Employment Issues

A large number of adults have grown up without receiving a diagnosis. Since there is no public route, they may be forced to use the private healthcare system, which may be too expensive to access.

Without a complete understanding of themselves, they will likely have grown up with a lot of anxiety due to sensory overload or the stress of ‘masking.’

Even if diagnosed as children, autistic adults could face other challenges. 

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.

Seeking Work

At the end of the day, finding work is all about you and your needs, no one else’s. You need to find a job where you can be both productive and happy in. When beginning your search for work, it’s important that you’re honest with yourself about your strengths and limits. Dr Temple Grandin has noted that many people on the spectrum may struggle with demands on short-term working memory and that frequent social interaction with strangers can be tough.

Each of us have our own strengths and weaknesses. When seeking out new challenges we need to be fully aware of what we want to achieve and how we can deliver. This means that there are some jobs that will suit autistic individuals brilliantly and some that won’t.

Make a list of what you’re good at and of the skills you know you aren’t so strong in. This will help narrow down your search as well as identify the types of supports on the job you might need.

Every year new kinds of jobs are being created for different tasks. There are careers today that wouldn’t have existed ten or even five years ago. The amount of choice can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve just finished education and are beginning your first serious search for a career. You don’t need to land in your dream job the moment you walk out of school or college. Few of us do and there’s no rule saying you need to have a definitive list of jobs that you can only work in.

A number of strategies you can try to work out where you want to work include:

  1. Book an appointment with your school’s or college’s careers guidance counselor. These are trained professionals who offer advice and information to help people make realistic choices about what types of courses or jobs that they’d like to do in the future.
  2. Choose a job where you know you can use your interests to excel. One of autism’s many strengths is that those living with it perform exceptionally well in areas which they passionate about. A visual thinker with an analytical mind, for instance, may do well in a designing or science-based career; or a non-visual thinker might excel in accounting or journalism.
  3. Look back at past job experiences and analyse where you performed well and not so well in. If you’ve held down work before, part-time or full-time, then it’s good experience to have when making a suitable career choice. Look back at tasks you performed well in and make a list of those strengths. Match them up with another list about areas you didn’t do so well in. Having a physical copy of your strengths and weaknesses will help you when reading through job descriptions and assessing yourself on whether the role suits you.
  4. Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. We can only ever develop our skills and understand our limits in practical settings. By trying different jobs, you’ll not only develop a better idea of where you want work, but also have a sense of what kinds of supports you might need in the workplace (NOTE: do this sensibly and with someone who you can rely on for critical feedback, like a family member or teacher).

Coping in the Workplace

Coping in the workplace is not something which you perfect immediately or reach a certain point and have to do no more work at – it is something you must work at overtime and maintain throughout your tenure.

There will be times in any job where you feel a little stretched or are finding something a little bit difficult, equally at times there may be external factors in your private life which impact on your performance and happiness levels in work. While this is normal for all employees these times may be even a little tougher for those of us who already find the workplace a challenge.

In this section, we look at different coping strategies you can use to help identify problems and manage anxiety within the workplace.

Perfectionism is common with many people on the autism spectrum. It can be as much a source of stress as it is of success. Setting unrealistic expectations of oneself, not taking time for a break or viewing their work as a constant competition with their co-workers may wear a person out quickly.

It is important to take time for yourself and self-care. Make sure that you’re getting the right balance between work and play. Communicate clearly with your supervisor and employer about your needs at a time convenient for you both.

It’s easy to forget to keep talking to your colleagues and employer about how you’re finding work and if you need any more help. In no job are all challenges associated with it made clear in the first day or even month. As personnel or projects change, as systems evolve or as your role in the business changes, difficulties come and go.

Make sure that your employer understands your needs as they evolve over time. Keep a regular consultation slot or structure that you have in place open. Even if you haven’t disclosed that you are autistic to your employer, many will usually be prepared to support their staff when they find that something is challenging them or impacting on their performance.

A friendly chat with someone we trust can do us a world of good if we feel things are getting on top of us. This person can be a friend, a family member or even a colleague in work. An external point of view on the situation can be refreshingly clear. If you aren’t comfortable with talking to either, counselling or professional support services are available. Depending on where you work, your business may offer these services as part of the human resources department.

Employers will usually expect you to not allow outside factors to influence your performance in work. If you are having a bad day at home, try and keep it separate to your working day and vice versa. If one thing is going badly for you, there’s no point in dwelling on it or having it impact on the other parts of your life.

For those of us living with autism, who are so often affected by anxiety, this is easier said than done. If something is really bothering or distracting you, mention to your employer or someone you trust in work that you are experiencing some difficulties outside of the job. This will help them understand what they can do to work around those obstacles.

Common Concerns at Work

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.

Help is available. There are several employment support services who can assist you in searching for work, preparing for interviews and ultimately to hold down a job.

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. Read more in the dedicated section of this resource.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

This is a question that nearly all of us on the spectrum will have asked ourselves at some point in our working lifetimes.

In life, it is important to be our true authentic selves and to be proud of who we are. If you have just been diagnosed as autistic it is important that you learn to understand yourself and to love yourself for your individuality. Masking or hiding your true self can have a negative impact on your mental health. Immersing yourself in the autistic community and if you want acting as an advocate for autism can be hugely beneficial for many autistic people.

You are completely unique and that is something to be proud of. Disclosing your diagnosis will help people understand you and your challenges. If people know that you are autistic it can have a very positive impact on how people support you.

The more autism is openly discussed, society’s understanding of autism will improve and stigma regarding autism should reduce. Disclosing you diagnosis helps younger autistic people and children.

It can be difficult to weigh up and understand the benefits and drawbacks of disclosing at work or when applying for jobs. 


You might have questions like:

  • Should I or shouldn’t I? 
  • Would I be able to get help if I did?
  • Would I feel more supported and ‘seen’?
  • Could I help others who may be in the same position?

However, remember, that at the end of the day, you know what is best for you. If you feel you are not ready to disclose your diagnosis that is okay. Respect your own journey and your own choices, you might feel ready to tell people in a couple of months, years or you may not wish to ever disclose. That is okay.

Helpful Organizations

EmployAbility services provide an employment support service for people who require support, whether they are experiencing illness, injury or are jobseekers with a disability. 

It is also a recruitment advice service for the business community. Your local EmployAbility service will give you employment help. It also gives employers access to a pool of potential employees, employment support for both employer and employer and guidance towards support grants.

For more information, click here.

A variety of access and training courses and support services are available to people needing specialist support in their search for work and within employment. Many of these courses are vocational and education programmes which can be accessed on a flexible basis. You can view a directory of the NLA’s offered subjects here.

The Transition Action Plan (TAP) is another NLN programme specifically for young autistic people. It aims to ease the transition from school or children’s services to adulthood and a wide range of educational, rehabilitation and vocational opportunities are explored. TAP is only offered in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, presently.

SOLAS provides online learning services in Further Education and Training (FET) courses. The courses are free, and you may be paid a training allowance for the duration of your chosen pathway. SOLAS also offers accredited apprenticeships in different trades, work placements as well as in-work supports.

Specialisterne is a social innovator organisation aimed at upskilling and mentoring autistic people within the Information Technology sector. The company recognises the special skills and unique advantages that autistic individuals can bring to science and technology projects. It works with several major computer and software firms in offices across the world, offering assessments and job coaching for successful applicants to work within the business.

In the Careers Service Northern Ireland, Disablement Employment Advisers (DEAs) help adults with disabilities find suitable employment or training. They can also advise employers about adapting the workplace or supporting disabled people at work. The Service also offers careers advice.

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