Workers With Asperger's Syndrome Enter Economy With Challenges, Unique Gifts

workers aspergers syndrome
workers aspergers syndrome

Ask Daniel Felner about his $7.65 per hour job as a receptionist at a YMCA branch in New Jersey, and the 26-year-old will get effusive. "Everyone is so pleased with me," he says in a telephone interview. "I get complimented on the way I answer phones. Sometimes I compliment people when they walk in. And most of the time I am told, 'Daniel, you are a charmer.' "

Felner is one of a growing number of young adults who have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and are still making a place for themselves in the workforce. (In addition to Asperger's, the spectrum also includes a range of complex disorders related to brain development). The Centers for Disease Control, citing improved diagnosis and a broader definition, says 1 in 88 children now have an ASD. And so as a result, half a million Americans with an ASD will enter adulthood over the next decade, according to some estimates.

People on the spectrum can have a wide variety of symptoms and behavioral issues. Some are high-functioning individuals who are successful and may just be seen as a little "quirky." Others are unable to have a conversation or may be nonverbal. Still others are like Felner, they hold down jobs and can communicate one-on-one without major problems, but can't understand the concept of lying. All are characterized by varying degrees of impairments in social interaction and communication.