Employment and the Autism Spectrum:
Vocational Guidance for Individuals with
Asperger’s Syndrome
Barbara Bissonnette, Principal, Forward Motion Coaching
IAEVG Conference, 6514, Quebec City, Quebec
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Employment: A Timely Topic
• Almost half of young adults with autism who are
employed earn < $7.25 /hour; work < 20 hours
per week
• In 2009, 33% of young adults with autism had
jobs vs. 59% of all young adults with disabilities
(Source: Standifer, W. Scott (2011) Fact Sheet on Autism
Employment. University of Missouri, Disability Policy & Studies)
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
About Me
• Barbara Bissonnette, Principal, Forward
Motion Coaching
• Career development coaching for adults with
Asperger’s Syndrome
• Consultation and training for organizations
▫ Finding Employment that Works for
Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome:
training seminar for professionals
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
My Books
The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People
with Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide,
A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success
Helping Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Get &
Stay Hired: Career Coaching Strategies for
Professionals and Parents of Adults on the
Autism Spectrum (Dec. 2014)
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Today’s Topics
• What is Asperger’s Syndrome
• How Asperger’s Impacts Employment
• Guiding Individuals to the Right Job or Career
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
(autism spectrum disorder)
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
The Autism Spectrum is Broad
Classic
(Kanner’s)
Autism
Asperger’s
Syndrome
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Heterogeneous Population
• Individuals vary widely in their abilities,
challenges, need of support
• Don’t all experience the same symptoms, to the
same degree
• Some have trouble with entry-level jobs; others
earn $100k+
▫ Same patterns of difficulties
• Majority of my clients seeking/in competitive
employment
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Asperger’s or Autism?
• In the DSM-5, Asperger’s Syndrome is no longer
an official diagnosis
• Now autism spectrum disorder
 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders, Fifth Edition (American Psychiatric
Association, 2013)
• In the ICD-10: International Statistical
Classifications of Diseases (World Health
Organization) Asperger’s is a separate diagnosis
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Basic Diagnostic Criteria
• Social interaction
▫ Reciprocal relationships
• Communication
▫ Pragmatics
▫ Nonverbal communication
• Restricted/repetitive patterns behavior,
interests, activities (e.g. reliance on routines,
special interests, sensory reactivity)
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
A Different Hardwiring of the Brain
.
Neurotypical
.Asperger’s
Syndrome
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Communication: Perspective Taking
• Inferring what other people are thinking/feeling
• Recognizing situational context
• Interpreting nonverbal communication
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Nonverbal Communication & Context
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The Search for Meaning (big picture)
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Summary: Individuals with Asperger’s
Syndrome Have Difficulty
• Initiating interpersonal interaction with others
• Quickly recognizing situational context and
adjusting their behavior accordingly
• Recognizing and interpreting nonverbal
communication (internal states of others;
implied expectations)
• Coping with novel situations (prefer routines)
• Focus on parts, not the whole (miss the big
picture or “gist” of a situation)
Impact of Asperger’s at Work
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
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Primary Impact at Work
• Interpersonal communication
• Sensory processing
• Managing time and resources
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Communication Challenges
• Literal: miss implied expectations; humor/
sarcasm
• Too honest and direct
▫ Unintentionally offend others
• Black & white thinking
• Difficulty engaging with others
▫ Eye contact, small talk
▫ Working on a team
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Sensory Processing
• May be hyper- or hypo-sensitive to noise, odors,
sights, tactile sensations
• Auditory processing problems
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Restricted Interests/Routines
• Difficulty adapting to change
• Focusing on too few details, or the wrong details
▫ Misunderstanding the nature on an occupation
• Rigid adherence to routines
▫ E.g. not working overtime, ever
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Executive Function Challenges
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Bissonnette, Forward
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Executive Function Difficulty
• Unsure of how to begin tasks
• Poor concept of time (e.g. how long task
will/should take)
• Poor short-term (working) memory
• Reduced ability to plan and prioritize
• Reduced ability to multitask
• Keeps doing what isn’t working
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
If There are EF Problems
• Avoid occupations that require speed,
multitasking, dealing with novel situations,
organizational ability
• Job seekers will need assistance planning
activities, following up, etc.
