• Thinking not wrong but differently. This can (and should!) be monetized
• Be clear and unambiguous. Dispel the fog!
• Limited abstract thinking and problem-solving skills
• Focus on one task - key to success. Multitasking - key to failure
• Seeing once is better than hearing twice
Note that all autistic people are different. What is described in the sections of this page may apply to different people to a greater or lesser extent, and some sections may not be applicable at all. Everything is described based on both my own experience and information about other autists found on the Internet.
Thinking not wrong but differently. This can (and should!) be monetized
"When people with Asperger's Syndrome take an interest in certain things and they become proficient in them. They study the subject and know it in a great deal of detail and can recall that detail to others with ease. They see it as something that they want to know about and will take the time to fully understand it right down to the finer points. In addition, they have a high level of skills in many areas, such as numeracy, technology and design to name a few and these skills and their expertise make them valuable employees for companies looking to develop new products, processes and systems. This ability to think outside the box and visualise new ideas adds to their skills and employability." (The source)
From Accessing neurodiverse talent key to filling skills gap:
"Neurodiverse people, such as those with a diagnosis of autism spectrum condition, often have exceptional skills such as pattern recognition, logical thinking, central coherence (attention to detail) and accuracy, which make autistic candidates strong contenders for many STEM roles requiring these capabilities.
It is no secret that the more diverse a team is, the more successful and productive it is likely to be. By committing to optimising inclusivity, organisations stand to maximise their access to the best talent. In order to kickstart this process, it is crucial that businesses recognise and understand where significant barriers may be present in their organisation so they can be overcome. Often the changes needed are not actually that sizeable and, with the right support to underpin them and appropriate training, both businesses and individuals can reap the rewards."
From The Employer's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome/Autism:
"Asperger's Syndrome/autism can impact executive functioning in various ways. The employee may not see how his tasks fit into the larger whole, unless this is explicitly explained. He may need assistance to establish priorities, and to utilize written notes and checklists to remember multi-step processes. In the right job with the right supports, individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are dedicated, loyal contributors and answer the on-going need of businesses for skilled, educated workers. While these individuals face a number of challenges, Asperger's/autism also confers specific strengths that make them particularly well-suited to jobs requiring attention to detail and prolonged focus. Many have above-average intelligence and enter the workforce with college degrees. The business community is recognizing that people with Asperger's/autism can be terrific assets when they are in the right jobs, and receive the needed supports."
From Imagine a human genome becomes a blocker in your life:
"Imagine a variation of a human genome becomes a blocker in your life. You may not even be aware of it, but several of your genes appear to be different. You are born with it, you cannot grow out of it, and there is no cure for it. You may not even feel you need to be cured. But the rest of the world does.
They are mixed bags like all of us. But their strengths and weaknesses tend to be different.
In fact, many neurodiverse minds have higher-than-average abilities. They apply at your firm with master’s degrees in electrical engineering, economic statistics, in computer science, engineering physics, applied and computational mathematics. Yet, companies still fail to create the conditions for such unusual wizzards.
• For being different, neurodiverse minds often have extraordinary abilities. They can become a competitive advantage for employers.
• Sometimes they exhibit eccentricities - challenging for others. These are difference and not disorders. In fact, neurodiverse people believe that their differences do not need to be cured. They simply need accommodation at work.
• As a consequence, neurodiversity is manageable within a workplace and the potential returns can be great.
• To reap the benefits, companies must adopt a broader definition of talent and adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development.
Silicon Valley remains the home of one of the largest autism clusters. With the high incidence of autism, local tech companies systematically attract such talent for their bottom line. Hewlett Packard showed that neurodiverse software testing teams were up to 30% more productive than the others."
Be clear and unambiguous. Dispel the fog!
For the work to be successful, it is critical to communicate information to the autist in a straightforward manner, formulate tasks unambiguously. If you have to convey an idea, write it as directly as possible - do not imply it. Never mean anything - always write things literally!
If the autistic worker has received precise, clearly articulated instructions (ideally broken into small segments), he/she will complete the task at the highest quality level!
So, everyone wins - this will make the life easier not only for the autistic person, but also for his/her co-workers and the supervisor.
