The workplace is full of potential dangers for someone with autism. The often unpredictable nature of most jobs makes it hard to adapt on the fly and negotiating the hidden rules and etiquette that grow and develop over time in every workplace is enough to make most individuals with ASD think twice before trying to find a job. However, the rewards of full-time employment are great for those on the spectrum: having a steady source of income leads to greater independence and choices, as well as reducing the need to navigate the tricky world of unemployment benefits.
The tough part for people on the spectrum is finding a job that plays to their strengths (for example, heightened attention to detail, the ability to hyper-focus on a particular area and a highly logical mindset) and that reduces attention to areas of weakness, such as understanding social cues and norms or dealing with unknown or unexpected circumstances. There are many job fields that are well suited to individuals with autism, both non-verbal and higher functioning. For individuals with non-verbal autism, the following fields are worth investigating:
- Custodial work – custodians typically work after regular office hours, which reduces the need for social interactions. A lot of the work is repetitive and follows set routines with little in the way of deviation. Custodians also work in crews, so if there is something unexpected, another team member will be able to help resolve the issue.
- Landscaping – landscaping hours are more sociable and obviously involves a lot of manual labour which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. The work can vary from day to day, but an autism-friendly landscaper will find ways to bring routine and repetition to the workload whatever the job.
- Factory assembly – while this may not seem attractive to individuals with autism from the outside, factory assembly work actually offers a very autism-friendly work environment. Each person works alone on the same task throughout the day and there is almost no deviation in the work expectations. The repetitive motions and sounds could make this a viable workplace.
On another part of the spectrum, there are individuals who are “higher functioning” in their ability to relate and engage with other people. Some fields that would make use of these talents include:
- Computer programming – the very nature of the computer programming world attracts people on the spectrum who might not have an official diagnosis. Programmers need to have a logical mindset combined with an understanding of how to apply a set of complex rules to solve new problems. It is entirely possible, and indeed encouraged and accepted, for employees to put on headphones and not interact with anyone throughout the entire day as long as the work is being completed.
- Accounting – the back end work of data entry and making sure that files meet procedures work well for individuals on the spectrum who like organization and completion of tasks. Many individuals with ASD find mathematical certainty soothing, and accounting is based on the need for all the numbers to match up and make sense.
- Animal trainer – any job interacting animals will likely prove successful for individuals on the spectrum as the body language of most domestic animals is easier to learn than humans. A trainer, say for guide dogs or emotional support animals, requires patience and the ability to repeat behaviour sequences over and over again until the animal gets the skill. Working with animals is popular with everyone however so people with ASD looking for work in this field may need to get some experience and training in a volunteer setting first to help them understand what’s expected.
All of these fall under the “competitive employment” category of jobs for people with ASD, where they are able to work independently with the understanding that the company will provide appropriate levels of support. For individuals who need more support but who also want to be an active part of the job market, “supported employment” is probably a better bet. This is where a company specifically creates a role for the individual on the spectrum and plenty of support is made available, both within the organization and externally from the individual’s support network. There is no right or wrong way to get individuals professional jobs at ASD, and each person employed is another step to normalizing neurodiversity in today’s world.