If you’ve been reading my content for a while, you know I’ve already written about the trauma of being fired as an autistic person and some unfair and unfortunate reasons employers have given for firing their autistic employees.
You’d think I’d have it covered by now, but this is a subject I’m deeply passionate about, especially as I learn more about the far-reaching negative impact this has had on the autistic community.
The piece I wrote about the trauma of being fired remains one of my most shared posts from this site by far, and many autistic people have sent me private messages telling me their stories of being fired without warning and how it has impacted their overall well-being.
This is why I want to write about this topic from another angle; the significant difference in the impact of being fired as an autistic person and being fired as a neurotypical person.
Why Being Fired as an Autistic Person Causes More Harm
Unlike our neurotypical counterparts, it’s estimated that up to 85% of autistic people are either unemployed or underemployed because securing and maintaining a job is much, much more of a challenge for us.
Why is that? Let’s take a closer look at each part of the process of finding a job in 2023, and how each of those parts may present a barrier to autistic people as a whole.
- Online personality assessments.
It is my personal opinion that online personality assessments for the purposes of finding employment should be immediately abolished. The questions asked are often far too vague to be properly interpreted by the autistic brain, which means they effectively (if not intentionally) weed out neurodivergent people before we can ever get our foot in the door.
I personally know an autistic person with a Bachelor’s degree who cannot even find work as a bagger in a grocery store or as a data entry clerk working from home because they can’t get past the personality assessment, and they remain unemployed.
A Bachelor’s degree! Unemployed with a Bachelor’s degree not due to lack of jobs or skill, but as a direct result of neuro-biased personality assessments.
- The interview process.
Natural autistic traits can make the interview process difficult for a prospective employee. Many autistic people mask during interviews by shaking hands, making eye contact, mirroring their interviewer’s body language, making small talk, and putting a mental vice grip on their body’s desperate need to stim for the duration of the interview–no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.
Please note, this is done as a survival mechanism, not with the intent to deceive. It’s just that many of us autistic folks know all too well that allowing our natural traits to shine through during an interview is a virtual guarantee that we won’t ever get a call back–and that’s something that needs to change.
- Training and probation periods.
If your autistic employee has somehow been able to navigate the gauntlet of online personality assessments and successfully masked their way through the interview process enough to be hired, they now have to be trained and go through their 30-day or 60-day probationary period where they can be let go for any reason during the duration of this period (laws vary by state).
This is usually where the real trouble starts. Since training modules are primarily geared towards neurotypical brains, autistic learners may ask multitudes of questions, take notes, and draw things out visually to compensate, all of which may count against them in the eyes of their new employer.
- Misinterpretation of autistic social traits and communication.
Learning curves during training coupled with common misinterpretations of autistic traits and communication can spell disaster for the newly-hired person.
Not only are they not “catching on” fast enough (because the training is not geared to their neurology), but their co-workers mistakenly view them as rude because they don’t smile or greet them, stand-offish because they decline social invitations, or a know-it-all because they speak at length about their knowledge of the job.
These traits, which are completely natural for autistic people, set them further apart from their neurotypical co-workers and closer to the chopping block.
- Employers using vague language to communicate expectations.
By and large, autistic people are literal and direct, and we need to be approached in a literal and direct way when someone is communicating their expectations to us. If, as a neurotypical employer, you subtly hint at what you want or you’re vague in your explanation of something, your autistic employee won’t do what you want them to do.
This isn’t a purposeful attempt to be insubordinate or cause trouble, it’s a neurological language barrier. Without clear and concise instructions and direct communication from you, what you think you’re telling us to do simply won’t translate, and, unfairly, the first time we’ll realize something is bothering you is when you write us up or fire us.
We Can’t Just Find Another Job
As you can see from what’s written above, just getting past the personality assessment part of the job-seeking process can be almost impossible for many autistic people, so finding another job after being suddenly fired is not going to be easy. Many of us simply can’t do it. The trauma, the confusion, and the accessibility barriers are just too much. It’s just not sustainable.
Lack of a Savings Cushion
This is a really important thing to consider when you’re thinking of firing your autistic employee because your interpretation of their behavior on the job is rude, insubordinate, lazy, etc.
Since many of us have such a difficult time accessing employment opportunities even when we have the necessary skills and credentials, we are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck than our neurotypical counterparts because we go far longer between jobs.
Therefore, if we lose a job, especially if we had no inkling that it might happen, we may have no savings to fall back on. This puts us at a much higher risk of losing access to our basic care needs such as food, clothing, utilities, and shelter.
The next time you think about firing your autistic employee because they didn’t greet you on their way to clock in, spoke in a tone you considered rude, asked too many questions, didn’t do the thing you subtly suggested they do, or declined an invitation to hang out after work, remember, you may be dooming someone to homeless, literal homelessness for something that could easily be fixed with a better understanding of the autistic brain and more accessible communication.
Thank you for writing this. It puts into words a lot of the experiences I’ve had in interviews and the workplace generally.