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My New Boss has Asperger Syndrome

BY: Leslie Ayres, The Job Search Guru

Tips and insights for working with the special gifts and limitations of Aspies in the workplace.

A friend of mine is a scientist and just began working in a new job where she says that her biggest challenge is that her new boss has Asperger Syndrome. I did a little research to understand more about what AS is and how it affects people in the workplace and found that experts think that many of our culture’s brilliant minds like Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Jim Henson, Mozart and Thomas Jefferson are believed to have shown traits of Asperger Syndrome.

People with Asperger Syndrome, or Aspies, are usually extremely intelligent and gifted with creativity, but they have impaired social skills. They don’t always understand the social rules most of us take for granted, so they can be blunt or rude without realizing it, or talk about inappropriate things. They often aren’t able to interpret other people’s facial expressions or body language, so they may not know when someone is upset or angry, and they may take everything literally, and might not pick up on sarcasm or slang.

A coworker with AS may not return your greeting in the morning because they are hyper-focused on a task, and in meetings, they might feel socially anxious. They are likely to be sensitive to too much activity, stimulation or noise around them, and so might seem self-involved because they isolate themselves. Because they don’t always process their emotions well, they may be volatile with emotional meltdowns and episodes of anger. All of this means they may not have many friends or extensive social connections, and they have special challenges in the workplace.

If you’re anything like me, you might be nodding your head in recognition of some friends, family or coworkers who fit some of this description. You might just have thought of them as a smart weirdo.

Of course, every person is unique, and each person is at a different place on the spectrum, but living with these kinds of social and environmental limitations often means people with AS are self-employed or take jobs under their abilities. In certain fields, though, AS traits actually make an ideal employee: their intense attention to detail, single-minded focus and ability to be happy and absorbed with repetitive work are great skills for software programmers and testers, scientists, researchers and analysts, for instance.

In fact, there are companies being built around the special gifts of people with AS. Squag is a website for young people on the autism spectrum, and last month they interviewed Brenda Weitzberg, who founded the not-for-profit Aspiritech in Chicago with her husband. Parents of an autistic child, their mission is to leverage the special abilities of people with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism by training them in software testing and placing them on projects with corporate clients. They are slowly and carefully growing and hope to continue creating great jobs for people with AS.

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