The employment shift: tips for autistics

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Autistic people can find it very hard to break into the labor market. We might be extremely anxious about working or the job application process, have had a traumatic experience in the workplace, be very anxious around people or have low self-esteem.

By Jeanette Purkis

There are many reasons why people on the Autism spectrum find ourselves out of work. We may have left the workforce due to health reasons, such as anxiety or depression, we might have been retrenched or made redundant from a previous job, be unhappy in our current job, taken time out to raise children or we could have never had a job. There is nothing shameful or embarrassing about being unemployed. Even if mainstream society tends to view unemployment as being a failing or lack, it is in fact a very common part of life for many people – and not just those of us on the spectrum. It is important to value yourself if you are unemployed and to avoid blame and shame. Most of us do want a job though and hope that unemployment will be a temporary state.

Autistic people can find it very hard to break into the labor market. We might be extremely anxious about working or the job application process, have had a traumatic experience in the workplace, be very anxious around people or have low self-esteem. If one of these things is an issue for you, you can often find help to assist with things like anxiety, past trauma or social and communication difficulties. Your local Autism association or organization may be able to help you with things like referrals to psychologists or psychiatrists, social skills groups or friendship and mentoring groups. If you have friends on the Autism spectrum, they can probably offer advice and support also.

Getting ready to look for work

Once you have decided that you want to look for work, there are a few steps which can help you become better prepared and ready to start applying for jobs:
– Preparation and research is important. Find out what sorts of jobs you are interested in and how recruitment processes usually wok in that industry. Be prepared for job interview – ask a friend or partner to do a mock interview or do one in front of the mirror..
– Work out your thoughts around disclosing that you are on the Autism spectrum prior to applying for jobs. There are pros and cons to disclosure and the decision is ultimately a personal choice.
– If you are anything like me, and most of my Autistic friends, you may well have a good network of friends on the Autism spectrum. You can talk to some of your employed Autie friends about their experiences – what to look out for, what you need to know and tips on the application and interview process.
– Do any training or education which will help you get ‘the edge’. Remember that employers often value any kind of tertiary or further education, even if it is not directly related to the job. This is usually because they view the ability to stick at a course and gain a qualification as a transferable skill in employment. University-type courses are also valued by many employers because they demonstrate that you have research and analysis skills.
– If you don’t have a lot of work experience or are returning to the workforce after a long break, you might want to think about volunteering. Not only can volunteer jobs give you skills and experience that you can take through to paid employment, many employers also value volunteering as it shows you are keen to work. Some people find that volunteering helps them address anxiety around working too.
– Practice positive self-talk and affirmations. The better you feel about yourself, the more confident you will be and confidence is a vital element in successful job seeking.
– Set employment goals and aim to reach them. I find it helps to write them down and do a bit of a brainstorm to help you think about how you might achieve your goals.

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Watch Jeanette’s employment tips on youtube.

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Jeanette Purkis is an author, public servant and passionate advocate for Autistic people and their families. She is the author of ‘Finding a Different Kind of Normal: Misadventures with Asperger Syndrome’ – an autobiography, and ‘The Wonderful World of Work: A Workbook for Asperteens‘- an activity book about employment for teens on the Autism spectrum. Jeanette has also contributed to other books, journals, blogs and websites. Jeanette has a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and atypical schizophrenia. Follow Jeanette on her website.

The Employment Shift is part of the Autism Shift – about our changing attitudes on autism. It’s part of the Art of Autism.

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