533: Interviewing Autistic Individuals

 

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1. When being interviewed for a potential job, adults on the autistic spectrum may appear as one of two extremes: 1) overly confident with an almost false persona or 2) extremely nervous and apologetic.

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2. Rarely, during an interview, is an autistic jobseeker feeling at ease and content, and able to present a comfortable version of self. This is not an attempt to fool or falsify self, but instead an effort to try to blend in and be part of the ‘norm.’

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3. Without a clear guidelines of how to act in a specific role, in this case as interviewee, the an autistic can present as anxious, tense, aloof, frightened or extremely nervous.

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4. Partaking in an interview can cause extreme stress for days before the interview. The interview process will more likely than not be over-thought and imagined repeatedly, with multiple outcomes and scenarios. The candidate on the spectrum will typically relive the actual interview itself, repeatedly after the event.

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5. What might appear as a simple ‘not a fit’ or ‘no thank you,’ to the hiring agent, can be devastatingly crushing to a person with autism. It’s common to obsess over the reasons for failure and to catastrophize the outcome, incorporating all-or-nothing thinking, and self-torture, in the form of repetitive, obsessive thoughts regarding the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs.’

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6. During the hiring process the autistic job candidate might be set at ease with (kind) frankness, direct instructions, consistent reassurance, and clear expectations and goals. While such measures might seem as special treatment or deemed as ‘making exceptions,’ when given the fact that autism is primarily centered on social and communication challenges, taking such measures to decrease social anxiety ought to be considered an essential priority in recruitment.

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7. Knowing exact timelines and being exposed to consistent correspondence can alleviate all candidates’ stress levels, but this is particularly true for people on the spectrum. The sense of unpredictability and not-knowing can overcome and consume a person with autism; and this consumption will directly affect their relations with others and behavior, until resolved. In addition, sudden time changes, tardiness, and rescheduling, on the company’s part, can lead to candidates experiencing increased stress levels, panic, and nervousness.

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8. Before an interview, some candidates on the spectrum will create scenarios in their mind of failure and miscommunication, and have fear of not being able to express their true intentions and true self. They often have a fear of not appearing genuine and honest enough.

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9. Oftentimes, the autistic job candidate will want to be seen, heard and understood; as is such, it is commonplace for an jobseeker to provide information that the interviewer many not deem appropriate, necessary, or beneficial. Most autistics will in fact share thoughts and insights to their own detriment, unable to stop the need to be transparent and forthcoming. While the hiring agent might find this transparency refreshing or curious, the candidate will often feel baffled and embarrassed by their own actions, thinking, once again, they have revealed too much and not followed the ‘correct’ rules.

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10. The autistic job candidate will likely wish to have a chance to process with the interviewer as soon as possible to know exactly and specifically ways to improve presentation. For this reason, in some cases, if opportunity allows, the candidate will benefit from careful explanation regarding the reasons why they weren’t hired or considered for further recruitment.

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11. As individuals on the spectrum have coexisting conditions such as OCD, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress, and aforementioned patterns of thinking that create a type of self-badgering, it is vital for the recruitment team members to be sensitive to the possible detrimental consequences of the interview process. They simply are not going to respond like typical candidates. What might take a typical person a week to overcome, might take the autistic person years. Often events, particularly those that create a sense of failure, become ingrained in the psyche of a person on the spectrum for a lifetime. While it is impossible for companies to take measures to consistently provide potential candidates reassuring feedback after an interview, it is plausible that interviewers be trained in measures to take to prevent further trauma.

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12. Some autistics will have little to no trouble expressing self in various communication venues. But the large majority will have specific triggers to communication that can bring on various outcomes, including panic attacks, insomnia, inconsolable anxiety, and nonstop, rapid thinking.

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13. While the autistic individual is interviewing, they will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by their own nervousness and internal coaching, and be simultaneously experiencing two conversations at once—one that is shared aloud between the interviewer and interviewee, and one that is an ongoing internal dialogue. Often the internal voice will overshadow the external conversation and, as a result, gaps of time in the interview will be lost. What might appear as being not being present or distracted, is typically the individual attempting to balance the internal voice with the external conversation. It is suitable and advisable for the interviewer to provide ample time for restating questions, reassuring statements, and redirecting the candidate with ideas and positive input.

