Asperger’s On the Job

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Today’s discussion features author, Rudy Simone. Rudy is an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome and an accomplished author, consultant and musician. Rudy created Asperger’s On The Job to help employers, educators and therapists accommodate this growing population, and to help people with Asperger’s find and keep gainful employment.

Rudy offers a candor in this book based on her personal experiences and the experiences of over 50 adults with Asperger’s from all over the world with additional insights from their employers and numerous experts in the field.

Rudy has authored several books which can be found at help4aspergers.com, which also boasts information and support You can learn more about Rudy in a recent interview HERE. Be sure to check out OUR informative book review.

Rudy joins us to discuss topics relating to Asperger’s on the Job. I am very pleased to welcome you, Rudy….

Rudy: Hi, Thanks for having me.

Tiffani: I absolutely loved this book…as did many of our editors! In reading the book, I saw many areas that would apply in college and in high school. Do you feel that this book can be modified to Asperger’s in College or in High School?

Rudy: Yes. The seminar that I give covers a bit of those areas, but it really needs a whole book dedicated to high school and college. The principles within Asperger’s On The Job can be applied. The biggest problem with higher education is that they don’t understand what AS is and therefore don’t know how to accommodate it. Every Disability Service Office in every college should have special ASD training

Christie Ann: Yes, I agree even in middle school, these are skills that can be taught and developed for the future.

Rudy: So often, it is trial by fire. They throw the student in and watch him sink or swim. I’d like to offer training workshops to school districts and colleges.

Tiffani: Rudy, What is the BIGGEST advantage to hiring someone with Asperger’s?

Rudy: The biggest? Our smarts and our resourcefulness. There’s no stopping it. We will always move forward if we are supported and not thwarted. Our minds crave growth and information. How could that not be an employable virtue? But in a culture that prizes confidence over creativity, we often get overlooked.

Tiffani: Absolutely!! In reading this book, my mother and I looked at each other and wondered if we had Asperger’s because our work ethic is very similar to the ethic described in your book.
Tiffani: The work ethic described in your book discusses the focus, the desire to be at work TO work.

Patty: I totally agree with that. My son can focus like no one else I know.

Rudy: Being engaged with work is one of the only times are minds are truly free from anxiety. Anxiety is our prevalent emotion, but being engaged, is like meditation in action, it frees us from that anxiety for a while. This is why we can be so obsessive.

Patty: The problem I see, which you write about in your book is that my son wants to focus on what he wants to, not necessarily on what he should be doing, which I could see being a big problem in the work force.

Rudy: Your son’s situation is quite common, which is why I created the “personal job map”. You need to unearth the traits or underlying reasons for his particular obsession. The “personal job map” is a tool I created, which starts out simple. What are your interests? In the case of youth with AS, it is often ‘trains, video games, etc. Then, the map asks, “What is the best thing about those interests”? Through these queries, you begin to unearth what they are getting out of the interest. By cross-referencing these answers with your autistic triggers, you begin to visualize certain jobs you could do. With this information, you can research how to get those specific job qualifications. You will also gain many deep realizations about what sort of work you are and aren’t cut out for.

Patty: That makes sense. I wonder if there is such a thing as a professional Lego builder?

Rudy: Yes, it’s called an architect or engineer!

Patty: How can we access your job mapping tool?

Rudy: You can find it in the back of Asperger’s On The Job.

Tiffani: My son is fascinated by all things weather related. We refer to him as our budding meteorologist.

Rudy: Your son’s fascination with weather may not be what you think. A boy who obsesses with flying planes may not be cut out to be a pilot but he may be the one who ends up designing them.

Patty: Interesting because my husband is an engineer and they have so much in common with the way they think.

Christie Ann: My husband is an engineer. He is so hyper-focused on what he does. It’s all he thinks about.

Patty: Rudy, do you have any advice for parents of school aged children? Any things we can do now to help them prepare for the workforce in later years?

Rudy: ASD kids have to start much sooner than other kids. Our obsessions need to be understood and channeled early. That is our salvation.

Patty: Great! Because I kept thinking as I read the book that perhaps now is the time to really work with my son, so in 10 years or so, he’ll be better prepared for the workforce environment, especially the social part of it.

Rudy: Vocational classes and special interest classes can make the difference between a Spielberg and a guy who sits in mom’s basement for the rest of his life, you know what I mean?

Patty: YES! I know what you mean, because that’s my big fear with my son, that he’ll never leave home and never reach his full potential.

Rudy: That’s why my job map is helpful. We need to start early, yet, take longer if necessary to get a degree. Higher ed degrees are not always necessary for every field, but specialty qualifications are.

Christie Ann: What can you suggest for situations in the workforce where there is conflict with another employee?

Rudy: That is complex. I’d have to sit with the person and find out what sort of things are causing conflict.

