When it comes to being a Supported Employment Manager, it is just as important to listen to the individuals as the staff for problems with the jobsite. When I have a problem with something going on with my job, I can just go to my boss and express to her what is going on and we talk about how to fix it. Someone with autism may go to the staff with a problem at the jobsite and the staff may think they just don’t want to work. Sometimes it could be that they just do not feel like working; sometimes it could be a real problem and they have challenges expressing what is wrong.
In a previous column, I wrote about an individual who had four jobs during the week and was overworked. So he would start flapping his hands and talking loudly because he was stressed and that was the only way he could express it. Every individual has their own way of expressing something; it’s important to know how to listen to them and figure how to help them with the problem. In this case, the problem was solved by taking the individual away from his one volunteer job and keeping the other three paid jobs. Since then he has been working very hard at all of his jobs and has not had any problems with being overworked.
For an individual who is higher-functioning, it is a little easier for them to express what is going on with their work. The only problem is if the individual has a history of making up something to get out of task. It can then become difficult to figure out what’s true. One individual on my caseload has a history of making up injuries and illnesses to get out of work. So when I started getting letters from him about his back being hurt and wanting to quit his job, it started raising some red flags for me. After sitting him down and actually listening to him for a few minutes, I determined that his back was really bothering him and he needed to be removed from his job.
I presented this problem to my boss, but she believed he was simply trying to get out of work and wanted to leave him at the worksite so he could keep making a paycheck. The individual refused to work and kept writing me letters about his back hurting and hating the job. So I made the decision to pull him out of his job before he got hurt anymore, in spite of the loss of the paycheck. Now after a little time and learning what this individual can do, I found him a new job doing something he likes. Plus it is something that does not hurt his back. Does this mean he will come back to me a few months from now and say he wants to quit this job? Possibly. But like many people, he wants to try out jobs until he finds the one he likes and will work hard at.
If you are working with someone with autism or if you are a manager that has someone with autism working for you and a problem comes up at the jobsite, I urge you to listen closely to determine what might actually be wrong. Autistic adults have problems with their jobs just like you and me. Like anyone else, they simply need someone to actively listen to their concerns.