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Choosing the Right Occupation for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome

In my coaching practice, I work with clients who are bright, skilled, and college educated. Yet many struggle to find and maintain employment. Some individuals have no idea of what kind of job to pursue. Others have an inaccurate picture of what certain occupations involve and/or their abilities. Still others find themselves with college degrees in fields that offer few openings and little or no projected job growth.  

Finding the right occupation for someone with Asperger Syndrome is like fitting together pieces of a puzzle. Interests and abilities are as important as work environment and the impact of Asperger Syndrome.

Interests Alone May Not Get the Job

Exploring interests is a natural place to start. However, it is a mistake to assume that interest in a subject will translate into gainful employment. Take Steven, for example. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with the goal of finding a job in public policy. He figured that his knowledge of government, interest in research, and 3.8 GPA would make it easy to find an entry-level position.

Instead, Steven found himself in a field that attracted many applicants and offered a small number of jobs. Employers expected job applicants to have internships or related volunteer experience. Steven had neither. During the school year, all his energy was devoted to keeping up with class work. He had not been able to find an internship during summer breaks. Most of the job openings were in the Washington, D.C. area, and Steven did not want to move.

Steven continued to visit job boards, send out resumes, and hope for interviews. But now, 11 months after graduation, he wasn’t thinking about shaping public policy. His priority, and that of his parents, was any job that would provide steady income.

Work Environment Matters

It is my experience that the work environment can be as, or even more important than, specific job tasks. My clients are remarkably consistent in describing environments that are conducive to their success:

  • At least some elements of routine
  • Structure and clear performance expectations
  • Minimal interruptions/multitasking
  • Supportive co-workers
  • Not too much pressure
  • Quiet workspace/minimal sensory distraction

Sensory processing difficulties can interfere with employment in surprising ways. One woman I coached had to leave a job because the smell of tobacco smoke on a co-worker’s clothing made her gag (there was no place she could move to in the very small office). A young man was let go from a customer service position because he could not simultaneously listen to and type customer information into a database.

Understand All the Aspects of a Job

Sometimes, a person forms an incorrect idea of what an occupation involves by focusing on the wrong details or on just one or two aspects of a job. Rick was bored in his administrative position and wanted a career that was in line with his interests. His passion was baseball. “What I want,” he explained, “is a quiet, low-stress, behind-the-scenes job.” 

Initially, Rick’s idea of a “behind-the-scenes” job was to manage team travel for a major league baseball club. He based this choice on one detail: he wanted to work in an office, not amid the chaos of screaming fans in a stadium. He soon discovered that managing team travel required a level of multitasking and managing deadlines that he simply couldn’t handle.

Know How Asperger Syndrome Affects Employability

My belief is that the more a person understands about how Asperger’s impacts him, the better. Some challenges can be mitigated by learning or improving specific skills, utilizing assistive technology, or requesting workplace accommodations. Others can’t be changed. Knowledge of these enables a person to avoid occupations that would be frustrating or impossible.

Helping someone with Asperger Syndrome to see options can reveal a manageable career path. Someone with an interest in teaching can work in a traditional classroom setting, either with children or adults. He might work as a trainer, teaching corporate employees how to use software or new technology systems. Someone with a talent for writing could create instructional manuals or textbooks. A person who likes animals might enjoy teaching canine obedience classes or training assistance animals. 

Remember Rick? It turned out that he possessed a talent for writing. He began contributing posts, on a volunteer basis, to a local sports blog. He hoped this might lead to a paid position as a sports writer or editor. 

Taking the time to carefully explore interests plus abilities, plus the right work environment, plus the impact of Asperger Syndrome can pay off in manageable employment for the long term.

About the Author

Barbara Bissonnette is a certified coach and the principal of Forward Motion Coaching. She specializes in career development coaching for adults with Asperger Syndrome and similar autism spectrum profiles. She is the author of three books on the topic of Asperger’s and employment, and presents training seminars around the country for professionals. Dates for her seminar, Finding Employment that Works for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, can be found on the Forward Motion coaching Web site.

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