While anyone, regardless of neurotype, can be devastated by a job loss, autistic people are often traumatized by losing a job because we don’t understand why we’re being fired (and nobody will tell us).
Common Reasons Autistic People Are Fired
Autistic people are often fired for being autistic. A manager may not realize that’s why they are letting an employee go, but autistic people can be fired due to a fundamental lack of understanding of our natural traits.
As a late-diagnosed autistic person, I often sat in offices with my supervisors, stunned and confused by the complaints they made. I never fully understood what I was doing wrong or how to fix it, but I already had enough experience to know that once it started happening at one job, it was time to start sending out resumes to look for another because it was only a matter of time before I was fired–again.
Here are some of the reasons I was reprimanded and fired from my places of employment:
Not understanding how to do my job
I think it’s fair that a person who cannot do their job is not able to keep that job, but only if reasonable accommodations have been exhausted. When I first started working, I didn’t even know I was different from everyone else, so asking for accommodations wasn’t even a thought in my head.
In addition to being autistic, I also have ADHD and learning differences, but neurotypical supervisors would show me what to do only once or twice before I was expected to do it on my own! My brain could not catch on fast enough, and I was often let go before I ever had the chance to get it right.
Not being sociable enough
At work, my focus was on my job, not on making friends, not on having a conversation by the water cooler, but on my job. This made me seem ‘uninterested’, ‘above it all’, and ‘stand-offish’ to others. However, nobody took the time to explain this to me. It was something I had to piece together much later on my own.
Not picking up on neurotypical facial expressions and body language
I don’t pick up on hints, and even though I’ve memorized the meaning of certain types of neurotypical facial expressions, body language, and tones of voice, reading them off the cuff is not natural for me. This means that if I was doing or saying something at work that was frowned upon, any signs my co-workers may have been giving me with their facial expressions, tone of voice, or body language went over my head. They thought I just didn’t care, but their hints never reached my brain. I often didn’t even know there was a problem until I was fired, which is what made it all the more devastating.
Having an “attitude” or being “rude”
Like many autistic people, my facial expressions and vocal tones may not match my internal emotions, which can make me come across as uninterested, angry, or rude when I’m quite content and happy. My facial expressions and tone have been misread by employers, co-workers, and customers alike to the point where I’ve been suddenly told off or fired but had no idea what was going on.
Asking “too many” questions
Autistic people ask questions to get answers, whereas some neurotypical people ask questions to get answers OR to undermine and question the authority of others. My autistic mind cannot wrap itself around this other use of questions. It makes no sense to me. Unfortunately, because I had to ask multiple clarifying questions in order to understand what was expected of me on the job, I quickly irritated others, unintentionally alienated myself, and was fired.
Autistic People Often Never Know Why Job Loss Occurred
My main point throughout this article is this; very few neurotypical employers will sit down and explain exactly what went wrong and why the autistic person is being fired. They’ll say something like, “It’s not working out” or “It’s just not a good fit” but will not answer questions or give specifics about what went wrong and how the autistic person might correct it in the future.
That’s the part that’s most traumatic for autistic people. Getting fired is something that can happen to anyone but being fired repeatedly and not knowing why it’s happening makes the workforce feel like a very unsafe place.
Autistic people are significantly under-employed and unemployed not because we lack job skills or motivation, but because we are held to and judged against neurotypical standards. Understanding and accessibility can go a long way in making us feel secure in maintaining our employment instead of worrying every day that we will be called into our supervisor’s office and lose yet another job for “mysterious” reasons.