Jennifer Kirchner1,2, Christoph Chwiekowsky2, Sebastian Dern2, Rainer Döhle2, Robert Elias2, Ernest Götz2, Peter Gottschlich2, N. Grambert2, Fee Hoppmann1,2, Dorit Kliemann1,2, Uwe Krey2, Fabian Melzow2, Steven Purwins2, Silke Schulz2, Maike Vahrenkamp2, Ingo Wolf1,2, Isabel Dziobek1,2

1Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development, Berlin
2Autism Research Cooperation (Autismus-Forschungs-Kooperation, AFK)


Background: The Autism Research Cooperation (Autismus-Forschungs-Kooperation, AFK) is a Berlin-based project that brings together adults in the autistic spectrum and scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development. The goal of the AFK is to jointly design and conduct research projects that the autistic community finds relevant. Owing to autistic adult's negative experiences with job counseling and placement, as a first study the AFK conducted a survey on the way autism is dealt with in Berlin job centers.

Objective: The study aimed at assessing knowledge about autism and personality traits of employees in Berlin job centers. Moreover, the survey sought to elucidate how negative behaviors are judged that are typical for autistic people.

Methods: A new questionnaire was developed to measure a) knowledge about autism (diagnostic criteria, prejudices, strengths), b) personality traits of job center employees (tolerance, empathy, motivation for change), and c) judgement of behaviors typically associated with autism (e.g., little eye-contact, motor agitation). 57 employees of Berlin job centers in Marzahn-Hellersdorf and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf partipicated in the survey, filling out the questionaire. Twenty autism experts (psychologists and psychiatrists based in medical schools and autism therapy centers in Germany and Switzerland) served as a control group.

Results: Job center employees knew significantly less about autism compared to autism experts (all p < 0.05). No significant group differences were observed regarding personality traits (all p > 0.15). However, job center employees judged autistic behavior more negative than experts (p = 004).

Discussion & Conclusion: Employees of Berlin job centers still know too little about autism. However, knowledge about the characteristic profile of autistic difficulties and strengths seems essential for successful job consultation and placement. Autistic behaviors are judged more negatively by job center employees than by autism experts, although both groups reported equal amounts of tolerance, empathy, and motivation for change. Hence, a goal of the AFK is dissemination of knowledge about autism in German job centers. A better understanding of autism among job center employees should lead to a more positive judgment of autistic behaviors and optimized services for individuals on the autistic spectrum.

Contact information: Isabel Dziobek, Freie Universität Berlin:
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