Why autistic adults struggle with employment

Aaliyah Holt

By Aaliyah Holt

Over 80% of autistic adults are unemployed. Only a small percentage of us are working. Why is this? There are several reasons why we struggle with jobs. The lack of education on autism makes it difficult in life. We see the world in black and white. It’s like people are speaking a language you don’t know. The way others teach is not how we learn, and it’s very difficult to thrive in a world you don’t understand. Most of us struggle with adulting. I know I do. My mom child shames me for it all the time. I feel as though my mom shames me.

There are several reasons why job hunting is a challenge. There is no set reason why we struggle with job searches, landing a job and keeping it. In this blog I will point out the most common reasons.

Filling Out The Application

If you are looking for a job, you have to apply. You cannot walk in and ask for a job like in the movies. The application screening is the first struggle for autistic adults. Most applications have a questionnaire where it gives you a scenario and you have to pick the best answer. The person may misunderstand as to how the assessment will determine if they’re right for the job. (eg. avoid picking X too often). The applicant may not know how to answer the questions or know what the question is asking. The employer will not even consider you for the job if you do not pass the questionnaire.

I applied to Walmart last year. Their application has the questionnaire. It even said I had to pass to be considered for the job. I didn’t know how to answer most of the questions and I did not pass the assessment. Therefore, they did not want me. If that’s the case, I can’t get hired at places that do assessments on their applications. Remember, neurotypicals don’t have the issues that we have. I watched a video on YouTube called “Employable Me” where it featured someone on the autism spectrum who struggled on an assessment they need to take to be considered for the job. They did not pass because of a question they could not understand. It feels like most jobs are made for the neurotypicals and not us.

One thing that was a huge issue for me is all applications ask for your work history. The person may not know what to put down if they’ve never had a job. I just didn’t know how to complete the work history. The only thing I had done was when I was in high school, I was in the music program and everyone in the music department (band, choir etc.) was required to help out at a Jazz Band Fest. This was from 2011-2012. This could be too far back as most places probably look for more recent experience. If my experience was from 2015-2016 maybe I would have had a chance. Most applications require you to have references. The applicant may not have any friends to put down. I applied to Culver’s and didn’t get a call because I have no references (and fast-food places hire anyone).

Resume Screening

I follow some autism pages and one page posted a graphic about discrimination against us in the workplace. The graphics mention how gaps in employment or if the person had several jobs that were only held for a short time can cast bad judgment on us. Gaps in employment probably refer to the person’s struggle with finding a job maybe after quitting a job that didn’t work out. The several jobs refer to how we struggle to hold down a job and is fired after X amount of time. Most likely if the interviewer/manager sees the person had 10 jobs but only had them for a month or less, this makes the interviewer think the person wasn’t fit for the jobs. That person is qualified to the tee for the job. They were fired because their differences weren’t accepted or for other reasons.

The Job’s Setting

I’ve mentioned that the setting of the job can play a big role in our ability to perform the job. ASD people have sensory issues. These can vary. Some are sensitive to light, cold, hot, unwanted physical contact etc. If the jobs have a lot of people, it’s possible these sensory issues will be a problem. Take Walmart, it’s just to busy and fast-paced for me to work at. Too many people, too many things happening to be able to focus on the job. It would be impossible to focus on a job and a kid is screaming around me. Not all of us can afford noise-canceling headphones. I feel some autism pages should have a giveaway for noise-canceling headphones or if the aspie has a YouTube channel/ blog, the page should give them the headphones for free in exchange for a review/mentioning the headphones.

Workplace Bullying

Due to our social differences, we are targets for bullying. In fact, we have issues with bullying in school. By kids and adults. I got bullied for being different and just need an alternative method. I would get called names by the NTs for not understanding their language. Kids I had never seen before hated me all of a sudden. I wasn’t given a change all because these kids listened to what people told them about me. We can be bullied to quitting the job. Employers can even harass us. Someone posted in a group that their boss made a snarky mark about their autism. They could not quit because they had no other way to pay their bills. Noone, I mean NO ONE should have to be treated badly so they can live. This is why I am all for self-employment for autistic adults.