From Is My Company Ready to Hire Employees with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?:
"Set Clear Instructions and Be Specific in What You Want
When giving out an assignment or specific task, individuals with autism benefit greatly from clear direction. If possible, providing written step-by-step instructions will greatly improve your employee’s ability to perform at their highest capacity. If it is not possible to provide such instruction, assure them that they can always seek assistance if they feel the responsibility is unclear."
From It's a Neurodiverse Universe:
"Autism is characterized by differences in social interactions and communications. This makes clear unambiguous instructions on the job highly valued (preferably written) and regular feedback super important, so the employee knows when they are doing it right!"
From Best Practices for Training and Developing Employees with Autism:
"When training and developing autistic employees, be sure to offer them clear instructions on what is required of them, as they will likely follow everything you tell them explicitly and literally with extreme attention to detail. Don't expect them to make inferences or to understand or follow insinuations."
From The Importance of World Autism Awareness Month to the Video Games Industry:
"Autistic people communicate differently. The details of this will depend on each autistic individual, but some things that can cause miscommunication at work include a need for very specific and unambiguous instructions, a tendency to take things literally, and a need for more time to process and respond to interactions."
From Accessing neurodiverse talent key to filling skills gap:
"It is amazing how ambiguous our communication can often be. At best our colloquialisms and shorthand are confusing, but for someone who is neurodiverse these sorts of statements are completely nonsensical and can be extremely hard to navigate. Crucially, HR leaders can pave the way by encouraging all employees to be conscious of using clear and specific communication – it is good practice for everyone, not just those who are autistic."
From How and why to embrace neurodiversity in the workforce:
"If you have a more neurodiverse workforce, it challenges and improves people’s approach to communication, management and teamwork. For example, if a team member requires concise, unambiguous instructions and task allocation, people will start to pay more attention to their communication generally. There are a lot of ancillary benefits to bringing neurodiversity into a team and you will raise the game for the entire team. Also, if you have autistic people doing what they do best, you also free up neurotypical [i.e. non-autistic] people to do what they do best. It’s a winwin, provided you approach it in an open and inclusive manner, where people are confident to speak out about where they have strengths and shortcomings."
Talking about software developer positions, there should be a layer between the developers and the business - a tech lead or system analyst who translates the requirements from the business language to the technical language that is understandable to developers and extremely univocal, i.e. never and under no circumstances allows for the possibility of ambiguous understanding of what is written.
The next rule is very important for autistic people. By the way, following it will make any project more successful and save the company a huge amount of money anyway, even without any connection with autists:
The technical design specification should be so precise and comprehensive that programmers would not be required to understand the business for which the application is being written, except for a superficial understanding of the main entities.
Programmers cannot be expected to be experts in the business - they have no education in this field. This is what makes it easy for them to move from one company to another. Programmers are experts in an absolutely different profession - software development (in the same way as construction workers are not experts in architecture).
Limited abstract thinking and problem-solving skills
The reason for the need in clear instructions is the insufficient ability of many autists to think abstractly and see the "big picture". Their thinking is limited to the specific details that are in front of their eyes.
Abstract thinking is considering concepts, making generalizations, and thinking philosophically. Researchers have found that many people on autism spectrum may have trouble with abstract and conceptual thinking, as well as with strategic thinking and problem-solving, which require colossal skills in comprehending abstract situations (Associations between conceptual reasoning, problem solving, and adaptive ability in high-functioning autism). Some may eventually acquire abstract skills, but others never will.
Many autistic people rely heavily on concrete thinking. It's reasoning that is based on what they can see, hear, feel, and experience in the here and now. It's sometimes called literal thinking, because it's reasoning that focuses on physical objects, immediate experiences, and exact interpretations. If you need to communicate an abstract concept to an autistic person, use visual and concrete examples to illustrate the abstract idea.
"...autistic minds process cognitive information differently to non-autistic minds. In particular, I think, we on the spectrum need to see concrete examples - the details - up front in order to "get" an abstract concept, where a non-autistic person might be happy with a succession of vague descriptions in terms of other nebulous abstractions that may eventually flesh out the concept.