Finding the
Right Fit
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
In a World of
Multitasking Generalists…
…these are the
technicians,
specialists &
experts
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Strengths of the ‘Asperger Mind’
* Logical and analytic * Detail oriented *
Accurate, methodical * Focused * Specialized
expertise * Creative * Loyal * Tolerant of routine
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
No “Short List” of Right Jobs
Technical writer
Creative writer
Editor
Production manager
Graphic artist
Commercial artist
Teacher
Physicist
Supply chain manager
Sales manager
Nurse
Librarian
Skilled trades
Warehouse
Computer programmer
Engineer
Data entry
Accountant
Lawyer
Paralegal
Admin assistant
Retail sales associate
Physician
Meteorologist
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Four Factors
1. Interests
4. Impact
of AS
2. Skills
3. Work
Environment
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Bissonnette, Forward
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1. Interests
• Special interests do
not necessarily
translate into gainful
employment
• Be mindful of
restricted interests in
autism
• .
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Probe Interests
• What does the individual envision himself doing
on the job?
• Interest doesn’t equal capability
▫ What are the tasks?
▫ What skills are required?
• Match to realities of local job market
• Individual’s important work criteria
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
The Direct Path May Be the Best Path
• Consider college degrees that prepare the
individual for a specific job
• Vocational programs
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Bissonnette, Forward
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2. Talents and Skills
• Abilities and skills that can be reasonably
acquired
• Neuropsychological evaluation
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Bissonnette, Forward
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3. Work Environment
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
At least some elements of routine
Structure; clear performance expectations
Minimal interruptions/multitasking
Supportive co-workers
Not too much pressure
Quiet workspace/minimal distractions
Right level of social interaction
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
4. Personal Impact of AS
• Two categories of limitations
▫ Those that can be mitigated
 Learn/develop skills
 Assistive technology
 Accommodations
▫ Those that can’t be changed
 Steer individuals away from jobs that
would be difficult or impossible
Working with these
Students/Clients
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Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Copyright 2012, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Establish Rapport
• Frame AS as different brain processing
• Be the bridge to the neurotypical (NT) world
▫ Fitting in does not mean changing who you are
▫ How would an NT interpret words/actions
• Acknowledge and validate their point of view
▫ Others do not see how hard the person works
• Frame change as an experiment
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Be Specific
•
•
•
•
Break tasks into small steps
Write it down!
Check for understanding
Avoid jargon and abstract concepts
e.g. Don’t talk about “branding”
• Practice, practice, practice
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Resistance or Asperger’s?
• Looks away; doesn’t smile
▫ Not aware of nonverbal communication
• Poor follow through
▫
▫
▫
▫
▫
▫
Tasks too large
Steps not clear
Literal interpretation
Can’t remember verbal instructions
Anxiety
Doesn’t know why task is important
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Resistance, or Asperger’s (con’t)
• Silence; every answer is, “I don’t know”
▫ Person really doesn’t know what to say or how to
do something
• Rejects every suggestion
▫ Rigid thinking
▫ Perseveration
▫ Discomfort with change
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Career Research & Job Search
• Focus on actual jobs in field: tasks, skills, work
environment
• Help individual see options
• Do not assume s/he can translate information
from books/Web sites to his situation
• Control the flow of information
• Choose manageable job search activities
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Career Research & Job Search
• Recognize that interviewing is a BIG social
event!
• Many unspoken expectations
▫ Greeting the interviewer
 Look at person, shake hands, SMILE
▫ Small talk in the elevator
▫ Knowing where to sit
▫ Knowing when to leave
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Career Research & Job Search
• Explain the meaning of interview questions
• For job seekers:
▫ Clarify exact job titles, industries, location
▫ Decode the language of postings
 19 months vs. 2 years experience
 Required vs. preferred
 Multitasking and “good people skills”
Creating Employment
Opportunities
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Businesses are Utilizing Specialist Skills
• SAP AG: international software corporation
▫ By 2020, 1% of workforce will be individuals on
autism spectrum
▫ Software testing, documentation, business process
analysts
▫ Not a charitable initiative
 Filling STEM positions
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Collaboration
SAP Job
Openings
Hiring
Decision
Training at
SAP
Voc Rehab
Office
Qualified
Candidates
Summary
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Employment & Asperger’s
• Encourage thorough career research
• Look at an individuals interests, abilities, right
work environment and impact of AS
• Consider post-secondary training that prepares
person for a specific occupation
• Educate employers about utilizing strengths
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Free Resources from
Forward Motion Coaching
• Employer’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome
• Workplace Disclosure Strategies for Individuals
w/ Asperger’s Syndrome
• Getting Hired: Strategies for Individuals with
Asperger’s Syndrome
• Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter (monthly
newsletter w/ employment topics)
Copyright 2014, Barbara
Bissonnette, Forward
Motion Coaching
Contact Information
Barbara Bissonnette, Principal
Forward Motion Coaching
 In-person & telephone coaching 
 Training & consultations 
Stow, MA
Tel: 978-298-5186
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.ForwardMotion.info
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Career Guidance for Adults with Asperger*s Syndrome