The transition between adolescent to adult is a difficult process for anyone. It can be even more challenging for individuals on the autism spectrum, especially when it comes to finding a meaningful vocation.
As the father of a wonderful 10-year-old boy with autism, much of my time is spent worrying about what opportunities will be available to him once he reaches adulthood. According to some estimates, the unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum exceeds 90 percent.
Recently this problem has been combated with rising interest on individuals with special needs in the workforce. With proper training, support and opportunity these individuals with developmental disabilities are able to maintain and even excel at professions in the mainstream workforce.
Some of these innovative companies are highlighted in a recent Forbes post, A New Business Model for Autism.
But even if employment opportunities are available, what types of jobs are best suited to individuals on the autism spectrum – especially those with an interest in technology?
Temple Grandin, one of the more famous individuals with autism and an unwavering advocate for autism rights, has written often about employment opportunities for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Autistic individuals who are both high and low functioning often have poor short-term working memory, but often have much better long-term memory than typical individuals. Any job search activity certainly needs to take this into account.
Grandin tends to break down job categories into two groups: (1) individuals with strong visual / spatial learning skills or visual thinking and (2) individuals who are not strong visual thinkers who, nevertheless may be strong at such skills as mathematics, music, or fact memorization. Below, Grandin provides examples of technical jobs in each of these areas.
Good Occupational Choices for Visual Thinkers
- Equipment Designer: Design is intrinsically visual in nature. Often a person starts as a draftsman and then moves into designing more complex equipment.
- Computer Repair: Individuals in this field can usually visualize problems in computers and networks.
- Web Site Design: The ability to visualize is paramount to design work. It helps to find a good niche market and can also be done as freelance work.
- Computer Graphics / Animation: Visual thinkers would be very good at this profession, but there is much more competition here than in business or industrial computer programming domains.
- Auto Mechanic: Visual thinking individuals can visualize how the entire car works and therefore could make excellent mechanics.
- Drafting: Engineering drawings and computer aided drafting can offer many opportunities for visual thinkers. Drafting is an excellent portal of entry for many interesting technical jobs.
Though famed autism advocate Temple Grandin made her career in the area of animal sciences, she also has insights for individuals with autism wanting to enter the tech sector. (Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons)
Good Occupational Choices for Non-Visual Thinkers
- Computer Programming: This is a diverse field with many different job types available, including industrial automation, software design, business communications and network systems. There is almost always a shortage of good programmers in business and industrial fields.
- Engineering: Electrical, electronic and chemical engineering are all good choices for those skilled in quantitative and mathematical thinking.
- Laboratory technician: Modifying and building specialized lab equipment as well as operating said equipment is a good fit for non-visual thinkers.
- Statistician: A talent with numbers can lead to work in many different fields such as research, industrial quality control, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the census bureau, etc.
- Physicist or Mathematician: These jobs, especially in an academic environment, are quite competitive and difficult to get. However, if one is able to make the cut, the potential exists for an extremely satisfying career.
- Data Entry: Depends on the strengths of the individual. Would not be a good job for individuals with fine motor skill problems.
Regardless of the career chosen, the most important factor for those on the autism spectrum is the same as it is for anyone; understanding individual strengths and weaknesses can lead to a good career fit. And for those on the spectrum it can mean finding an employer who knows and appreciates that special needs often comes with special abilities.
Read Next: My life as an autistic Wikipedian
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