This is not so much a difficulty in using abstract concepts that the autistic person already understands - autistic people can excel at using abstract reason. The difficulty lies in acquiring new abstract concepts: until the autistic mind can see the sensory details of a working example in action, the concept feels unreliable, scary, lacking any boundaries or definition. We build abstractions from details, not from other abstractions.
I am a postgraduate in philosophy, and achieved high marks in mathematics. I am happy working with abstract reasoning, but I still experienced difficulty when lecturers tried to explain one abstract concept in terms of other abstract concepts. I needed to work through a concrete example, to see the abstraction embodied in it, and then I was free to use the abstract concept - and even apply it to unconventional situations."
Focus on one task - key to success. Multitasking - key to failure
From Best Practices for Training and Developing Employees with Autism:
"...don't expect most employees with autism to switch their schedules around or be comfortable with changing their assigned tasks and duties at the last minute, as they often excel in environments that offer routines and structure."
Task switching is a serious problem for autistic workers. It is a very destructive idea to force them to do something new if they have not finished the current task yet, and then return to the previous assignment: multitasking leads autistic people to rapid exhaustion, sensory overload and physical and emotional burnout.
If the employer or the manager wants to get excellent results, then the best thing is to provide the autist with clear instructions and leave them alone, giving them the opportunity to finish the work with no distraction.
When you get to this point, you may be thinking, "What does all that have to do with autism? Anyone would be happy to get clear assignments, and anyone dislikes multitasking". Alas, there is a great distance between "disliking" and "being hardly able, and suffering if you are forced anyway". Imagine that at work you have to constantly run up and down the stairs. That probably wouldn't make you happy. Now imagine having a job like that for a disabled person with a prosthetic leg. The strong difference between autistic and neurotypical people does exist on a physiological level, even if it is not catching the eye of the bystander, and the limitations and suffering of autists are not fictional, although it is difficult for you to understand what this is about if you are not autistic.
From the site aspergers.ru:
"Monotropism (single-tasking) is one of the strategies for distributing attention in the human brain, the other is polytropism (multi-tasking). According to the hypothesis of monotropism, the resource of attention is limited, and events in the psyche compete for it and consume it. Autistic people are assumed to lack multitasking and their brains are monotropic. In the polytropic brain, moderate attention is given to each of the multitude of events and interests, while in the monotropic brain, a person's attention is divided between fewer tasks, which means a tendency both to perform them well and to omit information related to other tasks."
You can read about autistic monotropism here.
From Inflexibility may give pupils with autism problems in multitasking:
"...people with autism may find it difficult to multitask because they stick rigidly to tasks in the order they are given to them, according to research led by an academic at the University of Strathclyde. The study also found that difficulty with 'prospective memory' - remembering to carry out their intentions - may contribute to the challenges they face. The pupils with autism achieved tasks when they were given to them singly but difficulties emerged when they were asked to interleave the tasks with each other. There was no difference in the time taken by the groups but the pupils with autism completed fewer tasks."
From Is it harder for an autistic to multitask?:
"Part of the neurological make-up of autism is wired to hyperfocus on very specific tasks or interests at one time. This is a way of easing anxiety and reducing overwhelm.
Although having intense, narrow interests is not a part of the diagnostic criteria for autism, repetitive and restricted behavior is and these two tend to go hand in hand. Because we get so hyperfocused in our interests, some of us may have to structure a repetitive routine in order to allow us this freedom of time; otherwise we can get completely absorbed and may lose track of time completely.
We tend to be fixated on the next most important task to us and if we get distracted we can quickly lose momentum and struggle to get back into what we we're doing, or get too caught up with the distractions that we forget what we were doing to begin with.
We tend to not be very good at shelving something temporarily unless we know it's something we can do quickly and immediately, or we write it down, so that not too much of our attention is taken away from the initial task. It's common for us to not be able to stop once we get started with something and we may be unresponsive to distractions or get agitated with unexpected setbacks.
It can and does work on a deeper level too. For instance we might be reluctant to have too many commitments because we can get too overwhelmed and distracted with options or feel too compelled to try and balance them all, which can lead to burnout out or lack of productivity.
We're also precise and like to take longer with something to a satisfactory level. This means we can fall behind in what is expected of us daily and means we might struggle to pay attention to other things because of how deeply committed we are.
