The average interview will force an AS person to simultaneously study themselves and the interviewer(s), deal with typical interview stress (and special anxiety from being in a new area and around a new person who is judging them), and think of good answers to hard questions. All this mental and emotional exertion, all at the same time, for the duration of the interview, for a much-needed job, can be overwhelming…
By Troy Crumrine, JD
United States Department of Justice
In my experience, the main employment issue faced by people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is all too often, “What employment?” I have read that a large percentage of people with AS are un- or underemployed and, looking back, I believe it. It was two years after passing the Pennsylvania bar exam and literally dozens of interviews, even more applications, and being turned down by the military (I was told that autistics are excluded from all branches, period) that I was able to find my current temporary job as a paralegal).
Frustration doesn’t begin to cover how I have felt. Realizing my need for experience, I juggled two full-time jobs for three months after graduating from law school – volunteering for a legal municipal office by day and working at a junk mail envelope factory at night. Experience or not, though, I believed there had to be something better. So to find it, I applied to every job I thought I had even a slight chance of getting. I know I was qualified for many of those jobs, because I was granted interviews all over Pennsylvania, but still no job offer. I was even willing to volunteer at different offices without pay just to gain more experience, but no one would even return my call. Particularly for someone like me, with a self-image tied to work, this was hell, especially because I knew I could do the work. As proof, my last evaluation at my current job was excellent.
I feel that interviews are a big reason for my unemployment, and by extension probably for many people with AS. Personally, I was turned down for at least one job explicitly because the interviewer decided I wasn’t charismatic enough. The skill of reading another person in even the most basic social interaction, let alone an interview, is for most people an intuitive process. For someone with AS, it is an intellectual process, requiring conscious study of posture, tone, expression, and other cues, which then must be mentally processed as quickly as possible to gauge what the other person is thinking or feeling. People with AS are also often described as naturally awkward and shy, some even having trouble making eye contact. This requires a second conscious effort to correct and appear normal. Thus, the average interview will force an AS person to simultaneously study themselves and the interviewer(s), deal with typical interview stress (and special anxiety from being in a new area and around a new person who is judging them), and think of good answers to hard questions. All this mental and emotional exertion, all at the same time, for the duration of the interview, for a much-needed job, can be overwhelming and thus lead to a presentation that seems less than stellar, especially when compared to applicants without AS. Oh, and don’t forget: “Just relax.”
Employment itself can pose issues too. People with AS often need things explained differently to them, and a lot of bosses don’t have the time or patience to answer questions. I had one boss who got visibly frustrated when I asked for clarification, which wasn’t provided. And then he got mad when what I handed in wasn’t what he wanted. This boss also, despite knowing I had a disability, thought “sink or swim” would be an effective teaching method (and again got mad when he got back what he put in). I was bullied, sometimes physically, by coworkers at another job. And, since I was just a temp, talking to the supervisor wasn’t an option. These are just a few of my experiences. I could tell more stories, and even some about other people with AS, but those are their tales to tell.
Article courtesy of Medical Law Perspectives. Medical Law Perspectives provides monthly reports on medical litigation topics in the news, and a weekly newsletter on CDC and FDA warnings and alerts, with new case decisions on medical topics.