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  • Written by Ethan Dahlquist

Autism In The Workplace

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

Think persons living with Autism can't be working members of society? Think again.

At CHOICE Employment Services we have been providing services to people with disabilities in Northeast Iowa since 2012. Individuals we have worked with deal with physical, mental, intellectual, and sensory disabilities on a daily basis, so it is very rewarding for us to assist these people in finding and maintaining community employment.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been featured on television, in movies, books, and video games for many years, and has been featured as recently as April 2017 when Julia, a fictional character debuted on Sesame Street. For many people, one of the first things they think of when they hear the word Autism is to picture Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt, from the well known movie Rain Man. In the movie, Raymond is deemed "high-functioning" due to his ability to care for himself and communicate with others, as well as his savant abilities in mathematics and memory. It may be that some people with ASD have specific talents or extraordinary skills, but they are not the exception to the rule. It is more accurate to say that an autistic person is more likely to be of average or above-average intelligence and possess certain skills, than to be considered low-functioning.

Despite these special talents, it is to be noted that not every autistic person is the same. 80% of disabilities are not visible, and two people with the same type of disability may have very different experiences. Just as each neurotypical person has their own unique traits and abilities, so do people with autism. They have different talents, skills, and interests which does not mean they can all be classified as savant or low functioning. As autism is a spectrum, there is just as much, or more, diversity than amongst the neurotypical population. Some fairly accurate depictions of ASD were evident throughout the film Rain Man, such as Raymond's adherence to routines and structure, as well as his sensory sensitivities. Order and routine are instrumental in being able to predict and make sense of the world around us, and it is understandable how such things could bring comfort to the lives of those with ASD.

While these TV shows, movies, books and video games show how individuals function, they fail to mention what the Autism Spectrum Disorder actually is. Throughout this piece I will be covering what ASD is and where challenges associated with the various conditions may arise.

What is the Autism Spectrum Disorder? ASD includes a wide spectrum of different symptoms and disorders. Autism spectrum disorders include social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The problems associated with these areas can be labeled mild, severe, or fall somewhere in between. Children and adults with ASD commonly show one or more of the following symptoms:

-Continuous struggles with communicating and interacting with others

-Consistent, repetitive behaviors, and phrases

-Obsessing over interests or hobbies

-Difficulties relating to others or lack of interest in other people

-Avoiding eye contact

-Trouble expressing what they need through typical words and motions

-Struggling to adapt to changes in routine

-Inability to talk about their feelings or understanding the feelings of others

-Reacting to how things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel in unusual ways

Experts on Autism have talked about different types of autism, which until recently were considered separate conditions. They now fall under the term “autism spectrum disorders.” People still use the older terms and for that reason we think it is important to know what they mean.

Asperger's Syndrome- Typically a person with Asperger’s Syndrome will fall on the mild end of ASD. Often times an individual is very intelligent and capable of handling their daily life. They have difficulties in social settings and commonly have a topic of interest in which they will speak about non-stop.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)- Traditionally a diagnosis in children who displayed symptoms which were more severe than Asperger’s Syndrome but less severe than the symptoms associated with Autistic Disorder.

Autistic Disorder- Typically this condition was placed further along the line in the Autism spectrum, where symptoms are more severe and intense than those found in people with PDD-NOS or Asperger’s.

Childhood- Disintegrative Disorder- This was the rarest and most severe part of the spectrum. It described children who develop normally and then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills, usually between ages 2 and 4. Often, these children also developed a seizure disorder.

CHOICE is an agency which takes great pride in working with people who fall under the Autism spectrum. We understand that each individual is different and requires different levels of support. In order to provide the support that our consumers need, it is important to be aware of where they fall on the spectrum and know how that individual reacts to different types of prompts and support.

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