Every so often, I wonder how I ended up with two good jobs. I don’t know how I got my current full time job with the Presbytery and my call as Associate Pastor. I am shocked that I haven’t made some mistake at some point that sent me packing. It’s not that I have done some things that has really pissed a few folks. But for some reason, I’ve been able to rectify the situation and try to be a better worker.
The reason I’m surprised is that the number of folks on the autistic spectrum with a job is pretty low. Really low. Really, really low. Here are some stats to shock you:
Fifteen to 17 percent of adults with ASDs work full-time, according to a U.K. study (2007). Other researchers have found similar trends. Even those of us with doctorates struggle with employment in academia (Diament 2005). Outside technology fields, the world is less than welcoming (Anthes 1997).
We are attending college, obtaining degrees, and ending up unemployed. It is a struggle to finish college, and yet that only marks the beginning. We love the success stories of students with ASDs in college (Erb 2008). Those stories don’t answer the “what next” question. A U.C. Berkeley study found adults with ASDs struggle with unemployment:
— Almost all participants … reported lengthy periods of unemployment and/or underemployment, as well as lack of opportunities for career advancement. In the words of one participant, “I spent much more time being unemployed than being employed altogether” (Müller, et al 2007).
The problem is that even though people on the spectrum can do really well in school, they face a whole new game in the workplace. Any place of work is a social place. You have to constantly learn how to treat folks and a missed social cue can be an excuse to send you packing.
But people on the spectrum have problems even before they get to the office. Interviews are always hard because in many ways you have to learn how to “act.” Again their are social cues that someone like yours truly just miss.
The blogger Autistic Me shares his own fears about his own job as a professor:
The university is a workplace, and I worry about the same things I’d worry about in any other job. At some point, I will say or do the “wrong” thing. I’m certain I’ve said and done plenty “wrong” already. You can say the wrong thing in more ways than I could outline here. You can support the right program, for the right reasons, yet find yourself opposing someone powerful. You can might criticize something a powerful person supports. It often seems the only good approach to employment is to say nothing — but I’m not capable of saying nothing at all.
I work from home as much as possible to avoid interacting with coworkers. I don’t want to say anything to anyone, because I know I’ll mess up by having any opinions.
There’s little reason to comment on what is going well. Why would I say something about a routine day or a decent class? So, I end up only mentioning problems that should be solved. I don’t like to make small talk or to waste time with the obvious. As a result, people assume I am a “negative” person, when the reality is I look to solve problems. In my ideal day, I’d have little to say or I’d only have extraordinary events to celebrate. But that’s not most workplaces. We all see problems and, I hope, most of us would like to improve our workplaces.
I constantly worry about my either job. I worry I am saying the wrong thing and hurting someone or that I’m not speaking up enough. I worry because I have said the wrong thing or did not do something I was supposed to do and ended up paying for it- sometimes with my job.
The thing is, I really don’t know what can be done to help those of us who are autistic. I don’t have an answer for myself. At some point, I will need or want to look at another job or seek another call. I have to hope I can use the skills I have tried to learn over the years to try to get through the interviews and make that next employment experience as hassle free as possible.
Hope and God are all I have to rely on.
We need a more tolerant world, before more people with ASD can be gainfully employed. I choose the word gainfully, since many organizations are now interested in farming people out an minimum wage jobs in a supportive environment. That hurts more than it helps. The stats in New York are 92% unemployment rates for adults with Asperger’s.