Lack Of Communication

When it comes to autistics, you have to add more context when giving them commands or explaining something. For instance ‘Joe needs the tape’ will not cut it. I saw another graphic on Facebook that explains if you just leave one-liners with no context it may seem like a passive statement more than a request. If you do not provide context like ‘please take out the garbage in a minute’ we will not think it’s important. Everyone is different, remember that. This can be extremely problematic if the boss were to give us a task but not provide those extra details. Say the boss says ‘Joe needs help in the so and so department,’ if the boss does not say now, at 3 o’clock the employee will not think Joe needs help right away. As a result the boss may become angry that the employee did not help Joe when asked.

Discrimination In the Work Place

Closed-minded employers can also make a person’s stay at the job short… or stop them in their tracks. The Aspie tells their employer about their autism to request the accommodations that they need to function. In most cases, the Aspie is fired upon revealing their diagnosis. It does sound like a personal attack because the worker has autism. In other cases, the person is harassed and they quit as a result. I was on Reddit and a person posted that they were fired for being autistic. I feel it’s more of their autism habits being read the wrong way, being found annoying by other workers and the boss fires the employee due to too many complaints/reports.

Not Working Fast Enough

The employee not being fast enough for the employer can also make keeping the job hard. Which is why we need jobs where ASD people can go at their own pace without being bashed for ‘moving too slow.’ Most jobs care more about efficiency than quality. Which is a messed up system. Customers can also complain about you not moving fast enough. That rules out fast-food for us (or me at least) since you need to be quick. Hence what it’s called FAST food. Some of us can handle fast-food, some can’t. I feel jobs that care about efficiency are not for some of us. I feel jobs that care about quality are for us. me personally, I rather someone take 2 hours to clean my room and it’s neat than to rush and do it in 20 minutes and it’s just as messy as when the person started. Not everyone thinks like that.

Unable To Get Past The Interview

Why do we struggle with interviews? Well, there are several reasons why. The person can take the questions too literally. The question ‘tell me about yourself’ could be the reason why we struggle with the interview. This question most likely is, to sum up, your previous employment or how you feel you fit the job. The person will think the tell me about yourself question is, to sum up, some facts about them like where they’re from. When a friend wants you to tell them about yourself, they want to know some interesting things about you. We take things literally, therefore, we may answer the questions too literally. I talk about this in a video on YouTube. It takes us a bit to process and understand your question. If the interviewer sees the person taking too long to answer the questions, this can count against them. Sometimes anxiety gets to the person and it causes them to mess up the interview. Sometimes an unexpected question can pop up and the person does not know how to answer it. The interviewer will not know the interviewee has autism, therefore the interviewee’s behavior will likely be read as they are not interested in the job.

My proposal

If you are an independent game developer, app developer, programmer etc. hire us. Hire autistic adults to be on your team. Even if you start us off with testing your app or game and giving you feedback. I feel that is a reasonable job to start with. For example, we can write an article about your game to get people hyped about it. Say you have an interview, we can write a written version. Make sure to give us a script from the interview. I am asking you to help us.

Some of us struggle to find or hold down jobs. Some of us can’t be independent due to not being able to keep a job. Think about how happy we will be that you decided to make it work for us when no one else did. Think about it, solo/small game devs don’t have the tools that larger companies have, especially when it comes to promotion. Simply hiring someone to write articles promoting your game can really help you. You don’t have the large crew to help promote your game. Therefore it will be beneficial to hire freelance writers. I also wrote a book about autism and employment. You can get it at www.gumroad.com/aaliyahholt

-The book can help you in many ways. You’re a parent and you found out your son/daughter has autism. It’s very important to know the possible struggles they’ll face on a job.

-Maybe you’re a college student and you have to write a report on a mental disorder and the book you need is too expensive.

-Maybe you want to present a case on how we struggle with jobs and need a book for a guild.

