Autism and Employment: Interview with Rosalind Bergemann, author of An Asperger Leader’s Guide to Living and Leading Change

Dr. Rosalind Bergemann

“My greatest struggle with autism was not having meaningful relationships but being gainfully employment. November is National Entrepreneurship month and I interviewed Dr. Rosalind Bergemann an author, Chair of the Board of Asperger’s Leadership, and Harvard Business School Postgraduate,” Ron Sandison

Q. How did you choose as a career working with individuals with Asperger’s and autism?

I am one of those people who struggled to keep long term work, although I had no problems getting jobs due to my qualifications and skill set. However, after I had been there a year or two, I would end up starting to have problems with co-workers and managers – although I never understood why. Despite not understanding the reasons for the problem, I spent years finding ways to overcome the challenges and finding ways to excel at work rather than being someone who was seen as a high-flying job-hopper.

When I was diagnosed as having Asperger’s in my early 40’s, all the challenges I had experienced in my early career suddenly made sense to me. It was an incredible weight off my shoulders as I could suddenly correlate the changes I had made to my way of acting at work to types of coping strategies. For me, it went without saying that I wanted to share with others like myself how to make the experience of working easier, since I knew how hard it had been for me.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your work?

Without a doubt, seeing people who have come to me at a really low point in their lives learning individual coping methods, gaining confidence in themselves and ultimately becoming successful in whatever they choose to do with their careers.

Q. How can your books help individuals with Asperger’s gain employment?

I have spent many years working in business, working my way up from entry level positions to Chief Executive and Chair of the Board. During that time I have seen recruitment from both sides – as a business person recruiting, and as a person on the spectrum being recruited. I decided to write my series of books to help people as a person on the spectrum with insights neurotypicals could never have, and with inside knowledge most people on the spectrum seeking employment don’t have access to.

I have written a number of training manuals and business books as part of my career, and I know how to explain things that are relevant in ways that make sense to those of us on the spectrum.

Q. What advice would you give to a young adult with Asperger’s who has experienced chronic under-employment?

My first recommendation would be to start to make yourself familiar with yourself from a work perspective. What I mean by this is that you need to understand in what ways you process information and react is different from the average neurotypical. There are a number of books that cover this from a neurotypical psychologist perspective. However, I do also cover this as an important first part of my book, An Asperger Leader’s Guide to Living and Leading Change.

An Aspergers Leaders Guide

Once you understand in which ways you are different from the neurotypical in the workplace and have familiarized yourself with some of the more typical coping strategies I have outlined, I would then recommend that you try to volunteer at places where you think you could enjoy working. I think it is also very important for you to be open with the companies you approach and advise them that you have Asperger’s and therefore you do work slightly differently (be prepared to explain in what way) but emphasize that this usually makes us more effective employees.

An alternative term for volunteer can be apprentice. In effect, you are working without or at a reduced pay, but you will be gaining invaluable work experience for your ‘c.v’ curriculum vitae. Once you have some work experience on your c.v., the amount of time you have not been employed will not seem as significant.

Q. What advice would you give a young adult with Asperger’s who has difficulty maintaining employment?

As mentioned earlier, a large part of why we tend to struggle to maintain employment relates to the differences between the way we process information and work in general, compared to neurotypicals. In addition, we tend to come across as very abrupt and challenging at times. To us we are just asking a question because we want clarification or we think we have a better understanding of something. This often comes across as rude, abrupt and challenging to our peers and managers.

In today’s work environment, it is better to be open with your peers and managers about the fact that sometimes you get excited about your work, and ask them to let you know if you ever overstep the barrier. Tell them in advance that this is something you never intend, but if they ever feel uncomfortable, they just need to let you know.

Most of all, believe in yourself. Continue to check how your ways of working and interacting with people differs from others and see if perhaps this actually gives you the edge, or whether it is something you should work to change.

Q. What are three skills that can help people with Asperger’s experience gainful employment?

  • Computer skills is an essential, and tends to be easy for us.
  • Project management and organizational skills are always key skills employers look for, so if you can do some sort of basic course on project management or office management, get it done.
  • An important skill to try to get on your c.v. (although this is often the hardest) is something to do with customer service, telephone skills, or dealing with people. Generally, the easiest of these is telephone skills. There are often a number of general Telephonic Customer Services courses or certificates you can obtain. This shows the employer you know how to work with clients and suppliers.
  • Q. What is the main reason people with Asperger’s have difficulty with employment?

