• Lisa

Essential Job Functions

Do you feel that your son or daughter may have experienced discrimination in the workplace because he or she is on the autism spectrum? Has your son or daughter with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder or “Asperger’s” not been hired for a job that he or she has qualifications for? It is possible that your son or daughter may not have been able to perform the “essential job functions” that define each job and are used to determine when employees with disabilities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

There are some job functions for every job that are considered “essential”--an employee must be able to do these job functions, with or without reasonable accommodations. Employers do not have to hire a person who is otherwise qualified for a job (for example has the degrees, license requirements, or experience) if the person cannot perform the essential job functions required of the position. For example, it may be an essential job function in a clothing store for an individual to be able to positively interact with customers, answer questions about the merchandise, and seek help if he or she doesn’t know an answer. A person may have a job where the essential functions include sending emails, answering the phone, greeting others, or sharing responsibilities flexibly with others. It may not be possible to apply reasonable accommodations that would solve problems in those areas.

What if your son or daughter could work from home or get a technology area job? Would that allow him or her to avoid the issues around interacting with others? Even those kinds of jobs are likely to require the ability to communicate effectively with a boss, co-workers, or a customer at least by phone or email, solve problems flexibly, accept and respond positively to criticism and corrections, ask questions at appropriate times, and meet occasionally with others. It is also true that in competitive employment situations anyone may be chosen over another person for a job for any number of reasons quite apart from the question of disability.

Many essential job functions for competitive jobs, and many qualities that are simply desirable from an employer’s perspective, are interactive in nature! Preparation for a job for individuals on the autism spectrum requires much more than simply getting higher education or specific training and an appropriate certificate or degree. Even highly functioning young people on the autism spectrum are likely to need direct instruction and practice in foundational social communication skills as well as particular attention to problem areas such as intensity or flexibility issues, positive word choices, and positive body language, to become successfully employed.

Please read our blogs and books, and consider attending our classes or having us come to speak with your group. You may contact us with your questions at, and write your thoughts on this and other blog topics at our Facebook page. We want to grow a problem solving community around these very capable young people on the autism spectrum. We have many years of experience with hundreds of such individuals and their families, and we care about your young person becoming employed and independent!

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