Autism Awareness Month, Day 12: Good Jobs For Aspies

I’d guess you’re either a bounty hunter or a taxidermist. ~Boone to John Locke, “Lost”

A good rule of thumb is that if you’ve made it to 35 and your job still requires you to wear a nametag, you’ve made a serious vocational error. ~Dennis Miller

I can dig the "tying up your boss" part, sorta

Yesterday I wrote a (longer than average post) about getting and keeping employment for Aspies. Just the process of jumping through endless hoops, filling out reams’ worth of paperwork, and peeing in small plastic cups for strangers is exhausting in and of itself. Once you actually *get* a job offer, what then?

The way I’ve always looked at jobs is sort of a huge, gourmet Chinese buffet. I love Chinese food and I love sampling all the variants of Kung Pao chicken I can before I die by going to various restaurants. If I think of choosing a career, it’s like going into the best buffet I ever found and being told I could only eat lo mein (or kung pao, or Five Flavor Delight, or any one dish) for the entire evening. In choosing a career, I am being told to specialize instead of being one of those wonderful Da Vinci or Benjamin Franklin types who used to be called Renaissance men and are today just called “dabblers.” Now I can (and have) gotten by doing many odd jobs for many different clients, but it’s no way to pay the bills and generally maintain an air of self-sufficiency and maturity. Think how easy, and common, it has become in our society to ridicule the part-time musician who still lives in his mum’s basement, or the aspiring painter who’s trying to waitress to pay off student loans. Those people are punchlines (unfortunately) while the white-collar, 9-to-5 types are the ones parents tell their children they need to idolize. To me, one of the creative-type Aspies, something is seriously wrong with this picture.

Finding exactly the right job is a tricky proposition for an Aspie. For example, a young person may show an incredible aptitude for mathematics or science, and his or her teachers or parents suggest a career in medicine, or perhaps engineering. Both of these career paths are well-admired, well-salaried, and, to put it bluntly, “normal.” The one thing the young Aspie is never told is that being a physician or an urban engineer means social interaction. It’s not as simple as being a Dr. House type, alone in a windowless room, scrutinizing slides under a microscope and solving forensic mysteries. There are exceptions, of course, but almost ever job in today’s society demands at least some social interaction.

Mr. Monk, (possible) Aspie

I’m actually amused at how many fictional Aspies and Aspie types now permeate pop culture and are thought of as brilliant.  Take Dr. House, Adrian Monk, John Locke, Temperance Brennan, Lisbeth Salander. None of them are outgoing, particularly charming, or kindhearted, and they’re certainly not, as many corporate slogans trumpet, “team players.” They are edgy, lonely, tortured iconoclasts who are very good at what they do. I hope that every Aspie young person can one day find his or her niche and stop feeling like an outcast. Sadly, though, the job market has a lot of catching up to do in this respect. Unless the young Aspie is able to find a caring or understanding hiring manager, or get hired through less conventional channels, he or she is usually on the outside looking in to other candidates with more social savvy. And it doesn’t matter what kind of savant skills he or she possesses if they’re not the ones desired.

I do believe there is a silver lining with the rise of telecommuting, e-business, and freelance work. More and more people, NT and AS alike, are able to avoid the typical 9-to-5 cubicle farms and earn a good living with nothing more than a laptop. I’ll be the first to admit that’s my goal too. To paraphrase the old New Yorker cartoon with the dogs, on the Internet, no one knows you’re an Aspie.

Another paradox for Aspies is that so many of them don’t desire the trappings and benefits of a corporate, white-collar position. Many doctors, lawyers, and other professionals choose their careers because they want expensive cars, vacation homes, or social status. None of this usually matters to an Aspie, who may be quite content with thrift-store clothes and a garage apartment. Many of those same doctors and lawyers also say they choose careers based on a desire to help others. Aspies are likely to rate this factor quite low on their list of criteria. A job is just that…a way to earn money and buy a few comic books and DVDs.

Aspies hate uniforms and nametags!

If you yourself are an Aspie looking for the perfect job, or a parent or mentor to an Aspie, stop and consider. How many hours do you, or can you, work? Since most jobs will not be in an idealized setting, are there accommodations that can be made? What are your talents and skills, and how can you best showcase your abilities?

I also understand that many Aspies, like all of us, may have to accept jobs out of necessity. If you can, learn what accommodations can be made and what your rights are as an employee. You’d be surprised what you might be able to get.

I’m also including a short list of occupations I believe to be particularly well-suited to a typical Aspie. No two Aspies are alike, and no two sets of talents are alike. Some jobs may only need a high school diploma, while others require further education. For further reading, I suggest Temple Grandin’s wonderful book Developing Talents: Careers For Adults With Asperger’s Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism, and Rudy Simone’s new release Asperger’s on the Job as well as Roger Meyer’s Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook.

And here is my personal list (by no means complete or comprehensive, but just for what it’s worth) of careers well-suited for Aspies:

* Forensic psychologist/forensic technician

* Computer programmer

Lisbeth Salander, Aspie and computer genius

* Private investigator

* Horticulturist, gardener or groundskeeper

* Animal caretaker or trainer

* Freelance writer/copywriter/editor

* Tutor for Aspie students

* Archivist

* Data entry specialist

* Overnight auditor for a bank or hotel

* Shipping and receiving clerk

* Dishwasher

* Language specialist (CIA, FBI, etc)

* Musician

* Visual artist

Currently I’m in one of the more suitable professions for Aspies (library work) but who knows where I might wind up? As I once memorably told an acquaintance who asked why I majored in English, there does not exist a major for “evil genius.” But one day, there might.

My advice is to try to find a job you love, but at the same time, love the job you have as much as you can.

Coming tomorrow: Aspies and empathy. Thanks to all who continue to read P&Q…be sure to click “Like” if you enjoyed this post!

~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 12, 2011.

One Response to “Autism Awareness Month, Day 12: Good Jobs For Aspies”

  1. Nice Article. I enjoyed it.


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