    I have already mentioned many reasons for difficulty with employment. However, I also want to add that most people on the autistic spectrum have various senses that are more receptive than neurotypicals. For example, we can potentially hear things far louder than others, or be overly sensitive to bright, fluorescent or flickering lights, etc. This can result in us developing what is called a sensory overload, where our mental processing basically blocks up and stops us from carrying on with what we were doing. I use the analogy of a blocked drain. Whilst neurotypicals have an open drain so that water (mental processes) can flow down easily, we get blocked up very easily and quickly by overloads, and then we cannot continue to work (or empty the mental drain!).

    Rosalind Bergenmann

    Because of these sensitivities (which some people do not even realize affects them), individuals can struggle to put in a full day’s work due to a bad working environment. This can be seen as the person not being committed to work. Instead, the company should be ensuring that the employee has an adequate working environment which does not negatively affect their well-being. All of this is covered in the first of my three books, mentioned above.

    Q. How can an individual with Asperger’s start his or her own business?

    Most Important, you have to have a passion for something that you know there is a gap in the market for. This doesn’t mean no-one else is doing it, but perhaps you have an idea of a better product, a better offering, or even somewhere you feel you can do just as well as others.

    Do enough research to properly understand how much money you will need to start things up and what your potential revenue income is. Generally, we tend to be quite realistic about this, but think it through properly. See if you can have a ‘back-up’ of funds to support you for at least 6 months longer than you think it will take you to start earning money. This way you will never be in a situation where you run out of money and can’t produce what you promised. So if you project that you will start making a good income after 3 months of setting up your business, make sure that you have a total of 9 month’s worth of money in the bank to see you by.

    Another important thing to do is to be realistic about where your strength lie and where any potential weaknesses lie. So if you know you are good at computer software development for businesses, but know you aren’t very good at interpersonal communications, make the investment of hiring a sales person or client services employee.

    I recommend that you read my book An Asperger’s Guide to Entrepreneurship, where this is dealt with in a lot more detail, and where you can find some resources to help you. Good luck!!

    Q. Please share a story about an individual with autism who experienced success in the workplace.

    Well, I probably would initially name myself. As mentioned in question 1, I have gone from being an individual who struggled to maintain long term positions within a company, to someone who has been sought after and appointed to the Boards of a number of companies. I advise UK and Welsh Governments on working with people on the spectrum as well as making their workplaces better places for neurodiverse employees. I have received two national awards for this work – one as Mentor of the Year, awarded by the Chartered Management Institute, another as Consultant of the Year, awarded by the Institute of Consulting at the National Managerial Awards.

    However, I would also like to mention another client I am particularly pleased to have worked with. When he first came to me, he was unable to maintain work, and in the current job he had he was doing minimal clerical work, but unable to work for more than an hour or two at a time without having an overload. In the time I coached him, he was able to better understand what was causing his overloads, what overloads actually were, and how to deal with them. He managed to start working full days, and learnt how to focus on what he was able to do well. I am delighted to say that he is now Managing Director of a division of the business he was in when we started our coaching work.

    Q. Is there anything else you like to share?

    I think it important for you to remember that being on the autistic spectrum is not a disability – it is a difference. In the same way as any other differences, it can cause challenges, but keep in mind that they also mean that you are unique as well!!

    As Chair of Asperger Leaders, Non-Executive Director of Dimensions and CEO of Globalite Management Services, Dr Rosalind Bergemann is shedding new light to correct the stigma associated with Autism in the workplace. As someone who has received many awards for both leadership and mentorship – Chartered Management Institute Mentor of the year Award and the National Managerial and Leadership Award for Consultant of the Year to name a few, she is no stranger to being a successful businessperson.

    You can contact Dr Rosalind Bergemann at rosalind@aspergerleaders.org.uk. Her website is www.aspergerleaders.org.uk. Follow her on Facebook.

    AspergersLeaders

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    Ron Sandison

    Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. Ron has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

    He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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