The scenario is playing out in offices from coast to coast. Bright and talented young adults on the autism spectrum are stepping into adulthood and getting a taste of independence for the first time. However, for many the results are the same – another letter of rejection. The reality for too many individuals on the spectrum is not a lack of talent, as research has proven the unique Spectrum Email abilities presented by those with autism are quite desirable in numerous work settings. The problem lies in not being able to articulate an acceptable response during the most crucial time – that being during the interview. While it is common for prospective employers to ask “What would you do if… ” questions during the interview, the formula more often than not simply does not work with candidates on the autism spectrum.
In order to understand the negative outcomes, we must look at the dynamics involved from the perspective of the job candidate. First, meeting with a stranger in an unusual environment can be intimidating in and of itself, but for someone with autism the process can be downright scary. How the office is decorated varies, of course, depending on personal taste. However, the color theme throughout the office or a particular piece of artwork may cause anxiety for someone with visual and spatial sensitivities. Moreover, a single object on a desk may invoke panic for some autistic people that belies the understanding of typical adults. We must remember predictability and control are requisites for the person on the autism spectrum. Depending on the setting, by the time the applicant meets with the prospective employer; focus is long gone and leaving the scene becomes the primary objective. This leads to the next obstacle many job prospects with autism must overcome – that being responding appropriately to questions.
For some people with autism who are otherwise very intelligent, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can have devastating consequences. Getting back to the conventional what if question, individuals on the spectrum tend to respond in one of two ways. Either, they spew whatever comes to mind, void of discretion, to the point of embarrassment. The tirade may not be remotely related to the question presented, but it goes on nevertheless. The opposite response is an earnest attempt to elicit even a faint response from the applicant. In this scenario, the interviewer probes for a hint of interest and passion. The applicant may have lots to say, but just can’t find the words at this time; when everything is on the line. The problem may be indicative of a processing issue, or the result of sensory overload relating to unfamiliar surroundings. The net result is another poor performance during a job interview that didn’t work out. The current model of determining who will become a great future employee is not working for adults on the autism spectrum.
We can all agree the interview process offers no guarantees with regards to future employment fulfillment for anyone. However, there are specific actions that can be taken to accommodate individuals with autism during the interviewing process. Applicants could answer a series of questions online related to the position which they are applying for prior to having a face to face meeting. This way, the employer has some background information going into the meeting and the applicant has the opportunity to prepare in advance – thus eliminating some of the initial anxiety. Here are some specific steps that could make interviewing less threatening and lead to landing that job.