Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a condition that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates affects around one in every 59 children in the United States today. It covers a broad range of conditions and is characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech challenges and difficulty with nonverbal communication. There are many subtypes of autism which are thought to be influenced by both genetic and environmental variables. The wide range (or "spectrum") of autism disorder means that every autism sufferer is different, with their own distinct strengths and challenges. While some people with autism are highly skilled and independent, others may need significant support in their day-to-day lives.
Despite the challenges that they may face, many people with autism are highly capable of contributing to the workforce. However, when looking for a job that's appropriate for someone with autism, there are unique considerations that need to be taken into account. Certain types of environments are better-suited to support these individuals' needs. Similarly, certain types of jobs will help them capitalize on their strengths, whereas others will rely on strengths that aren't in their skill set.
In general, good jobs for people with autism are those with well-defined tasks and goals. Professions that rely on concrete skills (such as programming and engineering) are better fits than more abstract, people-oriented ones (such as teaching or politics). Good jobs for people with autism fall into three rough categories: 1) jobs for visual thinkers; 2) jobs for non-visual thinkers who are good at math, music or facts; and 3) jobs for nonverbal people with autism or people with weaker verbal skills.
Autistic individuals with strong visual reasoning skills will find that their strength in this area makes them highly in-demand in certain professions. These include:
Mean annual wage: $89,580*
People with ASD often excel in computer programming because they're logical, enjoy predictability and are visual learners — all traits that make one a strong programmer. Computer programming is a highly logical, predictable process that contains a lot of visual information. Therefore, computer programming is in some cases processed more easily by those with autism versus those without autism.
Mean annual wage: $42,770
People with autism have a unique perspective on the world and consequently think about photo composition in a way that's similarly out of the box. This ability to create unexpected end products is rewarded in photography since people like their photographs to be unique and interesting.
Median pay, graphic designers: $50,370
Median pay, multimedia artists and animators: $72,520
Unsurprisingly, good visual thinkers are well-suited for careers in graphics and animation. These careers are especially good for those with autism because they also provide a creative outlet, which can give them a way to express their unique perspective on the world.
Individuals on the ASD spectrum who aren't good at visual thinking often have other strengths they can leverage into jobs. In particular, they're often strong at math, music or factual recall. Consequently, they're good at jobs such as:
Median pay, accountants and auditors: $70,500
Those on the autism spectrum who are good with numbers will often excel as accountants. As an example of this, consider the story of Tom Iland, who was diagnosed with autism at age 13. He was good with numbers from a very young age (in fact, his middle school classmates called him "The Calculator") and eventually became a CPA and advocate for building a bridge between those with autism and their parents, families, teachers, and potential employers.
Mean annual wage: $92,600
Developing or applying mathematical or statistical theory to solve problems and interpret data is something that individuals who are strong at math will excel at. For such individuals, being a statistician can be a rewarding and interesting career.
As anyone who's ever lived in or visited a big city knows, getting around can be confusing. Even in the age of Google Maps and turn-by-turn driving directions, it can still pay to have a strong sense of direction if you're trying to get to your destination as quickly as possible. Since some autistic individuals have great factual recall, they're able to memorize large city maps and navigate them with ease. This makes them great taxi or ride-share drivers.
Some autism sufferers who have more severe autism may have poor verbal skills or even be nonverbal. In such cases, jobs that require a lot of interpersonal interaction are challenging to obtain and be successful in. However, there are still many good jobs for nonverbal people with autism, such as:
Mean annual wage: $33,740
This job can often be done at home and generally requires very little interpersonal interaction. In many cases, when communication is required, it can be electronic. This makes it a good career choice for autism sufferers with verbal challenges.
Mean annual wage: $30,940
Landscaping and garden work is a fairly low-social interaction line of work. While gardeners and landscapers may occasionally interact with people at the start of jobs, they'll generally be left to their own devices to get the job done. This makes this line of work a solid choice for the nonverbal or those with poor verbal skills.
These two jobs share the common characteristic of being good for people with good long-term memory to remember where things should go. Since many people with autism have better-than-average long-term memory, jobs that capitalize on this strength are a good choice for them. Additionally, as these jobs are fairly repetitive and don't require much ongoing instruction or interaction with others, they can be quite solitary, which makes them good for those with limited verbal capabilities.
Jobs that put too much stress on short-term working memory (a particular challenge for many autism sufferers, regardless of their overall functioning level) are often a poor choice for those with autism. Such jobs include:
One of a cashier's primary responsibilities is making change quickly. This puts a lot of demand on short-term working memory, which makes it a poor fit for those with autism.
Both wait staff and bartenders need to keep track of multiple orders at one. This, again, puts a lot of demand on short-term working memory, which makes these jobs a poor fit for those with autism.
Some people with autism struggle to process auditory information. Consequently, a job that entirely relies on auditory processing is a poor fit for them.
*Salaries are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data unless otherwise noted.
Unfortunately, while people on the autism spectrum can be fantastic contributors at work, many employers still haven't taken the steps to hire and support people with autism. The historic reluctance to hire those on the autism spectrum explains the estimated 85% unemployment rate among college graduates with autism and the similarly startling statistic that 79% of young adults with autism work part-time, averaging only $9.11/hour. Luckily, however, Autism Speaks and a range of other organizations are helping to change this. The following three companies are just a few of the major corporations looking to hire and support more autistic individuals:
The tech giant has a dedicated Autism Hiring Program, inspired by an employee with an autistic son, that focuses exclusively on hiring, retaining, and developing the careers of those with autism. Microsoft often hires people with autism into software engineer, service engineer, data analyst, or data scientist jobs.
This company's strong "Autism at Work" program is part of its robust overall diversity program. SAP's Autism at Work program integrates people with autism into its workforce, and the company's goal is to employ 650 employees on the autism spectrum by 2020. As of the end of October 2019, the program had nearly 120 participants in over 20 different types of positions across nine countries.
Through a program called Retail Employees with Disabilities (REDI), Walgreens partners with local agencies to give externs on the autism spectrum training in specific skill areas. At the conclusion of the program, those who earn a 3.0 or higher score earn a "recommended for hire" designation that allows them to bypass the standard Hourly Selector assessment if they're applying for customer service associate (CSA) roles at Walgreens.
Certain skills are often seen in people with autism. While the following skills aren't universal among those with autism, it's been observed that those with autism are often strong in these areas.
Both high and low functioning people with autism often have a better long-term memory than most people. However, on the flip side, both high and low functioning people with autism often have poor short-term memory.
Many people with autism have strong visual thinking skills. They're able to see how systems work and fit together in a way that others can't.
Autistic individuals have also been observed to be strong in number-based thinking. This includes math, accounting, and music (as discussed above).
There are many resources available to help people with autism develop the skills they need to pursue the careers they're interested in. Similarly, there are also numerous job boards that are geared specifically towards this audience. These are only a few of the available resources:
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