The Social Work Relationship

A relationship with a supervisor and co-workers is a social relationship.  Outside of performing your job and the “soft skills” of showing up on time, wearing appropriate clothes, etc.; you also have to get along with co-workers and supervisors.  A break down in this social relationship can cost you your job or make your job harder to perform.  This is perhaps the largest barrier to inclusive, community employment that individuals with autism face.  It is a constantly changing relationship with new players that bring their own experiences with them.  Typical individuals with better than average social skills can find the social relationships required by employment challenging.  Most individuals with autism don’t enter the inclusive, community workforce as early as their non-disabled peers.  This gives their non-disabled peers years more experience at navigating workplace social relationships.  Coupling that with the deficits in reading social cues, understanding non-verbal behavior, etc. that individuals with autism face, it can be hard to imagine success.  This is why individuals with autism often need support over a longer period of time than others.  They may be better at other parts of the job than their counterparts, but that will do little to help their career if they struggle to get along with others.  Funding for ongoing support in employment can be difficult to come by in a system that is set up with the expectation that independence in employment can be achieved in 90 days or less.  Political initiatives support individuals with disabilities entering the work force, but often do not consider the long-term challenges they will face in trying to stay there.  A person with a physical disability is often able to become independent quickly with physical accommodations which are required by law.  Individuals that acquired their disability as an adult can often refer back to their prior work experience to help them find a way to navigate their new situation.  In both of these groups, success can often be achieved in a short amount of time, and it can be lasting.  However, for individuals with autism, success can be short-lived when personnel change, the work environment changes or anything that disrupts their routine happens.  However, the increased investment in support initially can lead to lasting job placement.  Once the position has become part of their routine, they will likely not stray from it or become disenchanted with it.   The routine provides the positive reinforcement they need for long term stability.  The key is to have long term support for the first few years so that new challenges can be addressed as they arise before they affect employment.