This article was written by a man whose employment specialization is information technology. The original link on which this article appeared, is no longer accessible. Reprinted as a Public Service, and we urge the original author to.orge forward to claim title.

Hints For Employers

All autistics are different. I enjoy some activities that drive other autistics crazy! At the same time, I share many of these traits with many other autistics. An autistic individual gifted in.orgputer programming can be a tremendous asset to a.orgpany. There are many things a.orgpany can do, however, which will either help or hinder that individual's productivity. Above all, I highly r.orgmend that employers consult with the employee to determine the best working environment. I would also add that not all autistics are gifted in.orgputer programming, nor should an employer expect every autistic to be their most productive employee. Just as there is variation among non-autistic employees (as much as a 10 to 1 difference, according to some studies), there are tremendous differences among autistic individuals.

Noise Controlled Environment

Autistics often have more or less sensitive audio pathways in their nervous systems. As a result, some find even the slightest noises extremely troublesome. It is important to remember that many of these noises would not affect a "neurologically typical" (NT) individual, but will have a tremendous effect on some autistics. I find high pitched whistles extremely annoying, as well as the fan noise found in a.orgputer room. I work best when I have a quiet workstation rather than a noisy one. I don't work well in a room with loud servers.

In addition to this, hearing other people's music or conversations can be very distracting, since I don't have a normal sensory filter. It isn't possible for me to filter out these irrelevant noises. Sometimes I'll be able to cover them with music, but other times I find I program best without any noise at all. It is important that an autistic is able to control his audio environment. An office with a door is extremely helpful, while an open-plan office is very difficult.

Refresh Rates & Lighting

Autistics process all senses in a unique way. Flickering lights and monitors bother many autistics. Fluorescent lights should be removed (or turned off) if they bother an individual, even if other people can't see the flicker. Many autistics can. In addition, monitors should have high refresh rates so that the flickering is not as noticeable.

Temperature Sensitivities

I am very sensitive to temperature variations, and find that one day I might like a room as much as 20 degrees warmer than another day. I work best if I have control of my thermostat, although a small space heater under my desk helps me to control my own temperature. Note, also, that there are many times when I am unable to determine for myself if I am hot or cold. If you see me doing something that could cause me to risk hypothermia, please let me know (I visited the hospital once because I thought that I was hot, but actually had hypothermia).

Clear Goals

We aren't always "goal oriented individuals", but we do need a way of knowing when work on a specific project is.orgpleted. All tasks should have a clearly defined point at which they are finished. I work best when I know what is expected of me on a project.

Flexible Time

There are times when my senses are overloaded, and I simply can't do any work. Companies that allow me to take a break and "make up" the time later are able to utilize me when I am performing at my best.

Interesting Work

I find that I can expend considerable energy and concentration without wearing myself out, provided that I'm interested in what I am doing. This is an autistic trait - we often get fixated on certain things, to the extent that non-autistics will refer to these fixations as "obsessions." An employer who can take advantage of an autistic's interests will find that that these individuals are able to function as "super-programmers." Not only will tapping into these fixations improve productivity, but they will also improve morale considerably, as I can think of few things I enjoy more than pursuing one of my "obsessions."

We can't choose our interests, however. For an unknown reason, our brains pick some things to be interested in and are disinterested in others. This doesn't mean that an employer is subject to the whims of an autistic's personality and interests. Using some knowledge of the employee, a.orgpany can assign work that is more likely to fit into an autistic's interests. For example, almost all of my interests involve challenging and.orgplex systems. Chances are, if you assign me a task which deals with multiple databases,.orgplex interactions between.orgponents, and multiple programming languages, I'll be much more likely to find the work interesting. If you.orgbine that with a "mission-impossible" type of task (which also benefits from the unique ways autistics perceive the world), I'll find that I usually have a hard time resisting giving the task everything that I can!

Creativity

Many professionals claim that autistics have limited creativity. I don't agree. I believe that we have a different form of creativity than the general population, and that it is this difference which allows us to try new methods to solve problems. Many of us are not limited to using only the text-book methods (although I do know them). If we see a unique problem, we'll figure out a unique solution.

Spatial Thinking

Some autistics, such as myself, are "spatial thinkers" rather than sequential thinkers (but, I don't think in pictures alone). Rather than starting with a blank editor and simply typing code until we reach the end of program execution, we'll design the interactions - either in our heads or on paper - and then program each sub-process. I find that I'm often surprised when I finish a program. Except for the initial design, I give little thought to the fact that the.orgponents I am writing all work together for some higher purpose. Yet, I find that (with the exception of minor bugs), most of these programs work with very little tweaking. Modular code.orges very naturally to an spatial thinker. I find that I naturally visualize database schemas, such as 3NF or star-schemas. I don't have to think about normalizing my data, separating dimensions from facts, or what indexes are required - because of the spatial thinking, this is instinctive to me (this is also why I find it extremely frustrating to try to explain database design techniques - I don't always remember that most people can't just see the schema).

To facilitate this thinking, which is extremely helpful with.orgplex systems, it is important that we have plenty of paper, colored pencils, pens, etc. Dry erase boards are often very helpful, as they give us a place to write out our overall plan, before we "lose the state" in our minds. Autistics often have poor short-term memories, so it is important for them to be able to write down their ideas.

