Employability Skills and Autism – Communication

Post was published at Employability Skills and Autism – Communication by daniel in Blog.

Part 1

For someone with ASD, it’s a great tool for anyone looking to understand the areas they’ll need to work on in order to be successful in a workplace. Whether you’re an individual with ASD, a coworker, or an employer looking to hire someone with ASD, it is important to understand how someone on the spectrum can develop these skills—and what skills he already brings to the table.

That’s why we’re starting this series of blog posts highlighting what each of the topics means from an ASD perspective. In each posting, we’ll discuss one or two of the main points from that article. We’ll describe what it really entails, as well as the benefits and challenges someone with Autism may bring to the table at a job requiring the particular skill.

Today, let’s talk about Communication, which the Board lists as a fundamental skill. Generally speaking, they say, in the workplace, communication entails reading and understanding different types of information, and writing and speaking in a way that others understand. No matter where you work, you’re going to need to interpret information and communicate it in some way. Whether you’re a risk analyst assessing a client for your boss, a high-powered CEO, or a sales clerk looking to keep customers happy, you’re always going to be receiving and sending out information somewhere. It’s important to note that people on the high-functioning end of the spectrum can often have vocabularies that are resplendent and sumptuous (that means ‘impressive’!). So when it comes to reading, many have no problem reciting data or interpreting written language.

What often doesn’t come so easily, though, is meaning. Many of us have difficulty with literal interpretation of language. In the workplace, this can often mean that a boss or supervisor will give instructions that they thought were pretty clear, but then they come back and the individual has done completely the wrong thing. It’s embarrassing for one and a waste of money for the other. Employers can help by walking the employee through any new procedures until they can repeat them, and having them explain what they’ve been assigned step-by-step, with clarification given as needed. Don’t simply ask if they know what they’re doing—very often, even if they don’t, they’ll think they will. It may take a bit longer to explain assignments and other concepts to someone on the spectrum, but on the bright side, these individuals often have memories like steel traps and strong work ethics. So, once they learn something, it is often understood forever and they’ll make sure it’s done perfectly, down to the last detail.

Thanks for reading our first post in our “Employability Skills and Autism” series. Next time, we’ll finish up talking about the communication aspect of the workplace, before moving on to information management. There are many more ways that the peculiarities of Autism, such as slow processing speed, disorganization, and sensory processing disorder, can apply to important job skills. Many great strengths are often brought to the table as well. We’ll deal with those in future posts. For now, hopefully you found something that will help you in your job search, maintaining your job, or getting the most out of your employee with Autism.

Take note: The Conference Board of Canada’s got an excellent resource for anyone interested in understanding essential employability skills. You want to know more about the interpersonal, management, and other abilities that most employers are looking for? This is a great starting point.

Part 2

The ability to ask questions and understand others’ points of view is critical in the workplace.  If you are working as a team (which we’ll talk more about in a later post), it is essential that everyone knows where each other is coming from so that the best work can be done.  One thing that some with Autism have that can get in the way here is called mind-blindness, which is the inability to see others’ perspectives.  He can’t understand that someone else may see things differently due to having different information and past experiences.

So, if Bob has Autism and coworker Sally asks him for his help with something, he may get quite agitated with her because that task was not in his job description.  He doesn’t realize that, as she doesn’t have access to employee contracts, she likely didn’t know this information.  This, combined with the common ASD symptom of not understanding non-verbal communication (tone of voice, body language, etc.) can often lead to some embarrassing predicaments.  As an employee on the spectrum, it may be helpful if you tell your coworkers that you sometimes have trouble with this.  That way, no one is offended and they’ll know to try to explain their side of things so you can gain a fuller understanding.  As an employer?  You can just say “Bob, I don’t think Sally realized that your contract doesn’t include heavy lifting.  Not everyone has access to the contracts.”  It can be very educational.

When it comes to making use of specialized knowledge to solve problems, employers are in luck.  People on the spectrum tend to have one area of intense interest, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows more about that subject.  So, if he’s interested in video games and you need an editorial on software design or digital rights management, you can often expect quite a detailed work.  Likewise, if data analysis is his thing, you may find him an asset when it comes to picking out trends or assessing weaknesses.

Communicating this specialized information—or any information, really—can sometimes be a challenge for people on the spectrum. Due to the mind-blindness, you may sometimes catch him using a little too much jargon or assuming that his audience is interested in a topic when they clearly aren’t, but with a little course correction you’ll be good to go.  If you are the employer, you can simply take him aside and say “John, can you explain to Marie (the client) exactly what a T2202A form is before she signs it?  I’m not sure she knows.”  The mistake will never be made again, and the employee is allowed to leave with his dignity intact since he knows he was able to explain things properly.

These have just been a few simple tricks and insights on the communication aspect of employability skills for people with Autism–there are many.  Next time we’ll chat a little bit about information management, and we have a long list after that.  The main takeaway is that, while tricky situations can sometimes pop up, they are often solved more easily than you would think, and the individual with Autism can also bring great gifts to the workplace.  Perhaps here more than anywhere, a little understanding can go a long way.

See you next time!


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