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Disabled Employee Inclusion

Updated on May 26, 2016


In my most recent case with an Autistic client, it seems that Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors are not asking some of the right questions. (One that I had to learn on the job with a current client was, "How many days in a row do you feel you can work before you get stressed and need a day off?" It is a simple question of stamina to assist the client with scheduling and stress. Knowing the answer to this question would have caused less frustration from the client's supervisor.) Sometimes, workers cannot find the information in the data base that will best help the client learn on the job.

Most times, when I meet a client, I assess the client during the meeting, and discuss my assessment with the Job Developer after the client leaves. Surprisingly, I have always been right on my assessment of the client. However, workers should be given as much information that is available on the client, because we are only allowed so much time to assist client, on the job, at 100% and then 50% level coaching, with the Vocational Rehabilitation hours that we are given. The more information we have, the more we can help the client.


In my 40 + years of life, there weren't many people that were diagnosed with Autism or Asperger's. Now they both have been a firm diagnosis for probably about 20 + years now. Those that are on the lower functioning end of the Autism Spectrum would most likely not be employable, as up to 40% diagnosed with Autism may never learn to speak. Lower functioning Autistic individuals may find comfort in repeating the same words, phrases or behaviors, such as Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Main. However, these repetitive behaviors do not serve a practical, social or communication function. It is just the fact that it brings comfort to the individual.

People with Autism tend to have issues forming close relationships, due to their behaviors and language limitations. Their limited ability of perspective-taking, difficulty listening to others and their inability to understand non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions and gestures presents challenges in lasting relationships. Adults with Autism may feel that they are always "missing" something in their interaction with other people. Constantly misreading individuals body language.

In my employ, I have dealt with this scenario: Imagine someone like this is put in a customer service position. The supervisor says that the new employee constantly looks angry. They won't look the supervisor in the face when they talk to them. The misreading is coming from both sides, the supervisor and the employee. As a job coach, I am to help them learn to relate in their new employment environment. Hopefully, they will learn from routine.

People with Autism also experience over or under sensitivity to stimuli, which are known as sensory processing disorder or sensory integration dysfunction. This stimuli can lead Autistic adults to avoid new social interactions.

Autistic people tend to lack empathy or understanding where other people are coming from. It may make it difficult for Autistic adults to share another person's topic of interest, to carry on a discussion. Adults with Autism may notice that it is difficult for them to sympathize with other people and that they do not understand what others want, feel, or think. The lack of empathy and perspective-sharing can lead to many social problems. They may misunderstand jokes, or say something that may be inappropriate.

One Autistic employee did not understand why their co-worker left an hour early to go to the hospital to watch their child be born. He simply told me, "women have been birthing babies for years, he didn't need to be there to witness that." The Autistic employee does not understand why their co-worker calls in, but the Autistic employee can be at work for 15-20 minutes, and tell them he's having a bad day and going home. Another Autistic employee says something inappropriate to another employee. It is all relevant to the higher functioning of Autism or Asperger.

One hallmark of adult autism is limited interests. Many Autistic adults are knowledgeable about certain topics. This hyper-focus on a particular interest can be extremely enjoyable for the Autistic individual. However, this intense interest coupled with perspective-taking challenges can result in social difficulties, if other people are not interested in the topic.

Autistic individuals tend to rely on routine. I have had Autistic clients who will go to the same place for lunch on the days they work. Some are highly functional that, yes, they actually drive themselves to work. Relying on routine brings comfort to Autistic individuals.

About 10% of Autistic Individuals display some kind of skill, such as math, music, or history. They may have exceptional memories, where they remember books of information.

About 70% of Autistic people have problems with sleep, which may be due to sensory issues.

Anxiety is also a common problem in Autistic adults, which can manifest in a variety of ways, such as concentration problems, difficulty controlling your temper, preoccupation with a topic, and depression.

However, it all depends on where the individual falls on the Autism Spectrum. One Autistic individual got anxious and lost concentration as he was counting out the change to give back to a customer. Another Autistic individual goes to work for 15 to 20 minutes and gets anxious enough to where he cannot control his anger and decides the day is shot and decides to go home for the day. It just depends on each Autistic individual.

