The mysterious disorder once known simply as Autism has recently been diagnosed as a spectrum of mental disorders that run from high to low functioning called, ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Realizing that ASD is both incurable and highly varied in intensity, psychiatry has begun to focus on the positive as well as the negative mental functions that patients with ASD display. They realize that Autism is not mental illness in the strictest sense so much as the heightened focus of certain parts of the brain.
After developing this insight, the question for therapists and psychiatrists was no longer...how do we cure Autism? So much as...how do we help people who fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum function more effectively in society?
SOCIAL WORKER'S ROLE
At this point, Social Workers entered the picture. They began to work with relatively high functioning ASD patients struggling with Asperger’s syndrome. Their mission was to understand the mental functioning of Asperger’s patients to help them find productive work and to excel in a place that helps them focus on their strengths and interests.
They discovered a unique mental functioning that seemed to be displayed by most Asperger’s patients.
ASD MENTAL FUNCTIONING
- Passionate interests and disinterests
- Clear and sharp distinctions between right and wrong answers
- Always seeking an end-point
- Total reliance on facts and logic
- Hyper-focusing that results in superior productivity and work speed
- Not good at multi-tasking but excel at linear thinking
- Highly visual thought processing
Further research revealed that, if interested in the work, Asperger’s syndrome patients excelled in technology jobs.
CERTAIN OBSTACLES REMAINED
- Asperger’s syndrome patients have trouble in the initial interview.
- If they get past the first interview, they often stumble during the trial period because they struggle with co-worker interaction. They don’t make eye contact and don’t get information by looking at people.
- Multi-tasking is a big deal these days but doing a single job well is the expertise of ASD.
- They struggle to attend meetings or group trainings.
SOCIAL WORKER’S SOLUTIONS
Social workers began immediately to find solutions.
- They began the job hunt with Asperger’s syndrome clients in High School. This enabled them to help the young students prepare for the eventual interview and the working conditions they would have to cope with in the outside world.
- They pre-qualified prospective employers by realigning the employer’s expectations to recognize how the pluses of these unique minds far outweighed the minuses of any inconvenience caused by accommodating their unusual talents.
- They educated employers how they might adjust work environments to help Asperger’s syndrome employees succeed. Simple adjustments like off hours scheduling, telecommuting, reduced-noise environments, secluded work spaces, and permission to use headphones would make all the difference.
- They assisted the Asperger’s syndrome employee with prioritizing their workload, organizing their workspace, breaking down goals, and explaining themselves to other employees.
The effort to find productive roles in the workplace for certain ASD patients has been a rousing success. By accepting these clients as unique rather than mentally ill or disabled, the social work community has replaced sympathy with respect and given ASD patients a whole new dignity.