Christie Ann: My husband has difficulty at times with the job quality of others. He tends to be judgmental and does not understand why they can walk away from their work so easily when he cannot.

Rudy: He has a strong work ethic. He needs to be proud of this without judging the poor NTs who do not share the same work ethic.

Tiffani: Rudy, Is “small talk” in the workplace a challenge for individuals with Asperger’s? And if yes, why?

Rudy: Yes! It sounds like chickens clucking. It simply isn’t our first language. Other than basic politeness and a modicum of interest, we do not have to cultivate our ability to small talk, I do find scripts helpful. “How are you? How is your family?” NTs need that sort of thing.

Tiffani: I found that component of the book as intriguing as the component on work ethic. Although I am more than capable with small talk, I PREFER, deeper conversations. When I worked the floors in nursing, I would avoid the gossiping hens at that nurses station and instead sit one on one with a patient. I saw my patients as living history and they fascinated me. I had one who was a survivor of the Holocaust.

Rudy: Tiffani, that is much more useful. The trick is to not to feel bad or become alienated by the other nurses. I want to add, that we do tend to become paranoid. We sometimes think we’ve hurt or offended others, or think they are offending or hurting us, even when they are not, especially if we were undiagnosed and unsupported. It’s important to understand that gossip is built into the human genome, and a certain amount of crankiness happens to the best of us.

Christie Ann: Do you have any suggestions for an adult with AS who has a need to talk and “educate” those in the work place? Many people with AS are very knowledgeable and tend to want to share their knowledge or correct those who are wrong about things. Is this a good practice, or does it have you looking like the know it all? (even when you do know it all)

Tiffani: Christie, that ties in with my next question: How would you advise neurotypicals (NT) to deal with the bluntness and perceived arrogance of Aspies (AS)?

Rudy: Temple Grandin advocates knowing LESS than you do sometimes, and asking advice from NTs even when you don’t need it. It is an exercise in humility. This is something that is attractive in all humans, whether NT or AS.

Patty: I agree. Unfortunately, so often NTs, feel threatened. How do people with AS avoid threatening others, without sacrificing who they are?

Rudy: Disclosure is helpful. So is, explaining that sometimes, I’ll be blunt in a spirit of helpfulness, rather than intending to hurt. But sometimes, we become our own special interest. That IS arrogance and needs to be curbed. For all I know, there are many things I do not know and many things I cannot do.

Christie Ann: What are your thoughts on Diagnosis? My husband meets the criteria for an AS diagnosis, however he has never been evaluated. He does not see the point of it at this stage in his life. He would not take medication and he functions well enough to be successful. Is there any benefit to having the diagnosis?

Rudy: That is an entirely case by case situation. Most of the time, a diagnosis is helpful. The most important thing, is that if he IS on the spectrum, he constantly reads and researches, otherwise he won’t understand himself. KNOW THYSELF is the key to wisdom

Martianne: I am wondering about the importance of diagnosis, too. And, if diagnosed, the importance of sharing your diagnosis. Part of me thinks knowledge is power, but part of me thinks too often the label becomes the person in other folks’ eyes. A fine balance between understanding/sharing and being labeled, etc. is hard to find at times.

Rudy: Knowledge IS power, if the label becomes the person in other folks’ eyes, that is their problem, not ours. All we can do is be proud of who we are.

Tiffani: Why is a quiet working environment so important for Aspies?

Rudy: Sensory overload. It happens to us all. It is a quick ticket to meltdown city. If I say I need quiet, I need quiet and woe to those who try and prevent it. Hurricane Rudy might rear its ugly head. However, I need to have a sensory toolkit, earplugs, headphones, whatever I need. It’s not up to the world to sssshhhhhh whenever I walk into the room

Patty: Good point, Rudy. We are working on this with my son, trying to teach him that sometimes he can’t make others be quiet so he needs to figure out how to advocate for himself or do something that will help, like leave the room, etc.

KerenaShefa: The quiet environment is the most difficult thing to get because of job hierarchies. In most places, everyone works in an open space and only managers get to have doors and walls around them.

Rudy: I talk at length about ways around this challenge in Asperger’s On The Job.

Tiffani: When I worked as an administrator for an adult medical day care, I would HAVE to shut my door to get things done, but I would be reprimanded for being closed off. So, very often, I would log long hours to catch up after the day ended.

KerenaShefa: I implemented the “smiley system”. When the door is closed, a green smiley means that “it’s actually open”, when it’s yellow it means that “only authorized people can enter” (which means that I’m on a verge of a break down and need my quiet). I’m still available on eail and instant messaging. a red smiley is for the meltdowns, it’s the “do not disturb” sigh.

Rudy: That is why disclosure is so important. “Boss, I have AS, sometimes I need perfect quiet to rest and reload so I can do the best job for you. If I shut my door, it’s a necessity of my condition, not a personality issue”.