Autistic people are very all or nothing orientated because our sensitivity makes us love deeply and this makes multi-tasking very challenging for us. Many of us can learn to some degree to improve our multi-tasking skills, but it can be exhausting to keep it up."
Multitasking is bad for anybody, not only for autists
If multitasking is mentioned in the description of an IT position, it means that the work in this company is most likely inefficiently organized. Multitasking is less efficient because it takes extra time to shift mental gears every time a person switches between tasks. For example, distracting a programmer from work to find and fix production bugs (instead of hiring an application support analyst) is a very expensive practice for a company. After all, a significant part of the highly paid time will be devoted to repeatedly "rearranging" for suddenly arising tasks, and then returning to the main job
From The Forbs: Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career:
"Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they'd expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child."
From Multitasking: Switching costs:
"Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time."
Well, 40% is probably an exaggeration, but the waste of time for autists is definitely considerable. Moreover, this is not just a waste of time, but also enormous efforts and anxiety, which cannot but affect the overall quality of work.
Seeing once is better than hearing twice
This saying perfectly describes autistic people, who perceive written information much better than heard information (especially its Russian version, which says "Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times"):
This should be taken into account by managers and colleagues of autistic employees. If you want to communicate information to an autistic worker that requires deep comprehending, do not do it verbally - rather, send an email with the facts listed briefly.
It also makes sense to shield the autistic employee as much as possible from business meetings that combine the need to perceive verbal information with live communication with people. A neurotypical person will never understand the effort, stress and suffering autists are facing in such meetings!
In general, autists find it more difficult than neurotypical people with the same qualifications to find and keep a suitable job or build a career. Even if an autistic worker has tremendous knowledge of the profession, he or she often has no talent for working with people. This makes it very difficult for them to understand office politics, personal relationships and corporate ethics.
Unemployment rates among autistic people are unacceptably high (in fact, they are even higher than the rates in other disability categories, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability or speech-language impairment). And it's not because we're unworthy or incapable. Recruitment processes and many workplaces are not autism-friendly.
From the video Autism and Job Interviews:
"Autistic people have hard time at job interviews no matter how well-dressed they are, or how well prepared they are, or how hard they've tried really, because job interviews are a highly neurotypical social dance, and it's frustrating because recruiters and employers can't see how valuable autistic people can be."
From the video People with autism recruited for skilled jobs:
"An interview is a barrier [for an autistic applicant] in the same way as a step might be a barrier for a person who's confined to a wheelchair."
From Career Choices for People with Autism: First Hand Advice:
"Many people struggle with finding a job and establishing a career for themselves. In addition, there are often multiple applicants for only one job vacancy, which can be discouraging to any jobseeker. However, for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD), this search is often much more difficult. The social difficulties that result from ASD can cause these individuals to struggle in job interviews and in finding a work environment that is appropriate for their needs."
From Accessing neurodiverse talent key to filling skills gap:
"At auticon, a social enterprise which exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants, we bypass many of the traditional HR practices (such as formal interviews) that can often disadvantage autistic talent. For some roles, especially those with a strong technical requirement, it is possible to find quality talent through a series of more generalised assessments and diagnostic tests to check aptitude and skills, followed by more relaxed and informal ‘conversations’ that significantly reduce much of the pressure and anxiety that so often goes hand-in-hand with the traditional assessment systems."
From the video Autism: Neurodiversity at Work Works Best:
"Chase Bank reports that their autistic employees are 40% more productive than a comparable non-autistic employee group. Neurodiversity is productive. However, it's really important to understand that only approximately 20% of Americans who have autism can actually hold a competitive job, and many of them are never hired despite being well-qualified. Why is that? I'll let you in on a secret. Companies select based on fit. And "fit" is a cover word for "bias." Microsoft is changing that. They've sought out autistic candidates. They've changed their interview process. They've given them more time to showcase their abilities. And clearly, Microsoft is an organization that is interested in hiring substance over fit. In addition to being productive, neurodiversity is innovative!"
