Asperger’s Syndrome and Tweaking the Course in the Search for Employment

Last month was the hottest April on record. These next few days have been cooler, more like average temps should be. But you can feel the promise of summer and the excitement of the changes to come as the end of the school year and graduation for many draws near. The incremental changes that MJ is experiencing are full of possibility as well. She’s starting to feel minor changes in her body from the hormones and she’s decided to make a few tweaks to her job search, changes that we hope will lead her to a career that will be a better match for someone with the unique set of challenges of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome.

MJ is a talented graphic artist and up until a couple of years ago, she was pursuing an associates degree in Communication Design. After the last two internships and ongoing freelance work as a designer, its clear to her that to find success in graphic design requires a level of communication and social skill difficult to reach for an aspie. But MJ is an inter-disciplined creative problem solver. I’ve maintained that the perfect job for her will combine her skills in design and technology. On the journey to the perfect job, we are thinking that at this point, she might find more success and fulfillment by pursuing a technical job. So after meeting with the Pathways team to discuss the possibilities, they’ve agreed to focus their search on jobs like fixing or building computers, software testing, or something else where she might gain experience in IT.

The newsletter from, The Autism Employment Weekly, directed me to the following article:

“Many people with neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia have extraordinary skills, including in pattern recognition, memory, and mathematics. Yet they often struggle to fit the profiles sought by employers.

Most managers are familiar with the advantages organizations can gain from diversity in the backgrounds, disciplinary training, gender, culture, and other individual qualities of employees. Benefits from neurodiversity are similar but more direct. Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from “neurotypical” people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.

Over the past two years HPE’s (Hewlett Packard Enterprises) program has placed more than 30 participants in software-testing roles at Australia’s Department of Human Services (DHS). Preliminary results suggest that the organization’s neurodiverse testing teams are 30% more productive than the others.

…the behaviors of many neurodiverse people run counter to common notions of what makes a good employee—solid communication skills, being a team player, emotional intelligence, persuasiveness, salesperson-type personalities, the ability to network, the ability to conform to standard practices without special accommodations, and so on. These criteria systematically screen out neurodiverse people.”
– the Harvard Business Review, Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage

The article provides a thorough discussion of how companies are implementing neurodiversity programs and the benefits of cultivating employee’s talents.

“But the payoff for companies will be considerable: access to more of their employees’ talents along with diverse perspectives that may help them compete more effectively. “Innovation … is most likely to come from parts of us that we don’t all share.”

The article mentions several IT jobs that neurodiverse individuals have excelled in, including software testing, cybersecurity, data analytics and IT services implementation. These are jobs that I think MJ could excel in and enjoy, too. But without the degree, might be challenging to break into.

Last week we attended a workshop at Service Source on finding IT jobs. As a result of that workshop, MJ has a nice list of tasks to tackle. We learned that a good place to start is with a Comptia A+ certification. We checked it out and she thinks she could easily pass the test. After accessing the study materials we figured out that if she does 5 chapters a week or roughly one chapter a day, she should be able to take the test in the first week of June.

Another thing we heard a lot about was the value of LinkedIn in developing an IT career. MJ had been reluctant to create a profile, mainly due to her concerns over maintaining anonymity and privacy on the internet. But after the workshop, she’s on board with it and so I gave her guidance in setting up her profile. We already got a good chunk of it done and hope to be able to make it public within the next few days. The LinkedIn platform gives MJ the ability to pull together a pretty complete profile of her combination of talents, skills, and experiences. Getting the profile to where she wants it will probably be a long process, involving a lot of tweaks along the way. But she can make changes to it as her job seeking journey progresses. And it will be an excellent way for her to network with people who share her interests. She’s already indicated that she wants to speak with people in the aerospace field about the 3-d model of a spacecraft she’s been working on.

Realizing how much easier it will be to secure interviews with a degree, we are looking into what she can do to complete her studies at the community college. Next week we have a appointment with the disabilities counselor to review her transcript and get his advice. Even if she takes just one class at a time so she can focus on it, eventually she should be able to complete a degree in something. However, she isn’t interested at this point in pursuing a degree in IT. And, I for one, do not wish to go through the battles we experienced when she struggled through required classes that she did not necessarily want to take.

During MJ’s first internship, she enjoyed the experience of beta testing. Another article I read reports on how the unique skills of those who fall on the autism spectrum can make them world-class software testers. This article details the success of New York firm, Ultra Testing LLC, a quality assurance firm where three-quarters of their staff are people with autism. A little more research on software testing as a career led me to an article on getting started. It says that the International Software Testing Qualifications Board certification is the gold standard in the industry. There are a lot of resources listed there too. So, once MJ completes the A+ certification, she can go for the ISTQB certification.

I firmly believe that neurodiversity is a gift. Though MJ’s struggles are hard, I know that God can use her. He custom designed her for a purpose and a reason. We’ll keep making changes until we figure it out. Sometimes change is scary and uncomfortable but change is good.

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it”
–Psalm 139:14

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