (competent), friendly, interested, and honest the person is. Autistics have a hard time with eye contact, smiling, tone of voice, and gestures.

A job that doesn’t require very much talking or social interaction is most suitable for those with autism. The work place would be improved if they were hired because there would be a wider variety of skills.

If you know someone who has difficulty finding a job or a company looking for those skills, you can help by sharing this.