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14. Candidates on the spectrum will sometimes panic with open-ended questions, as most are very quick thinkers, able to connect information at rapid speed and reach multiple conclusions in a matter of seconds. While deliberating over a question, the candidate is also contemplating about what the interviewer expects, wants, and is hinting at. The more specific and direct a question, the better.

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15. Some candidates will give quick, short, abrupt answers and be mistaken for non-personable and not forthcoming; while others will overstate, be long-winded and go ‘on and on.’ This tendency for oversharing, or being short in response, will also be present in written documents, such as resumes. It is difficult for a person on the spectrum to judge when written word and spoken word is deemed ‘enough.’ Efforts to clarify, probe, and retrieve more ‘substantial’ information might cause further panic.

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16. In most cases, people on the spectrum communicate better in written form with time to process, rethink, and edit thoughts and ideas, than spoken form. When possible, some type of written assessment ought to be utilized during recruitment screening, such as an essay or instant messaging service.

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17. Autistics are used to being judged, ridiculed, and told how to fix their behavior. People on the spectrum are often subjected to unsolicited advice, tips, and direction their whole lives. It is best not to offer assistance or help, or a point of view, unless asked.

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sam

This post was revised in the summer of 2017. 

Sam’s new book Autism in a Briefcase: A leading edge tool for putting diversity into action is coming soon!

Written by founder of myspectrumsuite.com  Samantha Craft (aka Marcelle Ciampi), M.Ed. is the mother of three boys, one adult son who is on the autism spectrum. She is the senior job recruiter for ULTRA Testing, an autism educator, the author of the blog and book Everyday Aspergers, and is active in autism groups locally and globally. Samantha serves as a guest speaker, workshop presenter, curriculum developer, neurodiversity recruitment specialist, and more. She is working on her second book Autism in a Briefcase, written to provide insight to employers and agencies about the neurodiverse talent pool. A former schoolteacher and advocate for children with exceptional needs, she appreciates the skills and talents of autistic individuals. Diagnosed with Aspergers in 2012, she enjoys the arts, writing, movies, travel, and connecting with others. (More people know Sam by Sam because it’s her community pen name.) see myspectrumsuite.com for more information.

Day 72: Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned

1) When a young man says, “I’ll call you,” the statement is often equivalent to “See Ya.” It’s another form of goodbye, where you never see the person again.

2) Just because a man goes to couples counseling with you doesn’t mean he’s not married and also going to couples counseling with his wife.

3) People will most definitely look away and cringe, if you share up close photos of giving birth or breastfeeding. Then they won’t want anything you offer them to eat.

4) When you are a restaurant hostess at a popular night spot, even if your boss says to be honest with the customers about the wait time for a table, do not smile and say: “That will be about 137 minutes.”

5) If one hairdresser tells you that you should always wear bangs, that doesn’t mean you have to wear bangs for the next five years.

6) If a dentist says, “In order to blend in your dead front tooth with your other teeth, the best method would be dyeing all of your other teeth darker,” run and don’t look back.

7) When the orthodontist tells you, as a teenager, to wear the headgear and neckgear for your braces to middle school, don’t!

8) If a boy calls you cow eyes, don’t go home and cry, punch him.

9) When you are little, don’t wear the same hippy dress you love two years in a row for school photos.

10) Don’t play tunnel tag in the short, Italian wool dress your grandma gave you , unless you wear shorts underneath.

11) Tell your mom when you get your period. Don’t wait three months, and don’t use the free, plus-size, super absorbent, expandable tampons that the gym teacher passed out!

12) Don’t buy life insurance and agree to automatic payments from your bank account, and then wait three years to research if the company exists. It doesn’t.

13) If you have just given birth, and you are sharing a hospital room with a new mother who talks nonstop on the phone into the late hours of the night, complain.