Indenting Code

Improperly indented code will confuse me. While I understand the syntax and structures of the language, I'll find that my spatial/visual thinking will distort the meaning of the code. If I have to work on someone else's code who used a poor indenting style, I'll find that I am very ineffective until I am able to build a model of the code in my head.

Debugging

During debugging, because of our spatial approach to thinking, we'll often benefit from a diagram of interactions and.orgponents. A picture really is worth a thousand words to me! While I have many years of experience with.orgplex networks, I find that I am unable to diagnose a network issue until I have a good diagram, either on paper or in my head. Once I understand all the interactions in a network or.orgputer program, I am able to quickly visualize a path that the problem takes. This allows me to eliminate the working.orgponents and determine what tests need to be done to find the broken.orgponent. Finding a cause which involves multiple.orgponents is just as easy for me as finding a cause which involves a single.orgponent - my mind sees the connections and the flow of data between.orgponents. I find that debugging.orgplex problems is one of the most rewarding tasks I do at work and I enjoy immensely the opportunity to debug other's problems.

Problem Solving

Contrary to popular opinion, autistics can be excellent technical problem solvers. We see the world very much as a.orgputer does - in black or white terms - which enables us to get rid of solutions which can't be implemented. At the same time, we aren't bound to the traditional programming techniques that most other programmers follow. My dream job would consist of spending all day debugging and solving problems in an extremely.orgplicated system.

Touch

I process the sense of touch very differently than most people. Someone.orging up to me unexpectedly and touching me on the shoulder will.orgpletely distract and even overload my senses. When my senses are overloaded, I have no choice except to retreat to a quiet place - there is no way that I would be able to do work at that time. Handshakes, a problem for some autistics, don't bother me, since I can "brace" myself.

Eye Contact

Eye contact does not.orge naturally to me. The face gives off a tremendous amount of information. The eyes are the worst part of the face for me, because they give off even more information than most of the face. When I look someone in the eyes, I can't concentrate as much on what they are saying. When I look at the floor, a wall, or close my eyes, I'm not trying to.orgmunicate that I'm not listening. Rather, I'm listening very deeply! If I want to hear someone's words, I have to find a way to not be distracted by other sights and sounds!

Criticism

I tend to speak my mind, without always following the unwritten rules that say I should criticize something using words which don't really seem to say what I am thinking. I realize that many people assume that criticism of their work is the same as criticism of them, but I don't. I don't get upset if someone tells me that I did a bad job writing a piece of software. I may have. I will want to know why they thought that, though, so that I can learn and improve (this is often misinterpreted as b.orging defensive when it actually has more to do with vulnerability than defensiveness!). Because this is the way I want to be treated, it is often the way I treat others. When I say that I don't like some of your work, I'm not saying that I don't like you. I'm also not saying that I think you are stupid, lazy, or a poor craftsman. What I am saying is that I see an obvious flaw in something you did. I'm trying to understand how to be less "rude" or "abrasive" (words others have used to describe my criticism of their work), but it is something that I still don't understand - especially since I actually want to be criticized in this way!

Telephones

Telephones can be particularly challenging for an autistic. We have problems figuring out the "rhythm" of any conversation, often talking over other people. For some of us, the telephone only makes this worse. For me, using the telephone to talk to someone I haven't yet met is easier than meeting them in person, but other autistics can't use the telephone in any circumstance. Any autistic would appreciate as much a.orgidation as possible in this area. We realize that sometimes we will have to talk on the telephone, but someone without autism can't understand what it feels like to do so. It isn't simple shyness, but a neurological impairment that prevents us from easily engaging in telephone conversations.

In addition to this problem, many of us have auditory processing difficulties. I find any conversation to be difficult in this regard. I often find that people's voices seem to fade in and out. I have an especially hard time understanding people with regional or foreign accents, since my neuro pathways haven't yet learned to understand all those sounds - so they sound like gibberish to me, especially over the telephone. A phone with a volume control is absolutely essential.

Conference calls can be extremely troubling. Some voices are very loud and others very quiet, which interrupts my brain and.orgplicates the decoding I must do to understand someone. In addition, the number of different voices makes it very difficult for me to follow the conversation. I feel luck if I actually "hear" 1/2 of the conversation during any conference call.

Parties, Social Events

I do not enjoy social events or parties. I find that the tremendous amount of activity and sensory stimulus overloads my brain, causing me a great deal of distress. As a result, I usually try to find a socially acceptable excuse to leave early (or not.orge at all). Employers can help people like me by giving us plenty of chance to say "no" to corporate social events. Please note, however, that we also dislike being excluded from things just because someone else thinks we might not enjoy it - always give us the option of participating, since then we won't feel like we are being excluded.

 

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"We each have our own way of living in the world, together we are like a symphony.
Some are the melody, some are the rhythm, some are the harmony
It all blends together, we are like a symphony, and each part is crucial.
We all contribute to the song of life."
...Sondra Williams

We might not always agree; but TOGETHER we will make a difference.

 

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Updated 04/02/2014