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Asperger’s syndrome may be an ADA disability

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Asperger’s syndrome may be a covered disability under the ADA, a federal court hearing an Ohio case has concluded.

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disability characterized by “severe and sustained impairments in social interaction,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. The condition is permanent and is similar in some respects to autism.

Recent case: After Dr. Martin Jakubowski graduated from medical school, he started a residency in family practice. He had trouble communicating with nurses, patients and other doctors even though he scored well when it came to medical knowledge.

Jakubowski began psychological testing and was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which he said explained why he had trouble communicating with people.

When he was told he would not be retained in the residency program, he asked for reasonable accommodations to help him communicate better. Instead, he was offered help getting a residency in pathology (a field that doesn’t require much human interaction). He refused and sued.

The court agreed that Asperger’s syndrome can be a disability under the ADA since it may impair the ability to interact with others. It also agreed Jakubowski had proven he was disabled.

However, the court still dismissed his case, concluding that there was no reasonable accommodation available that would help him safely work as a family practitioner. Plus, the court said the employer’s offer to help him get a pathology residency was a reasonable accommodation. (Jakubowski v. The Christ Hospital, No. 1:08-CV-00141, SD OH, 2009)

Final note: Remember that diagnosis is not enough. If an employee has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he still has to prove that the condition substantially impairs a major life function like communicating with others.

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