-Maybe you’re an employer looking to make it work for us but with no idea how this book provides information on the struggles we face in the typical workplace.

This book can be helpful in more ways than one.

It’s time things change. I strongly feel if there were more jobs for us, we can thrive.


Aaliyah HoltI write blogs about autism to educate people as to how autism affects us. I found out I had autism when I was 14. On my blog, I showcase my struggles to thrive in a world that makes no sense to me.

11 replies on “Why autistic adults struggle with employment”
  1. says: Adam Wilder

    I simply wanted to say, I have and continue to struggle to not only make it through the interview process, but being able to explain how difficult it was for me to hold/maintain the jobs I had in the past workplaces; due, to various difficulties, which I wouldn’t want to list as being bullied.. Thanks, for saying, what I often struggle with being put into words for others to understand

  2. says: Nate

    Look for loner jobs, they are out there. Driving jobs and construction come to mind. It is possible to be a carpenter and work alone. Plumbers and electricians often have to work around a crew but are often not part of it and just left to do their own thing. Manufacturing also comes to mind. Particularly small shops making specialized items. These employers look for ability not personality. I am HFA and have lost many jobs and suffered periods of living off savings or worse credit but I have gotten by and six months ago got another independent local driving job based solely on my prior experience and reputation from a decade with another company. They interviewed me and despite my sweaty forehead and occasional stuttering hired me without even getting my work history. Just brought in my CDL and medical card. This is not unusual as demand for CDL drivers is very high nationwide. Many positions do not require driving any more than a couple hours away from home. No log book needed.

    1. says: Jman

      Are you saying we should build towers and houses all by our self? those aren’t loner jobs..
      they require a crew.

      Aspies need to feel able to bold up and say NO to discrimination.. If they are firing you because of that, you do not have to leave. period, pipe up and tell said employer “I wouldn’t do that if I were you” .

      Wear a hidden bodycam if you have to, threaten (or promise) to expose them if they don’t reconsider their choice to fire you. Become that rash they can’t easily get rid of.

  3. says: Adam

    So what happens when the one with Asperger’s is making the job unbearable for everyone else? I’m sorry, but my understanding only goes so far. If you, on the spectrum or not, are making it borderline impossible to do my job, you need to go. You can’t coddle one person at the expense of an entire business.

    1. says: Jen

      Wow ADAM. You took a beautiful story that a girl wrote about her personal struggles and SOLUTION which takes courage and faith, and you used it as a platform to spread negativity. I am so sorry that you feel so terrible about yourself that’s all you have to offer the universe. REALLY SAD.

      GO on girl! Great stuff. Inspire. Keep it up. Every interview is a stepping stone.

    2. says: GC

      Hey, Adam, so what happens when a 21 year old psychopathic bully who obviously has family members who know upper company management gets a job as a manager even though he is unqualified (not to mention extremely immature) and then he zeroes in on an employee who has Asperger’s and torments the hell out of her until she can’t hardly stand it anymore? She has been with the company over eight years and he has been with the company for only a couple of years? She has kept her job all these years because she actually DOES her job and she does it well. HEY, Adam … You can’t coddle a BULLY at the expense of an entire business nor should you coddle a BULLY at the expense of losing an excellent employee. Luckily, this particular young lady had some people looking out for her. Tell you what happened: The bully got what was coming to him in this case, which is unfortunately rare. Adam, I hate bullies and have a strong dislike for people who are narrow-minded and think that everybody should be (lol) “normal” like them. Unfortunately, people with a nasty attitude towards others who happen to be on the autism spectrum seems to be the norm. If you so called “normal” people had to deal with what an individual with autism deals with each and everyday, you might realize that the condition of autism is not for the faint of heart …. so suck it up buttercup!

  4. says: John

    I have not been diagnosed with Autism, but I want to get checked out because I fit a ton of the criteria. I do know for a fact I have severe anxiety and depression, but those symptoms can accompany Autism.

