34

Should one reveal having an Autism Spectrum Disorder when applying for an IT job?

From the one side this information could help getting the job. Asperger Syndrome is related with high intelligence and very poor social skills, so people with that syndrome are often brilliant programmers, but they find it very difficult to sell their skills and are rejected during recruitment process. They find it especially difficult to answer inconcrete, fuzzy questions such as "What are your strong and weak sides?", "what are your plans/expectations?" and so on. When the recruiters knows that they are speaking with autistic person, they would take it into account, that failure to answer to such questions doesn't mean, that one has no strong sides or is not ambitious etc.

On the other side, the word disorder could close some doors. The potential employer could simply reject such person because they would be afraid of potential difficulties in integrating such a person in the team or just are disorder-phobic and don't want handicapped people in their company to avoid potential troubles.

So, what must be taken into account? What are the pros and the cons of revealing such fact to a potential employer? Is it always best to hide or disclose that diagnosis or does it depend on the situation?

  • It would seem to me that if I had this disorder the first step would be to know what my weaknesses are. Since these questions are pretty typical one would need to work with peers, friends, and their family to come up with answers to those difficult questions for them. There is nothing that with enough effort you cannot complete. Most everyone needs to prepare for an interview. A person with AS might need to prepare a great deal more but they can still have the answers to those questions. – Ramhound Jun 28 '12 at 15:29
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    Asking for pros and cons is a quintessential "Not Constructive" question unless it is extremely narrowly focused, which this question is not. There should be very singular points each answer should get at to avoid the problem of all answers being equally valid or talking about totally different things. I've closed this question though I think a much more focused question or questions could be appropriate. – Rarity Jun 28 '12 at 20:29
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    But when I the question have formuled: "Should I..." than it would be the same and will not be considered 'non-constructive'? – FolksLord Jun 29 '12 at 17:52
  • I think it's a very interesting question and I always think about it. – felipe.zkn Jul 13 '13 at 12:25
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    Speaking as one spectrum-person to another, this is important to know: It is "brilliant programmers despite having poor social skills, not because of poor social skills". If you can be a good programmer and have at least OK social skills, you are far more employable than the super-genius who cannot handle teamwork. – Kaz May 23 '17 at 17:46
35

Why would you think that a Neurotypical ( NT ) person would consider Aspergers a benefit?

From the one side this information could help getting the job.

If you think that having Aspergers will help you get a job you really do have a total lack of understanding of how NT peoples thought processes work. They don't care about potential brilliance as much as they care about difficult personality.

The NT tends to play it safe, and would rather have a team of all mediocre NT staff than risk one supposedly brilliant person mucking up the works by having everyone else have to deal with their idiosyncrasies thus bringing the net output of the team into a negative, and causing low moral on the team because they are told "You need to figure out how to work with the problem person." and spend more effort dealing with one person than doing their work.

Software development in the corporate world is about teamwork, revealing that you don't have innate skills to deal with people isn't going to endear you to anyone that is trying to build a productive team.

It is a misconception that Aspergers correlates to High Cognitive Abilities.

Here is a great discussion on why there is this misconception, and what the reality is. Below is just a snippet of the entire article - Are All Aspies Geniuses?.

The Reality

It's important to remember that aspergers often carries with it comorbid conditions, such as ADD/ADHD, Bi-polar, Schizophrenia, Learning Difficulties & OCD. Many of these conditions interfere with the aspie's ability to learn, particularly in the same conditions as neurotypical children.

NT employees are hard enough to deal with without throwing a wildcard into the mix.

