One of the most stressful and difficult things for some of us is a job interview. I do not know a lot of people who enjoy being put in a position to feel uncomfortable and scrutinized. All eyes are on you watching your every move. You are being analyzed on your hand movements, whether your leg is shaking, and how eloquently you can answer the questions. Employers and Human Resource Managers are observing and taking notes. During many of these interviews, employers are looking for social interaction and conversation. They are expecting eye contact from the applicant, while learning more about that individual through the art of social interaction and communication. Whether it is through verbal or non-verbal communication, they are looking for more than what is on paper. They want to see how the applicant handles themselves in stressful situations, and they expect them to be able to communicate about who they are and what they have to offer the company.
While neurotypical people get stressed and uncomfortable at times, many are able to sit in an interview and articulate their goals and aspirations. They have social skills and communication skills that aid in the disclosure of that particular information.
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Disabilities oftentimes have challenges in these areas. It is difficult for them to maintain eye contact and socially interact with another person. They are aware of what is going on around them but struggle with sensory challenges. They hear the question, but sometimes have to process things in their head before they can answer. I worked with one young man who would take 10-15 seconds to answer a question. I knew that I had to be patient so that he could process the question. When he did answer, he would stare at the floor and not at me.
People with Autism are able to adapt sometimes as things become more and more familiar and routine. Individuals with ASD thrive on routine and they need that element of structure in their life. I have known parents who kept their child in summer school just stay on a routine at the end of the normal school year. For some, adaptation encompasses their whole life. It should be realized that these children will become adults dealing with these struggles for the rest of their lives.
While the necessity for routine and structure may appear to be a hinderance to employment, in many cases it could be a huge benefit. Many neurotypical individuals look for a job at one time or another, and there are some jobs that some of us would really not be interested in. Sometimes they involve repetition. I visited a business one day and discovered that they hire quite a few people with disabilities. They hire individuals with ASD and other Disabilities to do the repetitive job of stuffing envelopes. With thousands of envelopes needing to be stuffed with letters, these employees would do it for hours with smiles on their faces. They had a job. They took pride in the fact that they had that job and were contributing to society. They also got a paycheck for their hard work. These amazing employees were learning how to integrate into society. This business was giving these individuals an opportunity. This opportunity not only benefitted the individual and the business, it benefitted the community. With the rate of Autism at 1 in 54 births (CDC, 2020), there is a huge population/resource out there that is still untapped.
Being a police officer for 31 years, I have had the opportunity to visit many convenient stores to properly maintain my caffeine intake. I remember one particular store and the young man behind the counter. As people paid for their purchases, there was no eye contact or conversation. He was all business. I would observed this young man and even tried to strike up conversations with him. He seemed so focused on what he was doing that I wondered if he even knew I was standing there. He just worked. I would watch this young man and eventually found out that he was on the Spectrum. I began to notice that whenever he was told to go sweep the parking lot, his whole demeanor change. He smiled and got excited. He was on a mission. He would spend all the time it took to clean that parking lot. A piece of trash had no chance while he was on patrol. He focused on that parking lot because it was “his” parking lot. To him, he was doing something more important than running a register. Most of us would have complained the whole time, but this young man took pride in keeping “his” parking lot clean.
Over the years, I have also realized that some people with Autism and other disabilities are brilliant. They may have social challenges or communication challenges, but they can do some amazing things. Some are amazing artists while some are accountants and can crunch numbers with the best of them. Some program computers while some become doctors. I often wonder where our country would be without Autism. How many people with Autism work for major computer companies? How many of them develop software? I wonder how many of them work for NASA and make sure those rockets make it to orbit? I personally believe that if it were not for Autism in the United States, we would be one of the dumbest countries on this planet.
It is my hope and wish, that all companies around the world educate their Human Resource Managers, as well as all employees. They need A Better Understanding of Autism/ID, and other disabilities. The Disability population is an untapped resource that needs to be given an opportunity and cultivated for everyone’s benefit. We not only owe it to them; we owe it to ourselves.