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Autism in the Workplace (March 2023): Self-Help for Individuals on the Spectrum

By Gundars Kaupins

Self-Help for Individuals on the Spectrum

Practitioner-oriented books on autism tend to be much more readable and practical for employees on the spectrum. These individuals might be able to improve themselves by reading case studies of similar individuals, completing questionnaires that provide insight into their condition, receiving guidance from autism experts, and learning about autism resources.

This category includes workbooks, which offer employees and managers many questions for reflection. Suzanne Whang’s Thrive with Neurodivergent Colleagues discusses challenges employees on the spectrum face: unconscious bias against them; the process of recruiting, hiring, onboarding; accommodations for light/sound sensitivities; stimming, i.e., self-stimulating repetitive behaviors such as finger snapping, rocking, and hand flapping; enhancing productivity; and cultivating empathy. This how-to book provides seven to ten questions at the end of each chapter—such as “Who in your company would make a good mentor to a neurodivergent colleague?”—that encourage employees on the spectrum and managers to think about accommodations.

Another workbook is Michelle Garnett and Tony Attwood’s Autism Working: A Seven-Stage Plan to Thriving at Work. The seven stages involve stress management, sensory management, and social, awareness, thinking, and organizational tools. The workbook is self-guided and provides activities for each stage to help individuals on the spectrum set goals and manage sensory overload, communication, and stress problems. A sample activity has readers list the variety of work situations that make them stressed. Most activities ask for brief essay answers and can be taken as part of a course led by a mentor or teacher.¹ Barbara Bissonnette has three works covering how individuals with Asperger’s can obtain and be successful in jobs: Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success, The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome: Find the Right Career and Get Hired, and Helping Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Get and Stay Hired: Career Coaching Strategies for Professionals and Parents of Adults on the Autism Spectrum. Bissonnette is a certified coach for individuals on the spectrum and has helped individuals secure a wide variety of jobs—including in areas frequently not considered for them, such as sales managers. Though she discusses how employers can help those on the spectrum, a substantial portion of her work focuses on determining a person’s goals, identifying obstacles to those goals, and developing action plans.

Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability, edited by Yvonne Fast et al., begins with stories of individuals who are professors, teachers, transcriptionists, salespeople, and entrepreneurs. As this author argues in his essay “Investigating Recommended Jobs for Generation A Individuals with High- Functioning Autism to Enhance Person-Job Fit,” published in Generation A: Research on Autism in the Workplace, edited by Cristina Giannantonio and Amy Hurley-Hanson, these jobs tend to run against the stereotype that those on the autism spectrum can only do nonsocial or dull jobs. Most of the collection edited by Fast et al. is a self-help guide that discusses how to plan a career, find a job, and maintain a career. Many short and readable chapters cover subjects such as questions to ask in an interview, the first hundred work days, and workplace bullying. The final section covers organizations providing disability resources (mostly in the United States and Canada), career-oriented books, and websites related to work and career planning. Ashley Stanford’s Business for Aspies is another guide for employees on the spectrum. The book is very positive and proactive about solving key employment problems. Some tips focus on working in groups, moving up the career ladder, increasing compensation, and handling issues with supervisors, peers, subordinates, and customers. Stanford advises taking a minimalist approach, suggesting, for instance, that, during meetings the employee should rein in hand gestures, such as pointing at people. This is an effort to reduce negative perceptions about the individual with autism.

Blythe Grossberg’s Asperger’s and Adulthood: A Guide to Working, Loving, and Living with Asperger’s Syndrome seeks to help adults on the spectrum laugh in their careers. Jobs can be fun, even though discrimination and reduced ability can provide challenges. A unique topic in the book is the chapter on the advantages and disadvantages of leaving a parent’s home. Living independently requires paying bills, cooking meals, and getting to work. These basic responsibilities must be coordinated with work activities. The book offers multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank exams, lists of activities, and appropriate responses to various situations. A similar book, which does not mention autism but covers the role of neuroscience in helping employees to love what they do, is Daniel M. Cable’s Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do. Some of the topics this book covers—such as enhancing creativity, experimentation, and enthusiasm—are related to the strengths of autism will be helpful topics for individuals on the spectrum.

1.  How-to books also fall within the category of self-help. In 2020 Alisa Shawn self-published a series of short books about working in the film and video game industries: Autism: How to Work in the Video Game Industry, Autism: How to Work in the Film Industry, Autism: How to Work in the Animation Industry, Autism: How to Work in the Visual Effects Industry, Autism: How to Work in the Voice Over Industry. Available through, each of these addresses how individuals on the spectrum can start in the industry, what education they need, how to network through social media, and how to handle employment issues, such as communication with teams.

Works Cited