I recently hired an employee who has highly functional Asperger's. I had retained him for some consulting work in the past, so I knew he was a great fit for a role needing a meticulous workhorse - hiring him was a clear choice that I don't regret, but at the same time I'm having difficulty thinking about how I can interact with him to be most effective (beyond the obvious MT stuff: the Trinity).

For example, when I stop by his desk to check in he has difficulty stopping what he is doing and interacting with me - he will often keep his eyes on his screen and say "things are great". Knowing that it can be tough for ASD individuals to transition tasks, I don't want to insist on making these check-ins work like they do with my other employees, but at the same time I need some small way to keep the pulse on daily work/give direction for the next step/etc.. I've thought about setting up a daily touch base to "schedule" the 2 or 3 minute check-in - not sure if that'd come off as micromanaging or if he would appreciate the gesture. I've thought of just asking him if he would like it, but I don't want to make him feel like I'm making exceptions for him because he's not good enough for what everyone else gets.

I have read some things in HBR and elsewhere about ASD employees and resonate with their overall message - ASD employees can be very effective, but you might have to make some adjustments to help them be comfortable. Curious what of this advice others have found most helpful?

Wondering if anyone else has some tactical experience with helping ASD employees be most effective at work? Did you find it helpful to make any adjustments vs. how you usually interacted with your team? How did you balance giving real help for a legitimate condition vs. pretending to be a paychiatrist? Is it helpful to discuss the ASD openly or was it more effective to find subtle ways to make accommodations?

mrreliable's picture

I'd recommend dealing with the employee just as you'd deal with any other employee. The concept of nurturing relationships doesn't stop with someone who has Asperger's. It's just another personality type. Give them what they want and they'll give you what you need.

I've dealt with several people in this personality realm in different capacities. You mentioned trying to deal with them without making them uncomfortable. To be honest, this person is probably not as uncomfortable with the interaction as you are. These folks often don't interact in the same manner as most people, and don't give the same importance to personal connections. I'd guess in most cases any personal discomfort they might have is inherently personal, and isn't affected much by how others interact with them. They don't worry about it much. They've learned to try to make personal connections, but often aren't very good at it. Successful personal interactions aren't on the top of their list of priorities. It's not anything related to disrespect.

My advice would be to discuss the issue with them, not referring to Asperger's of course, so you're not playing psychiatrist. Explain that you need to stay on top of everyone's activities, but he seems distracted when you stop by his desk. Ask him if there's a way that you could check in with him every day, but not interfere with his train of thought. I think there's a good chance he'll appreciate your situation and your flexibility, and he'll tell you exactly how he would like to see the interaction play out for maximum efficiency.

Please post some followups. I'm curious how this plays out.

US41's picture

Get trained on how to manage him. Find support groups for this disorder and learn to tailor your communicaiton to him. Add that skill to your toolkit, learn to get the most from such people, and contribute back to humanity by providing them with gainful employment.

mrreliable's picture

With all due respect I disagree with US41. "Providing them with gainful employment" and finding support groups sounds like you're looking at Aspergers like some kind of debilitating mental disorder. In fact, most people with Aspergers are above-average intelligence, and many place an unusually high focus a particular area of knowledge, often making them an expert in their field. The challenge in dealing with someone who has Aspergers is not that they're barely trainable, it's that they do not function the way most people do in terms of interpersonal communications. They often have trouble interpreting body language. They often seem obsessed with minute details others would not take notice of. The might not react as you would expect to social cues. But when you're talking about core competence in a particular field, they're often at a much higher level than their peers.

Put another way, you could say people with Aspergers are High D on steroids. You're not contributing to society by providing them with gainful employment. You're lucky enough to have a super geek in whatever field they excel in if you can figure out how to understand them.

mercuryblue's picture
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There is plenty of information around on how to manage someone with ASD, but you may find a conversation with an expert can help. I agree with mrreliable re the value an employee with ASD can bring, but I also think having a conversation with a professional in the relevant association to work through specific strategies you can use for effective two way conversation could be helpful. 

For example, when you said he says “things are great”, I wonder what the question was that sparked that answer. Was it “how are things?” (/things are great), was it “how is your project?” (Things are great) - these are questions that would get you the status of a project from most employees. Or did you ask a more specific, detailed question, which I suspect your direct may have needed? I wonder if you need to think more about the answer you want, and how you might use that to shape the questions you ask?

I’m definitely not an expert, but I know a few parents of older teens/young adults with ASD  and see how they interact. 

I admire you for recognising you need to adjust your comms style. Good luck!

purplegrrl's picture

This is not a "personality difference." It is a neurological difference. Getting surprised and having unplanned social interaction can be difficult or even distressing for people on the spectrum. Here is a website with specific accommodations for this disability:

There are career coaches that work specifically with people on the spectrum as well as employment programs for them. This is not a mystery at all. People with Aspergers or Autism can be extremely effective employees if you have a reasonable accommodation for them.

GuidoVivaldi's picture

Wanted to provide a quick update - appreciated your thoughts on this.  I've hit a really good cadence with my ASD direct.  He's super effective when you feed him the right directions, and has turned into a real machine for our team by centralizing a lot of recurring tasks that were historically shared.  There has been a little friction with other managers - while extremely effective in acomplising tasks, my direct isn't the kind of well-rounded employee we usually hire. 

timrutter's picture

Thanks for circling back on this Guido, it's really helpful to see what worked for you in this situation.

turipz's picture

Hi. I have ADHD, ASD, and certain learning disabilities (Dyscalculia, Dygraphia). I have been working in the InfoSec field for some 25 years now, and am currently working as a Director of Compliance and Risk for a well-known company, and throughout my career (and life, for that matter) and now - I had and am having significant challenges along areas you all brought up here. I just read this thread, after having issues at work around my condition and searching for information I can try to provide to my manager and organization, and the way each of you expressed your views on this, and the actual way you each view this issue brought me to tears, realizing that there are people out there who don't see people in my situation or similar as freaks, failed hires, mismatching culturally (not being the "schmoozer" the organization decided that I should be as a senior manager), Etc. One simple example: my HR director did not understand why I burst into tears when she said that people complain that I am not "sociable enough", in not doing things like taking my staff out to lunches, or connecting with them at a more personal level, and that people complain that I don't understand what they tell me (as in the example you provided, for instance) or that my body language isn't "agreeable" to them (I have no idea what they are talking about... I mean - I do, as I have been dealing with this since forever, but I can't tell when someone sits in a certain way and what that means, or if I am sitting in a certain way and what that "communicates" to others. I try, I did lots of coaching and therapy and other "training" to improve my ability to "fit in", but it is almost always impossible for me to do).

Thank you all so much for posting your comments. You have no idea (at least I can't begin to describe) how encouraging it is for me to read them. Thank you!!!

ZITTER's picture

Have you consider employment training service? You can also ensure that work environment is well-structured. Honest feedback is important also but in a sensitive way.