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Employment and Adults with Asperger Syndrome

Hurlbutt, K. & Chalmers, L. (2004). Employment and adults with Asperger syndrome. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(4), 215-222.

Article Summary

As increasing numbers of children and adults are identified as having either autism or Asperger syndrome, there will inevitably be more studies done to study specific employment issues. The authors solicited information from six adults with Asperger syndrome (AS), a classification, which they used synonymously with high-functioning autism, to determine what they had experienced in the world of work. While the study makes no attempt to generalize this anecdotal information to all individuals with AS, it does present certain consistent themes for these six individuals.

One theme was that of frequent job changes, periods of unemployment, and working at jobs for which they were overqualified. Four of the six individuals had college degrees, and one of them had two masters degrees. Fairly typical is the case of Rosalind, a 43 year-old woman with an accounting degree and a fairly recent diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. She chose her college major despite having no real interest in the subject matter, did poorly in school, and after years of failed attempts at whatever job she could get, found some degree of enjoyment and success working in a pre-school for children with special needs.

These individuals all felt that they would have experienced a more consistent level of employment were it not for problems related to socialization and interpersonal communication with co-workers. Being too literal, asking too few or too many questions, and stressing over the unwritten rules of the workplace were reasons given for not being successful on a job. "Joe" shared the following: "I think that jobs usually are 80% social (conversation, lunch, breaks, chit-chat) and 20% work. People with autism are better the other way around."

Those who had been in supported employment programs reported that job coaches had been a tremendous help, particularly in regard to fostering communication. However, either with or without the services of a job coach, most agreed that whatever success they had came from a very clear understanding of employer expectations "in writing, explained in the minutest detail."

In several of the case studies, employment difficulties also had led to treatment for depression. This finding was based on the individual's self report of treatment so untreated depression among adolescents and adults with Asperger syndrome could be very pervasive. The authors' conclusions provide an extremely helpful overview of the variety of difficulties that persons with AS or high-functioning Autism might experience. Structure, order, routines, and clear rules and assignments are keys to help promote vocational success.

IOS Press