Patty: This whole quiet environment thing seems strange to me. Surely there are many, many people out there who need to eliminate distractions to work more effectively. I would think a quiet environment would help most of the workers.

Rudy: It’s a combo of asking for what you need, but being prepared to deal with it on your own. It’s about self education and sometimes changing the way you do things and the way you think.

Christie Ann: As a person with AS, do you feel it is society that needs to change their perspective? I have met many people with AS or ASD who feel like they are tired of trying to conform to society and think society should changed to meet their needs especially with the rapid population increase of people with ASD. Do you agree with this or do you think we need some middle ground to meet on?

Rudy: Of course, it is a cultural exchange. Anytime a minority says “we’re here” there is an initial groan from the mainstream.

Tiffani: How do deadlines impact an individual with Asperger’s?

Rudy: Personally, I love them. But I stress when I have to go to a conference, get up in the morning and go somewhere. Deadlines, I can meet from the comfort of my laptop? No problem.

Patty: I love how you mention that someday you hope to see trainings on working with people with autism. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

KerenaShefa: Every Aspie “out there” that is “out of the closet” is actually doing ‘trainings’ every time they self advocate.

Rudy: Well, large corporations should have it. For now, documentaries and films are educating adults about AS. However there’s some great films that should be shown in all schools “The Asperger Difference” is one.

Tiffani: Why is down time so important? How do you suggest individuals with Asperger’s best use their break time? And do you find what Tony Attwood states is accurate, that for every hour of activity there needs to be one hour of down time?

Rudy: I forgot what Attwood’s ratio was. I spoke at a conference and the next two days I was silent and they are just a blur. I’d say he is correct. We simply get overloaded and need to recharge. If we don’t we blow. Recognizing the signs, knowing when to go, when to say no, these are all very important.

Tiffani: Are Aspie’s very literal?

Rudy: The brain is a flexible organ. We tend to be quite literal at times, but I think this is the one trait that does improve with age. Many of us like satirical, bizarre humor but really obvious stuff we take literally. I still do at times, but not nearly so much as I used to. We also make strange visual associations.

Tiffani: When I worked in a local hospital, the union was trying to get in. The CEO and management came to every department and stated, “We have an open door policy. You are welcome to come and share your thoughts as to why the union is trying to get in”. So…

Rudy: Uh Oh!

Tiffani: I took it literally…I knocked on the CEOs door, sat in his plush leather chair, welcomed the offered cup of Joe and proceeded to share my insights.

Rudy: Oh no! What did you say?

Tiffani: Unbeknownst to my co-workers and immediate management, my insights were 100 % supportive to my co-workers and advantageous to the patients. I was in there advocating for all parties. I politely said, “you guys need to get out of your suits, put on a set of scrubs and follow a nurse for a full 13 hour shift. Look at every patient you care for, as your mother, father, brother, sister, etc.”

KerenaShefa: Way To Go Tiffani!

Tiffani: He welcomed my insights, but my co-workers and middle management pushed me out the door by reducing my hours and forcing me to get work elsewhere. The union came in and within 1 year after I left, they implemented my suggestions. That scenario, the literal offers, I take them and I am a NT. I never understood why people don’t just say what they mean and mean what they say.

KerenaShefa: This has happened to me too, in several occasions and work places…

Patty: Why would your coworkers be upset? You were advocating for THEM.

Tiffani: Unfortunately, they did not give me a chance to tell them what I spoke about.

Rudy: I experience this sort of thing a lot. My NT boyfriend has to explain to me that people don’t always mean what they say. I always ask “then why do they say it?” This is not an attractive or acceptable thing, even though it is the norm. Then people ask me things, I try to ask “do you mean it, or are you just being polite?” I’ll take truth over politeness, most times.

Patty: I agree! I lived in Hong Kong for 2 years and people there were much more blunt. It took some getting used to, but I really appreciated it after a while. You always knew where you stood.

Christie Ann: Do you find it helpful to have a partner who is NT for instances like that?

Rudy: Yes, I do. My NT boy friend is my social buffer and translator. He tells me what is going on, since I cannot interpret interpersonal stuff, politics, etc. Sometimes he wears me out making me listen to chatter, but he’s getting much better at knowing when I’ve had enough and telling his friends, why, for example, I cannot stand small talk, or stand to have my elbow lightly touched when people are talking to me.

Tiffani: Thank you, Rudy for joining us today for a discussion about Asperger’s On The Job. It was a pleasure having you.

Rudy: You’re welcome. It was fun. You can find more resources at www.help4aspergers.com

Tiffani: Look for us next time as Rebecca Moyes, Author of Building Sensory Friendly Classrooms joins us for a discussion. Be sure to check out our Book Club tab for more details.