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.

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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.

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