Asperger’s Syndrome in the Workplace
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is one of several disorders on the Autism Spectrum. It describes a pattern of neurological and psychological symptoms related to processing and interpreting social cues, interactions and sensory stimuli. Public figures such as Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Bob Dylan and Woody Allen have all been linked with having the Syndrome.
What are common traits of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome?
Adults with AS may have:
- Average or above-average intelligence
- Difficulty with high-level language skills (e.g., interpreting comments too literally)
- An emotionally stifled demeanor and emotionless facial expressions
- Difficulty understanding another’s point of view
- Problems engaging in “small talk”
- Difficulty regulating emotions (such as anger, depression and anxiety)
- Strong need for adherence to routines
- Intense focus on particular and sometimes unusual interests.
- While social interactions may be awkward, people with Asperger’s Syndrome do not withdraw socially.
What challenges does AS present in the workplace?
It’s not difficult to imagine how a person with AS might struggle in the workplace with social interactions, task and time management, work stress and team work. A person with AS may or may not be aware of how his or her behavioral and social style is perceived by others, but is generally aware that work relationships are strained or challenging. Co-workers may experience frustration since typical guidelines of social interaction are not followed by the person with AS.
How should I interact with a co-worker with AS?
The most important guideline is: treat your co-worker with the same respect, dignity, acceptance and kindness that you would offer other co-workers. In addition:
- Don’t gossip about your co-worker to others
- Resist labeling your co-worker: “odd”, “weird”, “crazy”, “quirky”, etc.
- Resist diagnosing. It encourages labeling and stereotyping, and is hurtful to your co-worker.
- Encourage others to treat your co-worker with civility, respect and kindness.
- Remember that your co-worker has feelings and emotions, even though they are not easy to read.
- Make an effort to get to know your co-worker. People with AS or Asperger traits need acceptance and friendship and can have meaningful relationships.
- Engage with your co-worker as you would with others, keeping in mind your co-worker’s social limitations and unique strengths.
- If your co-worker is having trouble reading your non-verbal cues, try direct, but gentle, communication.
- Remember that everyone has quirks and idiosyncrasies, including you, and we all must learn to accommodate those in our relationships.
- If you are experiencing a high level of frustration with your co-worker, speak with your supervisor and develop a plan for improving your workplace relationship and interactions with your co-worker with AS.
- Do think of your co-worker as unique, and look for his or her strengths as they contribute to your workplace goals and productivity.
People with Asperger’s often have great passion for their work and are conscientious, loyal, hardworking and honest. Their unusual ways of thinking of things bring fresh perspective to problems and creative work. An employee with AS can enrich the company in multiple ways.
Do think of your co-worker as unique, and look for his or her strengths as they contribute to your workplace goals and productivity.
Make a commitment to feeling better and remember that forgiveness is for your benefit. Think about the fact that when you move on, you are letting go of the negative feelings that have been controlling you. You are taking back power by making the choice to move forward.
Talk your plan over with someone that you trust and have found to be wise and compassionate such as a spiritual leader, a PAS counselor or an unbiased family member or friend.
It may be particularly hard to forgive someone who doesn’t apologize. When you feel upset, remember to relax and de-stress in a way that works for you. It may help to write in a journal, pray, or meditate using rhythmic breathing, yoga, or relaxation techniques.
Work toward finding peace. It is not about letting others “off the hook”; it’s about changing your perspective. Remind yourself that you cannot control what happens or what others do but you can focus on activities that improve your emotional, physical and spiritual well being.
Being near the person who hurt you may be tense and stressful. To handle these situations, remember that you have a choice whether or not to attend specific functions and gatherings. If you choose to attend, do your best to keep an open heart and mind. You may find that getting through the gatherings helps you to move forward with forgiveness.
Practice treating others with compassion, empathy and respect. Admit when you have wronged someone, offer sincere words of regret and ask for their forgiveness. Acknowledging your own mistakes may help you reconcile your negative feelings toward those who have hurt you.