Making Asperger’s Work

Adults with Asperger Syndrome have much to offer.

  • They are creative, analytical, and talented
  • They are the ones that think outside of the box, the innovators
  • They come with challenges
  • They merit understanding, support, and development.

Maximizing Potentials/Maximizing Talent:
A Win-Win Solution

“Soft Skills” – the set of skills that underlie the ability to work well with others – are often touted as the most desired skill-set to maximize when striving toward success — for the individual, and for the company. The ability to communicate comfortably and interact effectively with team-members, managers, supervisors, and subordinates can be difficult enough for most people–those who are considered “neurotypical,”—hence the proliferation of myriad training programs toward that development.

How much harder is it, then, for people with Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and related disorders, who by very definition of this condition, have impaired social/emotional intelligence at the most basic of levels, lacking the grasp of simplest of social behavior patterns that most people take for granted and acquire as though through “osmosis?”

How, then, can they effectively break the even more sophisticated and subtle social codes embedded in various communication styles / management styles—and then appropriately apply to interactions to those up and down the “ladder” and across the various contexts faced in any given work environment. It can be daunting.

Furthermore, time management and organization —skills that can be challenging enough for neurotypical individuals—are often magnified in difficulty for individuals on the spectrum.

And yet, adults with Asperger’s can have the finest of minds: They can potentially be the finest of employees. They merit development.

Because people with Asperger Syndrome are typically bright, they can, with appropriate direction, learn to better work around their weaknesses, and maximize their potential to “get” the nuances of corporate culture, to communicate better — and ultimately achieve the rank that better matches their intellectual gifts. They need concrete steps to unearth the abstract and “hidden code” of “people” — and to strengthen, if necessary, their executive functioning skills needed to perform effectively — from the top down and the bottom up.

Liam’s Story

At the company holiday party, Liam, who has Asperger Syndrome, got into a lively discussion with his supervisor about jazz–a subject that was near and dear to Liam’s heart. Liam began reciting the titles of his entire CD collection, along with every musician accompanying the particular artist on the CD, unaware that after a point, his boss was looking away, and shifting his attention elsewhere. Finally, Liam’s boss excused himself, saying he had to make an important phone call.

The next morning, Liam saw his boss, who was shuffling through his papers readying himself to conduct the morning meeting that was to begin momentarily. Liam came to within a foot of him and waved a CD in his face– launching into an impassioned soliloquy about the CD. Liam’s boss backed away, totally ignoring Liam in his attempt to continue the conversation from the night before.

Where did Liam “go wrong?”

  1. Liam was unaware of the body language and facial cues indicating that his boss was ready to move on and mingle.
  2. Liam was focused on his own interest and did not realize that his boss might want to interject comments of his own, demonstrating poor conversational skills.
  3. Liam did not know when he was giving TMI (too much information) and the information was no longer interesting to his communication partner.
  4. Liam was unaware that the beginning of a business meeting was not the context that would invite the small talk that was appropriate at the office party.
  5. Liam invaded his boss’ personal space.

Making Asperger’s Work At Work

Social Skills/Social Thinking*

  • Theory of mind/Perspective taking
  • Body language
  • Listening skills
  • Appearance

Conversational skills

  • Small talk
  • Entering conversations
  • Maintaining conversation
  • Appropriate conversation
  • Business communication

Executive Functioning

  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Task completion

Work Savvy

  • Corporate culture
  • Networking
  • Suitable job choices

* Socialthinking is a company developed by, and a term coined by Michelle Garcia Winner. Carole Kornsweig, M.A, CCC SLP borrows heavily from her ideas in her approach both in therapeutic intervention and coaching formats.