The Autistic/Asperger's Employee

Now that collecting full disability is likely not to happen. Disabled people need to obtain some form of employment to make it in today's society. Here are some issues that can show up in the autistic employee's employment world:

As stated above, they have issues with social interaction. They may want to socialize with others but they do not understand how to interact, initiate or maintain a conversation. They may not understand emotion's or responses accurately. They may not understand if an activity or conversation is upsetting or boring to another person.They may talk at someone than with them. The topics discussed may focus on an obsessive interest. They may not comprehend social cues, such as facial expressions, body language or gestures. They may behave in an inappropriate manner. They may fail to make eye contact. Facial expressions may be completely absent during conversation. They may stand too close to a person during the conversation. They may have no concept of personal space. They could speak in a monotone voice without any expression or emotion. They may have trouble concentrating on people and objects that are not connected to their favorite topic. They may have mindblindness, meaning they cannot determine what others are thinking and feeling in social situations or in relationships. They have trouble figuring out how to solve problems outside of their routine, which you must teach them while job coaching. They may have difficulty with planning, implementing and completing tasks, which I had to explain to a client that he has to learn how to plan his trips to Hannibal on his days off. He cannot constantly be expected to get all the days off that he asks for. They are usually a visual learner. They may have problems with fine and gross motor skills, such as bike riding, handwriting and playing ball games. Some may prefer a strict schedule and experiences anxiety when the schedule is interrupted. They may have a routine of activities and refuse to engage in anything new. They may engage in behavior, such as hand flapping, rocking back and forth or twirling.

The challenges that the Autistic employee tends to have is grasping the big picture, difficulty developing motivation to study areas that do not interest them.

Facial expressions, movements and gestures may not match what they are saying., which has been an issue between one client and his supervisor.

They have difficulty regulating emotion, and a tendency to lose control in unfamiliar, overwhelming or frustrating situations.

Some managers are equip to handle these situations when a job coach isn't there to handle it themselves. When the job coach is there, they will discuss what happened at that specific time and what they could have done differently to process through the situation, if anything. The job coach will also find out how the situation was handled by management. Usually they do a pretty good job, but still, the discussion with the job coach helps the Autistic individual process the event even further, and I let the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor know via phone conversation or report.

Down Syndrome

What I have learned about Down Syndrome individuals is that they tend to be quite social. Therefore, they would do great in a customer service setting, working near children, or in a nursing home. (At least those are the areas that I have witnessed them in thus far.) One parent of a down syndrome individual, specifically, went into business for herself, so her down syndrome daughter could work with her. It seemed to work out for them. Then, I introduced them to another down syndrome high school graduate and they have been working together ever since. The family now gets support from each other.

Learning Disability

Can anyone imagine someone with a learning disability selling a $4000 tractor? When I started my career as a job coach, my very first client did just that. I watched the entire thing. He was supposed to be only a seasonal employee, but he was offered a part time position after the season was over.

In conclusion

A job helps those with disabilities stay or become independent. They gain self esteem because they have a sense of purpose. They interact with other people and develop a larger social network. Vocational training helps the disabled choose and learn work that suits their skills and interests. Programs are available through local school districts and the department of education in each state.

The process before job coaching is someone identifies their strengths, interests and physical skills, maybe train for a particular job, and then prepare them to work in many different areas, such as offices, restaurants, hospitals, stores, factories or movie theaters.

Now that obtaining disability is getting less and less attainable. They either have to have a family member help take care of them, or find another way to supplement partial disability with some form of part time employment, because those with disabilities live below the poverty line. It is disappointing that we put so much money in social security, and soon those benefits will be a thing of the past. What will come of the human race? No one really knows. I wish there were more answers than questions, but that is the majority of my life as well as for the disabled. Guess I found a group where we are in this together.

If there are any business owners that want to employ someone disabled, contact your state's local Vocational Rehabilitation office. They can set you up with someone to asses individuals in what position you want to employ them to do in your business and see what individuals would be good candidates for the position. They do learn, in the end, disabled or not, that it is up to them to take this opportunity and run with it. One would be surprised, the people that I have met that meet their challenges and succeed. One person bounces from department to department at a store, as needed. Cashier, cart pusher, stocker. Another, has told his supervisor that he's thought about leaving his job. His supervisor always begs him to stay. You would be surprised to see that a few of these people that I have met that are actually irreplaceable in their positions.

Useful websites:

Business Leadership Network – Those that agree to hire disabled individuals. - USBLN

There is quite an extensive list of companies that hire disabled individuals. If you take a look at the right hand corner of the USBLN website they have icons of all the businesses that flash from A – Z. There is actually a way to print out all the icons on three sheets, which I did to bring to an employee meeting, as I went to a seminar at Mizzou and learned about a couple websites that actually help Job Developers and Job Coaches better help their clients, as well as their employers.

Twenty percent of the population have some form of disability. There are some that are not on the USBLN list that I have heard about in the State of Missouri, but I have not yet worked with, such as Steak 'n Shake. The top business establishments that hire disabled individuals are retail establishments, such as Wal-Mart and Lowe's, which I have had the pleasure working with both. There are also fast food places (McDonald's being one), or even sit down places, such as Bob Evans and Denny's that hire disabled individuals (which I have worked with both). What I learned is that the establishments that hire disabled individuals tend to be safer over all.


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