Aspies In The Workplace

Like my father before me, I am an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome.  My oldest son has this disability, as does his son.  I won’t pretend to know whether this form of autism has a genetic component, I can only tell you that it tends to run in families, and usually – but not always – passes from father to son.

I can quote chapter and verse about being an “Aspie.”  The frequency in the population, the fact that it is growing, and the fact that it is classified as a form of autism.  “On the autism scale” is the terminology they like to use since the nineties, when this syndrome was first defined.

I could tell what it is like to grow up uncommonly bright, but completely unable to read social cues that everyone else has down pat by kindergarten.  To be unable to understand emotions, or express them, and to be desperate to fit into a world where you are considered a geek, a freak, and the one you can count on to say something inappropriate.

But that’s not my purpose here.  My purpose is to alert my friends in human resources management that an autism tsunami is headed their way, and they need to prepare.  Let’s be honest.  In 1980 the odds of a child being born with autism were about 1 in 250.  Today the number is 1 in 88, and dropping.  And while the worst cases of autism have below average IQs, Aspies tend to be high IQ, high performance individuals who are awesomely able to meet goals and create miracles.  They just have trouble relating to people.

In the old days, Aspies were simply accepted as geeks and programmers.  They were handed slide rules, and later pocket calculators, and sent off to figure out how to get a man safely to the moon and back.  Or to invent the operating system for personal computers.  Or create the next big thing on the Internet.  Today, unless they are lucky enough to be steered into technical or engineering careers, they are chronically unemployed, often forced to live on the welfare equivalent of disability called SSI.

It shouldn’t be that way.  But in the midst of a recession, when it is hard for good and proven workers to find jobs, what employer would take on a person who has trouble fitting in, may have physical health problems, may have an offset circadian rhythm that makes them stay up late into the night and have trouble making it to work by 8:30 AM?  Who would take that risk? 

Aspies won’t fit easily into corporate organizations.  The usual routes to the top of the pyramid leave them confused or indifferent.  Even in small businesses, they may find it difficult to adjust to the politics and interwoven relationships that mark a cohesive organization. 

And yet…they are the best and brightest.  They may not be able to work more than three days a week, but in those three days they will do more work than any other six employees.  Given a challenge, they will follow it day and night to find a solution.  They will perform miracles.  They will follow in the traditions of other great Aspies – a roll that includes Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Alan Turning, Andy Warhol and Stephen Spielberg. 

The truth is, they may not fit into the typical business organization.  The may need to be hired as consultants, or on a project basis.  They may have to work at home as adjunct employees.

But the truth is that the number of Aspies in the workplace is growing, and that human resource managers will need to get up to speed on how to make the best use of them to the benefit of their client organizations.

Don’t know where to start?  Contact me, and I will help.

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