  • @pojo-guy - here are certain classes of technical problem that are better resolved by one person with ASD and hyperfocus than by a team of neurotypicals. this is a complete myth, most people on the spectrum, myself included have so many other negative co-morbidities that they in total completely outweigh any mythical savant super-power you might think you ( or someone else has ) in a workplace. Autism is a spectrum and the myth that people on the spectrum have analytical super powers is just that a myth, nothing can outweigh having to deal with the NT world all day long. – Jarrod Roberson Dec 27 '18 at 0:54
  • I never argued for superpowers. The ability to focus on a single problem exclusively for days at a time does come at a cost, as I know too well. Attention is taken away from other matters such as family or food, for example. – pojo-guy Dec 27 '18 at 2:59
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    that is my point; the "cost" always outweighs any potential benefits by orders of magnitude, it is not even a break even game, if it is you are not really significantly on the spectrum, much less a net gain being on the spectrum. That feel good marketing BS from Microsoft is just that ... – Jarrod Roberson Dec 27 '18 at 18:37
  • I don't know, part of my success in my field is precisely that super focus. There were other issues that go with it, but employers have been quite happy to have someone that was content to find a corner and crank out solutions to hard problems, even if they had no interest in the "soft" skills that manager find important. – pojo-guy Dec 27 '18 at 19:10
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    +1. I have moderate-to-severe ADHD. Many of us are quite gifted but I wouldn't dream of mentioning it in an interview in the hopes of getting a leg up over the competition. Even if the recruiter is somehow aware of the potential for creativity and abstract problem solving ability, the issues that go along with it are more than most employers would want to deal with. Let your skills, knowledge, and work history speak for themselves. – AffableAmbler Dec 28 '18 at 16:19
16

Personally, I don't think this, or any other medical condition should come up, because it just shouldn't matter - unless it will have a significant and obvious impact on the job.

Employers might not want to hear about it, because if they fail to hire you, they might worry that you'll accuse them of discrimination based on your condition.

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    I agree this is a tricky question. If you say you hold a Syndrome, maybe in some cases you'll be considered just a hapless, poor guy... depending, obviously, on the kind of employer. – felipe.zkn Jul 13 '13 at 12:43
7

IME, it depends enormously on the position you're interviewing for, and how you deliver it. Both of those trace to your internalization of it.

For one thing, bear in mind: Aspbergers' is a syndrome, not a pathology. The same is true for autism. It's a collection of symptoms, most of which just so happen to compliment tech fields. To the point of cliche.

It's really not a big deal. Discrimination happens when prejudices are triggered, so avoid this by wrapping it in humor. I broach the topic in an interview like, don't you kind of have to be at least a little autistic to do what we do? I mean, what are we doing, really? We're stacking blocks. We put those blocks inside other blocks, and then we stack them again.

We're playing with Legos. For a living.

This makes it amusing, and light-hearted, and firmly frames the topic as being a person with autism, not an autistic with person. The idea that it's a 'disorder' is completely avoided: obviously we're ideally suited for this task, and how does 'disorder' fit into that? The end.

On the occasion coworkers / bosses inquire (always after hire ;) ), the dialogue follows these lines: yeah, I really am autistic. It's whatever. Sarcasm is sometimes lost on me. I default to stone-cold literal, meaning sometimes I will react completely literally to what I couldn't tell was a joke, and I won't even stop to wonder if you were serious until you start looking at me like I'm the weird one. :P Sometimes, you'll ask me a question and I'll deep-dive to no apparent in a quest to provide a complete answer. It's a bit annoying, especially for me - but hey, at least I take you seriously. ^_^

Anyway, that's how I deal with it. HTH :)

--- Edited to add context and clarify strategy for demonstrating this as desirable

So, interviewing, for me, is necessarily for senior dev. I expect to speak with multiple people - often the entire team. The ratio of business-facing (ie, the project manager) to devs is usually ~1:3-4 and at least one will be the lead dev. It's a luxury - being able to safely presuming everyone is well-versed in the culture of software dev, business or dev.

The key is in your thinking: your technical skills are the reason they're interested in you to begin with! Emphasize this and how it translates into, say, the apparently uncanny knack for delivering what they WANT, based on what they SAY. Conversely, play down frustrating traits (ie, deep-diving technical issues unto infinity, etc - you know how we can be, I'm sure ;) ) with humor. This creates the contrast necessary for potential employers to perceive your dx as flattering, instead of prohibitive.

-- hth :)

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    obviously we're ideally suited for this task Are you really though? Most employers who would pay you to put together legos depend on you to have interpersonal skills so that you are able to interpret complex requirements and needs from limited information and engagement. Every job I have had in IT, I was required to talk the business with others and work closely with business people. The technical part was just a small facet of this. – maple_shaft Jun 28 '12 at 11:44
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    -- And, yes. I am. I program in 8 languages thanks to the ol' advantageous long-term memory. Photographic recall, sensitivity to patterns and pattern recognition, repetition, ability to tunnel concentration for days on end, affinity for patterned abstraction - autism is a proverbial prehensile tail for IT, especially programmers. Ftw. ;) – OpenSorceress Jun 29 '12 at 0:59
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    It's a pity that so many managers require for programmers to carry out for the trash they can't handle themselves (crippled analyse etc.) – FolksLord Jun 29 '12 at 17:54
  • @satywilder - some traits are complimentary, but other traits are crippling and offset any benefits of those traits, most if not all the crippling social traits will limit your advancement and usually get you pushed out or marginalized of a team because you are difficult to work with and the lost productivity of the rest of the team will never be made up by the member causing that loss. And if you just have some of the traits that are good for IT you are not autistic and you do not have Aspergers, one of the criteria is your functioning has to be impaired. Not impaired, not ASD, that simple. – Jarrod Roberson Apr 7 '16 at 23:03
5

