1. Follow Your Passion
I love flying! All my life I have been interested in anything aviation related: airports, travel, planes.
All of us have things we are passionate about, but for a young person with autism a special interest can be a great motivation tool for learning new skills and finding a job.
Researcher Tony Attwood has found that special interests are an extremely common characteristic for children and adults with autism: over 90% of children and adults with ASD have strong interests in specific areas. Research in 2007 by Winter-Messiers demonstrated that special interests should be treated seriously because they may be beneficial in building up skills that would be hard to obtain otherwise.
Our passions teach us about ourselves, and if we listen carefully we can match these passions to a fulfilling career. For the young person infatuated with aviation there are many jobs related to airplanes – from working in an airport to building aircraft to being a flight controller– finding the right fit between your skills and what is needed for specific jobs is key to building a successful career strategy.
Temple Grandin advises that to find employment for adults with autism one should:
“Expand Obsessive Interests Into Skills and Service Other People’s Needs”
In her case, Temple notes that:
“ranchers want custom-designed cattle handling facilities, but they are not interested in constant obsessive talking about them.
If an individual likes airplanes, then use the motivation of that fixation to teach other skills. Learning how to read and improving writing skills can be motivated by using books about airplanes. Airplanes can also be used to motivate learning math and science.
Mr. Carlock, my science teacher channeled my obsessions into learning science. I started to study because I had the goal of becoming a scientist. There were many interesting science projects in Mr. Carlock’s lab.”
List your passions on a piece of paper: Try to list at least 3 special interests or things that you are excited about.
- Airplanes, airports and Travel
- Planes, trains, and other types of vehicles
- Math and things that involve numbers.
2. Understand and Develop Your Strengths
What comes easily to you? What are your strengths? Are you good at math and science or are those areas you try to avoid at all costs? Are you gifted in certain areas? People with autism have many strengths. Rudy Simone, who wrote “Aspergers on the Job” points out that more than neuro-typical people, people with ASD tend to be more focused and diligent, they tend to take a huge amount of pride in a job well done, they want to please, and they bring both independence and unique thinking into the workplace.
Temple Grandin advises people to not just understand your strengths, but learn how to develop them:
“I was really good at drawing and things where I could use my visual thinking skills and was terrible at algebra.
One of the things that made me successful in my design business was developing my ability with drawing. Too often there is too much emphasis on the person’s deficit and not enough emphasis on building on the strengths. People on the spectrum often have uneven skills and are good at one thing and bad at something else. I have observed that there are three basic types of specialized minds on the Autism/Asperger Spectrum. Some people are combinations of these three types.
A photo-realistic visual thinker is good at drawing and poor at algebra. Some visual thinkers are good at geometry and trigonometry. My parents worked hard to encourage and nurture my art ability. Talents are like fragile flowers, they must be nurtured and cultivated.
A music and math mind thinks in patterns instead of photo-realistic pictures, They often excel in engineering and computer programming. English may be their weak subject.
A verbal facts mind knows all the sports statistics and often likes history. These individuals are not visual thinkers. Some of these people make excellent journalists.”
List 3 strengths you have that you could develop
- I am good a drawing
- I am good at working on my own
- I am very organized and neat
3. Tally Your Weaknesses
The work itself is often not a problem for people with autism, it is more often the social aspects of the job, making “small talk,” or accidentally making a social blunder that can interfere with success on the job for people with autism.
Rudy Simone, who has autism, wrote a book called Aspergers on the Job, in which he shares stories, both positive and negative, from people with autism and their experiences at work. One person wrote that he was considered “the brains” of his department working for the government, but that he almost lost his job because one of his co-workers found him “odd.” Luckily, their supervisor stepped in, paired the person with someone with a higher tolerance for odd behavior and the job has worked out perfectly for him. If you know you rub some people the wrong way, it’s good to acknowledge that and figure out the appropriate adaptations to it, rather than pretend it is not an issue.
Tally your weaknesses: Try to list at least 3 that might be difficult for you in a workplace:
- I am not very good at making small talk
- If things get too noisy I can get overwhelmed and lose track of what I’m working on
- I do not like being in meetings, though I’m ok if the meeting is with a small number of people
4. Take Your Passion and Turn it Into a Job
First: Pick one of your passions and brainstorm a list of jobs that related to that passion. For example, if you were passionate about airplanes it might look like this: (Note: a brainstorm is a list of everything you can think of or find—many of these jobs will not be ones that you want to pursue, but it helps to start by making a list and then going back and looking at what seems possible.)
Do some research here: Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH)
If you type “airplanes” in the search box you get:
- Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians
- Airline and Commercial Pilots
- Aeronautical Drafter
- Aerospace Engineers
- Assemblers and Fabricators
- Flight Attendants
- Air Traffic Controllers
- And so on…
For each of these jobs the OOH lists salaries, education needed, job outlook, and skills and traits that are best suited for each job.
Then, after you do your research, pick a few possibilities, and make a list of what you need to do to have the right amount of training and education to pursue one of these choices.
List 2 or 3 possible careers:
Think about how your strengths and weaknesses might help or prevent you from succeeding in a particular job. For example, flight attendants have to deal with a lot of difficult social interactions, but an aeronautical drafter makes technical drawings and this type of job might be better suited to someone with autism. Ask a trusted friend to also evaluate which careers might be good choices for your strengths and weaknesses.
5. Create A Course of Action:
Based on your research choose one or two jobs that match your skill set and then plan out the following:A. What will I work on this week?
Think of the strengths that you can continue to develop that will match well with the needs of the job you are interested in. If you want to be an aeronautical drafter then start working on your drawing skills! List concrete ways you can improve your drawing skills:
B. What will I work on in the coming month?
Research the type of education needed and think about how you can get this education. Junior computer aided drafting certificates are available at community colleges, for example. Find out how to apply and think about if you can go part-time or full-time and how you will fund your education.
C. Where will you be in 5 years?
Write a sentence that describes where you hope to be in five years, this will help you stay motivated and pursue the training and education you need to pursue this career.
In five years I will be working full time as an aeronautical drafter or junior aeronautical drafter.
For more on finding a career for someone with autism see the following resources.
- Atwood, Tony. Understanding and Managing Circumscribed Interests. In: Learning and Behavior Problems in Asperger’s Syndrome. Edited by Margaret Prior. NY: Guilford Press, 2003.
- Winter-Messiers, Mary Ann. “From Tarantulas to Toilet Brushes: Understanding the Special Interest Areas of Children and Youth with Aspergers Syndrome. Remedial and Special Education, 28 May/June 2017.
- Autism Speaks Employment Toolkit
- Temple’s list of strengths and weaknesses
- Temple Grandin’s Employment and Autism Tips
- Asperger's on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger's or High Functioning Autism and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates
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