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Asperger’s Syndrome In The Workplace

I recently read an intriguing article, regarding the approach taken to Asperger’s Syndrome in the workplace. Despite the world moving in the right direction in regard to exclusivity, some people with Asperger’s Syndrome and autism still have difficulty finding and holding onto employment. The article in question suggested that finding and keeping a job would be easier and more successful for those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome if potential employers and colleagues understood the specific condition’s characteristics, allowing them to better put in place some strategies for success.

I tend to agree. Especially as characteristics such as a love of order and tidiness, attention to detail, good factual knowledge for concrete concepts, and a good memory, can be so beneficial in certain industries! When given the chance, many individuals on the autism spectrum find success in the fields of banking, engineering, finance and computing. Others enjoy more routine and repetitive tasks such as stacking grocery shelves, factory work, or administrative duties. Autistic employees, and employees with Asperger’s Syndrome, can bring a range of strengths, interests and skills to the workforce - often demonstrating exemplary characteristics in visual thinking, divergent thinking to problem solving, honesty, efficiency, and precision, consistency and low absenteeism.

Despite the arguably vast number of benefits, it has to be acknowledged that there can be obstacles to overcome, also. People with Asperger’s Syndrome often have difficulty changing from task to task, multi-tasking, difficulty with learning new tasks and transferring skills from one situation to another, for example. Sometimes, certain things we assume a person learns from exposure and experience have to be specifically taught to the person with Asperger’s Syndrome, and constantly reinforced to reduce stress, confusion and frustration - which may lead to behavioural difficulties, or withdrawal and depression.

Understanding the strengths and difficulties of an employee with Asperger’s Syndrome is important, as is providing routine, structure and predictability. With the right strategies, you can get just as much from an employee with Asperger’s Syndrome as you can from a person without. In certain circumstances, you can even get more from them.

To break it down, in the workplace, the person with Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty:

· Interpreting instructions

· In noisy situations

· In unstructured situations

· Starting work

· Organising tasks


1. Keep instructions brief and precise

o use simple, concrete language

o written instructions are preferable

o confirm the person has understood, and re-iterate your point if any miscommunication has occurred

o use peers/ co-workers to provide cues

2. Give the person time to process the instruction

o Be sure you have his/her attention

o Allow enough time to absorb each instruction

o Invite person to repeat back the instruction

3. If practical, make use of visual cues and procedures

o A written schedule or task list is preferable to verbal instructions

o Use flowcharts or diagrams if appropriate

4. Break the work into smaller steps

o Check progress regularly

o Give positive feedback

o Be prepared to negotiate

Organisational Skills (Executive Functioning)

People with Asperger’s Syndrome may have difficulty with:

· Organising themselves and their belongings

· Listening to multiple instructions

· Coping with changes – room, times, colleagues

· Distractions – other people talking /on phone, sitting in close proximity

· Interpreting abstract instructions

· Sequential instructions

· Focussing on important part of the task

· Planning how to tackle a task and getting started

· Estimating time tasks will take

· Prioritising and setting deadlines

· Fine and gross motor skills


· Use visual cues and instructions

· Colour code instructions

· Use concrete language

· Allow a worker to mark off each tasks as it is finished

· Point to the starting place

· Show an examples of what you are requiring or provide a template

· Daily briefing to set actions, clarify changes and reinforce targets

· Verbal reassurance


The expressive (spoken) and receptive (listening) language skills of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome may not correlate and have particular characteristics; for example they may:

· have an ‘odd’ intonation

· show concrete interpretation – take things literally

· show one word/one meaning use of words

· unusual linkage of thoughts

· be confined to narrow topics of conversation

· feature learned phrases in particular situations

· be out of synch as their receptive skills are not in line with their expressive skills

· show misinterpretation of what was said

· hear only the beginning or end of an instruction or comment

· not be able to interpret the real meaning of colloquialisms, metaphors, sarcasm or wit

· have feelings of inadequacy and isolation from peers as they cannot understand what is happening


· use visual cues where possible

· explain if you are joking or teasing

· reassure that it is OK to be wrong and be supportive

· keep language simple and direct

· talk through situations –rehearse what you could say

· refrain from sarcasm

Social Skills

People with Asperger’s Syndrome can be social “blind “and may appear socially awkward. The problem is that they do not know intuitively how to behave, even though they know they are different and do want to interact. They often have difficulty with social interaction as they:

· don’t understand the unwritten rules of social behaviour

· may talk about inappropriate subjects

· have difficulty understanding their own feelings and the feelings of others

· can be very outspoken and tactless

· have a strong sense of justice and see things in black and white terms

· have difficulty making friends

· lack the idea of personal space

· misinterpret the behaviour of peers

· may dislike being touched

· can appear naïve and vulnerable

· don’t interpret body language or facial expressions, or pick up on nonverbal communication

· have poor conversation skills – talking over people, not knowing how to stop


· “debrief” situations by discussing what he/she could have done differently

· Encourage self-control by providing “ timeout” periods and locations to enable them to de-stress and relax without any social expectations or demands

· Use written reminders to support proposed actions

· Be aware how vulnerable a person may be to peer pressure, bullying, influence


Employees with Asperger’s Syndrome need:

· Consistency

· Predictability

· A calm and controlled line manager

· An organised workplace

Most importantly, remember that every individual has their own unique set of needs, and their own unique set of skills. Don’t dismiss the idea of hiring a person with Asperger’s Syndrome before meeting them, as hiring them may be the best thing you ever do!

If you’d like further help regarding this topic, consider my autism training course for employers – I’d love to have you there.


Elements of this blog have been reproduced with permission from Autism Victoria

©2011 Autism Victoria trading as Amaze

HAWKINS, G., How to find Work That Works for People with Asperger’s Syndrome, Jessica Kingley Publishers, 2004.



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