Some practical advice: if you have a disability you can possibly hide from your employer, DON'T EVER DISCLOSE. In general, I'd say you should only do it as a last ditch effort to avoid getting fired if it becomes a serious problem. It probably won't work, but might buy you a little time to find another job while they document some other excuse to fire you and create the legal paper-trail to show that they "accommodated" your disability. You need to do everything you possibly can to avoid looking like a "problem employee" in the mind of your employer.

  1. As discussed in other answers here, NT people will never consider Autism Spectrum disorders an advantage. It is considered a disability, even in software development.

  2. If you are in the United States, the legal protections you receive are basically a paper-tiger with no teeth. Since almost all employment is "at-will," your employer will just say they didn't hire you (or fired you) for some other reason not related to your disability. Many people are quite ignorant of this reality - and keep in mind that behavioral disabilities are often considered more problematic to an employer than physical ones, which can (usually) be accommodated with specialized equipment.

  3. Alerting an employer to a potential problem with your performance (like not working well on a team) due to a disability will lead to them watching you more carefully for problematic patterns that they may or may not have been aware of otherwise. So, instead of thinking "this employee is kind of awkward but otherwise okay" they could be expecting trouble and actively evaluating you (with their inherent biases against non-NT types). Don't needlessly lower their expectations.

Employers care about your performance, not your personal problems, and if you are struggling they generally don't care why. Whether or not you can get by without help or accommodations is highly dependent on your personal situation, but in general you should first try to establish yourself as a valuable member of the team before asking for help or revealing any issues you may have: frame it as a way to be more productive than you already are.

3

It's important to let your employer know about your condition and make sure that the appropriate accomodations are made for you. However, as others have pointed out, if they're aware of your condition during the interview, it may affect their judgement.

One option to consider is informing them after the interview (or after you receive an offer) but before accepting it. Depending on where you live, there are legal ramifications to discriminating based on disabilities (for example, in the USA, this is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act). Being forthright about your condition will also help you to get better working conditions as suited to your needs, which is important to both your interests and your employers'.

Everyone has different levels of understanding about autism/Aspergers or any other condition. I wouldn't depend on it to help you or hurt you in a job interview (it could do either), but be deliberate about how you present it to potential employers.

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    What accommodations, exactly, are you suggesting the OP needs? – pdr Jun 28 '12 at 9:41
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    @Jimmy - It is horrible advice to tell your employeer about a medical condition. This places them in a position in knowing information they are not allowed to ask you. Which means once they know that information they can use it against you, and often times, there is nothing you can do about it. Once you are hired that is an entirely different story. – Ramhound Jun 28 '12 at 15:26
  • @pdr I don't know what types of accomodations are common for autism or Aspergers, but it could be as simple as setting expectations for performance or behavior. Some disabilities may require more obvious accomodations. For example, I have a friend with muscular dystrophy who works as a software developer even though his movement is limited to head and hands (but he can't move his arms). – Jimmy Jun 28 '12 at 16:25
  • @Ramhound I agree that it's not a good idea to tell them before or during the interview. But once they've extended a job offer, there may not be harm (and can be some benefit) to disclosing it. In either event, I would recommend that the OP or whoever think carefully about the need to disclose. – Jimmy Jun 28 '12 at 16:27
  • @Ramhound Citing another personal example: my wife is visually impaired to the point of being considered legally blind and bipolar to boot. She often discloses the blind during interviews because it does have significant impact on her ability to peform in her field (though she also points out that she has years of experience in the field). She recently disclosed the bipolar to her boss because she's adjusting her medication, which can lead to unexpected behavior on the job. It's all about making a calculated disclosure. – Jimmy Jun 28 '12 at 16:41

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