14) If you are an elementary school teacher, and spend three hours on a letter of recommendation for one of your fifth grade students, make sure you spell the student’s name correctly, especially if you don’t want to irritate the parents.

15) While a student in middle school, don’t draw pictures of different boys’ body parts, label them with names, descriptions, and insults, and then leave the illustrations behind at your desk on accident.

16) Even if you have dyslexia, don’t put the spelling words for the test inside the pleats of your cheerleading skirt. You will greatly disappoint your teacher.

17) If you have big ears that stick out, and people laugh at them, wear your hair down until you have high self-esteem.

18) If Italian in America, pluck thick Italian eyebrows, and remember Italian only has one letter l.

19) Don’t save a drowning honeybee in a swimming pool; sensing danger, he will buzz super loud warning his friends. His friends will land on your arm and sting you!

20) When a fake blonde, with a fake tan, and fake nails tells you, “You would look pretty with highlights in your hair.” Don’t say, “I prefer the natural look. I don’t like fake things.”

21) If your boyfriend’s mother invites you to a private lunch, with just you and her, and then says in confidence, “Don’t date my son. You are too good for him,” listen.

22) If you have the flu, and are ghastly sick, don’t beg your boyfriend to take you out-of-town to meet his parents for the first time.

23) Don’t date your weight-lifting trainers. Just don’t.

24) If you are getting a haircut as a teenager, and the hairdresser ignores you long enough for your wet hair to dry, before she returns, leave.

25) The movie Fargo is not a good first date movie.

26) Ask Dad before rearranging his entire dining room and living area.

27) Ask Dad before bringing the puppy home.

28) If you are going to miss one day of college for a funeral, you don’t need to write a letter and then cry to the professor in the hallway, in order to be excused.

29) French classes in high school and college are useless as a second language when you live in California.

30) When you have a long-term boyfriend, and you meet someone at the public swimming pool, you don’t give another boy your phone number and say: “I have a boyfriend, but let’s be friends.”

31) When a young teenager says he’s going to travel from his town 100 miles on his bike to come see you, he might just do that. Better to tell him ahead of time, you have a boyfriend and you aren’t interested.

32) If a young teenager says he’s going to drive his car across country to see you as soon as he gets a job, his license, and a car, probably not true, regardless of what he promises.

33) If you write enough letters to a school district office about the hard water from the sprinkler system damaging the paint on your new red Mustang car, when you park in the parking lot at the school where you work, the district will pay for all the employees to have their cars detailed; however, the superintendent of the district will not smile at you ever again.

34) If you consume too much Excedrin, iced tea, and soda at the same time, you will have a caffeine overdose; and to avoid a thousand dollar hospital bill, you will have to convince the health insurance company the trip to the emergency room wasn’t due to a panic attack.

35) If you’re a teacher and the principal says to you, “You should choose between raising a family or being a teacher, you can’t do both well,” sue him.

36) If an acupuncturist tells you about his failed marriages, his mortgage, his childhood, his parenting woes, and then spanks his wife on the butt in front of you, all while you are under treatment atop the table, don’t go back to that acupuncturist. And don’t feel guilty about not going back.

37) Doctors are practicing medicine.

38) You will offend a LDS person by calling them LSD, even if you have dyslexia.

39) Not a good idea to say, “That pisses me off,” in front of an entire fifth grade class, when you are a teacher.

40) No amount of protesting and letter writing or phone calls will keep a principal from assigning you to teach seventh grade, instead of elementary school, if she thinks you are a good teacher, even if you cry and tell her you hated middle school as a child.

41) If you kiss a mean ugly man enough times, he remains a mean ugly man.

42) When you ask a boyfriend, “Should I get a shorter haircut,” and he says, “That depends.” And you answer, “That depends on what,” and he responds, “That depends on if you are planning to lose weight, or not,” run away from the relationship.

43) The joke: When you’re dancing with your honey and your feeling kind of funny, and your nose is kind of runny, but it’s not, isn’t funny after the age of ten.

44) Don’t read your personal diary to fickle teenage girls.

45) When you are a kid, don’t announce to your seventh grade class you are wearing your first training bra.