From How to Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace:
"While HR leaders now are aware of the advantages that organizations can gain from hiring employees with diverse educational, gender, racial and cultural backgrounds, the benefits of neurodiversity – the range of differences in thinking and behaviour – are less understood.
Though neurodiversity can enhance a company’s ability to innovate and problem-solve, many people with neurodevelopmental differences (like those on the autism spectrum) face less-than ideal experiences in the workforce.
“When I first entered the workforce, companies often lacked any understanding of either recruiting neurodivergent job applicants and/or supporting this group,” says David Moloney, a self-advocate who is on the autistic spectrum, Mutual Fund Indexer at CIBC, and board member at Autism Ontario. “Such misunderstandings often lead to either underemployment or, sadly, unemployment for these individuals.”
Considering all the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, why is neurodiverse talent still overlooked? It starts with attitudinal barriers, bias, discrimination, and fears around neurodiversity. Many organizations adopt inflexible hiring, retention and training practices. Many corporate structures are modelled without a neurodivergent candidate in mind. For example, traditional interview questions like, “What is your weakness,” will likely be interpreted and answered quite literally and bluntly without decoding what is really being asked in that question. Many individuals on the autism spectrum process information and communicate in different ways so a typical interview setting can sometimes obscure a candidates’ qualifications, skills and overall fit for the role. When it comes to hiring, HR leaders should consider alternative methods for evaluating skills. This can include job shadowing [link] and/or work trials where hiring managers can assess if a candidate is a good fit in a practical way."
What are the challenges of working in an office, in a team?
• Problems processing auditory information can make it difficult to follow verbal instructions, especially if the sequence involves more than 2-3 steps; difficult to follow group conversations.
• Difficult or impossible to simultaneously pay attention to many sensory channels (e.g., maintaining eye contact and listening to speech).
• Organizing and prioritizing information can be challenging due to weak central coordination and problems with executive functions.
• Inability to see the big picture. Attention is focused on specific details, but analyzing them and drawing conclusions is very difficult, often unrealistic, so accurate directions to action are critical.
Employers and supervisors can help an autistic person be productive and successful at work. If they understand how to leverage their autistic strengths (for example, with the already mentioned clear guidelines), then they are likely to get the best and most loyal employee.
Something curious happened to me many years ago. It is possible that autism was the reason that I did not lose my job, but... found it! I was doing a technical interview for a database developer position at Motorola. I was told to create two screens: one with a list of something there, and the second (which opens by double-clicking on this list) for inserting and editing individual records. It seems like a trivial matter, but I decided to first create a small framework (a library of universal classes), and then build the screens based on that framework. Moreover, the creation of the framework took 90 percent of the time (in fact, they exist for this - in order to quickly create final objects on their basis). When I came to work on the first day, the boss said:
- There were a lot of applicants. Do you know why I selected you?
- Yes - because I am handsome, good-hearted, modest...
- No. You were the only one who firstly created a framework - the rest immediately rushed to write the screens.
But using frameworks is the right way to create programs, I just couldn't do otherwise! Now I understand that this was a phenomenon of the same nature as putting toys in a row among autistic children, and adherence to routine among many autistic people: the order should not be disturbed!
If you associated this phrase with the specific white label on the T-shirt, then you pay attention to the details and take words literally. Congratulations, you are most likely on the spectrum! Just kidding... :-D
Please read #TakeTheMaskOff: Autism at work - The Autistic Advocate, especially the sections "Have you disclosed that you are Autistic in your workplace? If yes, why? If no, why?" and "If you have Disclosed in the workplace, what was the reaction and have you been able to unMask to any degree?".
Also, you might be interested in reading My characteristics in detail. That page describes, among other things, the autism traits mentioned on the page you just finished reading, and provides a lot of additional material of interest from the point of view of employment.
Some links about neurodiversity in the workplace:
• Autism IS linked to higher intelligence: People with genes related to the condition scored better in mental ability tests
• 3 Reasons Autistic Children Excel at Computer Coding
• The Benefits Of Employing People With Autism
• What Genius and Autism Have in Common
• Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Review)
• Where 75% of workers are on the autistic spectrum (BBC)
• Auticon - a consulting company that employs IT professionals with autism in Ontario, Canada
• Disclosing an autism diagnosis to employers
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