    I am hard to work with because I am a perfectionist. I work or shall I say hop around the workforce due to being bullied or harassed by coworkers. I am an EMT and Phlebotomist, so my patient care and work ethics are extremely important to me. Most colleagues of mine are very fast paced and rude towards patients and other staff, so I always get picked on for being the nice guy. My patients never complain about me, nor do the doctors or nurses, it’s just the people I work with in my departments.

    I’ve also done many other jobs such as firefighting, sales, private security, construction, food service, and Uber/Lyft. I’ve been bullied at all of the above except for Uber and Lyft, but rideshare work doesn’t pay well, and it takes a toll on your car. Oh, I’ve even been bullied at work from home jobs, which seems hard to believe.

    I have been married for close to 15 years now, and we have a 13 year old son. My wife is a highly experienced nurse, and she seems to think I could be Autistic as well. She has a nephew that has Autism, but his is severe. Mine has to be more slight to moderate, but just enough to cause these issues in life. It’s not just jobs that I have problems with either, it’s pretty much everything you could imagine. I’ve read the issues that most adults with Autism have, and I can associate with about 80-85% of their experiences.

    My marriage even suffered quite a bit in the beginning before I realized I had some sort of mental illness and decided to see doctors and therapists. After I came to terms with my illness, my marriage was easier to work out, but we still have our struggles because of my changes in moods. I try not to blame everything on my mental illness, but it’s kind of hard not to when I try so hard to be normal.

    Before I go, I want to say to others with any sort of mental illnesses or disorders, please come to terms with yourself, and accept who you are. Understanding and acceptance is the first step to controlling and maintaining your symptoms better. God bless, and stay safe everyone!

  5. says: Melody

    Hi Adam,
    Just a few thoughts I want to share with you, that may help you with your struggles with employees at your workplace.
    As a Manager, a Leader and Mentor for most of my career, I always told my direct reports, “Never come to me with a problem, without also providing a possible solution.” In less professional settings, “Don’t bitch about the president if you didn’t vote.”
    What have you done to try to make things work? What efforts have you put in? What solutions have you tried? Everything has a solution Adam, the fun part is finding it. Your efforts would also make you’re resume shine, as a difficult situation, outside your scope of your work, that you were able to overcome. Sweet eh?
    A very important work and life lesson I learned from a great leader but could never get my co-workers to adopt is this.
    As a Manager, when you have to discipline an employee, the employee is given the discipline for something they’ve failed to do. However, that discipline is for the manager as well, because they’ve also failed to do something much more important, change the employees behavior. The fact that they had to disseminate discipline shows that they failed in their most important duty. Identify why an employee is not meeting their goals, and figure out, with the employee, what they both can change to ensure success for them both.
    I’ve had to fire people, but I also knew what that meant for me. I missed something and I failed my employee. Some people walk themselves out the door of course, but most can be improved with teamwork.
    Do you know why positive thinking is powerful Adam? It’s contagious, infectious, inspiring and very motivating.
    Try a different approach with this person impacting your work. Maybe someone else is impacting theirs as well, and shit rolls everywhere Adam, not just downhill.
    I have to think you were looking for some ideas by reading this article, hope I’m right. Hope I’ve helped you in some small way.
    Autism is difficult Adam. For people like yourself and the person with it. Can you see it that way? Try this analogy, I had to wait until I was 48 to find out, that’s like finding out at 48yrs old, that the man who raised you wasn’t your biological dad. Painful huh?
    Good luck Adam. A solution is out there, grab your chex mix and go find it!
    Aaliyah, brilliant article!!! Thank you for it!!!

  6. how to find out if an employer is against autism because they do not understand it, this is a big casino chain that also operate in the UK, they swap the shifts at short notice and do not honour the contractual lunch break of 1 hour, they cut it to 20 minutes which is very tough on some neurodivers types


    Here in the UK I have not come met one clued up employer that even knows what “neurotypical or diverse” is.

    Maybe in about 30 years from now there will be more autistic people in the work place but for now there are virtually none. They are marginalised one way or the other and forced out or forced under.

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