It’s natural for you to be nervous about starting work. This will probably be an entirely new environment for you, with different rules and norms than school or college. We’ve broken down common concerns for autistic people starting work into a number of sections below.
Few of us can say that we never get nervous about job interviews. It’s perfectly natural to get anxious when you’re preparing to talk about yourself to a group of strangers.
For those of us on the spectrum however, this process can be especially hard. We might find making eye contact difficult or answering questions in a comprehensive and concise way. The very idea of sitting down with a panel of strangers and being examined by an unknown criteria may worry us so much that we might want to call the whole interview off and refuse the invitation.
Some jobs may be more concerned with the skills or qualifications you have rather than your ability to communicate or socialise.
The key rule for a job interview is not to pretend to be someone you’re not – it just won’t work and will only raise questions. Be authentic, be polite, try to demonstrate your knowledge and the process will often much better than expected!
Remember, interviews are something you naturally get better at over time so if nothing else, they’re great opportunities to learn and to build your experience with them.
At this point we must stress if you haven’t done so in you’re interview you should consider disclosing you are autistic to your employer. Disclosure is a personal choice – it is up to you to decide whether you wish to tell anyone, as well as how much information you wish to reveal about your specific traits. We also understand you may not even have a diagnosis yet, if you are only identifying your autistic traits in adulthood. Nevertheless, there are considerable benefits to disclosing in the form of reasonable accommodations or workplace supports. Your employer is legally obliged to provide these supports if they are justified by your diagnosis and disclosed to them.
Autistic individuals can only work in an environment which works for us. If you find yourself working in a very chaotic setting or somewhere which is full of distractions or smells and sounds which you find difficult to deal with, try to adapt them to work for you.
Try and keep a clean work space so you are less likely to get distracted and if you find that you just can’t concentrate speak to the relevant management about the possibility of working in a different surrounding based on your needs.
Above is not an exhaustive list of concerns but maybe just some of the more common problems. However, we don’t think it is every healthy to focus on the challenges and not the abilities we have. Below are just some things you should feel really good about that you may be able to bring to a job:
Honesty – many of us with the condition are very upfront and don’t try and sugarcoat reality or twist things.
Attention to detail – many of autistic individuals are sticklers for detail and perfection. Businesses need attention to detail and indeed that’s what many roles in any businesses are all about!
Loyalty – When we build up trust with people or organisations, many of us are very loyal and will be happy to work with them and support them for many years. In the ever-changing labour market this is a real asset for any business!
Focus and Drive – Many of us with the condition have specific interests in certain areas and are very driven in researching or working in them. Businesses like people who are passionate about what they do!
Intelligence – Some of us on the spectrum not only are of average intelligence, some of us are even above average intelligence (particularly those of us diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome). Businesses need big brains!
Ability to think differently – By our very nature, autistic people think differently to those who are ‘neurotypical.’ In order for any business to advance, compete and innovate they need people who think that little bit differently.
Socialising is an inevitable part of any workplace. Whether in a large retail store or in a small office environment, most jobs will require you to interact with another person at some point, be that a customer or a colleague.
These situations present a number of challenges for those of us on the spectrum. Autistic individuals often work at our best either alone or with a select group of trusted individuals whom we’ve known for some time. This usually isn’t a practical environment where most of us begin a new job in, however, so working as part of a team of strangers, regularly liaising with customers and coworkers, or just taking part in day-to-day banter can be overwhelming activities in and of themselves.
Some strategies you can follow in your workplace include:
- Simply being polite to those around you goes a long way to making your workday much easier and even opening up opportunities to make friends and network.
- Let other people do most of the talking when getting to know them. You don’t need to lead a conversation, even if you started it. Listening is an important key to running a good conversation as well as building rapport with others. People are more likely to talk to those who they know will hear them out instead of someone who they don’t think is a good listener or who has to have the last word.
- Asking questions is a good way to show that you are interested in what someone has to say. It’s highly practical and applicable trait to have when you need to know more about a particular offer or service your work is doing or when you just want to find out more about someone. Be careful not to ask too many though and keep your questions appropriate!
- If you’re finding working with other people especially challenging, consider mentioning this to your manager before you begin your shift. Explain your needs calmly and clearly. They might be able to accommodate you where you can work as part of a team but away from intensive interaction.
Don’t give up on the social side of things! After we finish school and college, opportunities to socialise and make new friends can diminish, but work can fill the vacuum in this regard. Consider trying to chat to staff or go on social evenings overtime, at your own pace – you might well get to enjoy it and meet people with common interests.
Many autistic people like to do things in our own way, following our own routine or rituals. This can make the structure of some businesses hard to deal with. Meeting targets and deadlines can be particularly hard and some of us find it hard to work in big organisations when it can be unclear who we report to or what is expected of us. However, we do generally like solid structure and plans, so take the time to understand how the business operates as this can provide a sense of security. If you find meeting deadlines or negotiating the bureaucracy of a business difficult – speak to your managers who may be able to build a structure and plan that lets you work at a pace and manner suitable to you.
Autism can make it difficult to follow vague instructions or long lists of verbal commands from management. You can’t be expected to fulfill a task if you do not know or understand what is expected of you – therefore if you are confused simply ask for things to be explained to you clearer or even written down for you. It makes sense for management to empower you with the information you need and they should be only too happy to make sure you understand. If they’re especially busy or flustered and you feel uncomfortable asking them to be clearer why not ask a colleague or another member of management to explain the task to you.