By Patty Laushman
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are roughly 5.4 million adults in the United States with autism, which accounts for 2.21 percent of the adult population.
A study published in December 2021 demonstrated that 59 percent of autistic people in the United States have an average or above-average intelligence quotient (IQ), yet depending on your source, as many as 85 percent of people with an autism diagnosis are under- or unemployed.
So where are they being successful? When it comes to employment, many autistic adults find success in jobs that allow them to work independently and utilize their unique strengths in a company culture that supports neurodiversity.
As you might expect, though, there is no single best answer when it comes to which jobs are best for people with autism. As Stephen Shore said, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Their interests, strengths, and challenge profiles are different, however, there are some common threads you may want to consider.
Let’s take a closer look!
Tips for Finding the Right Job
The job market can be a tough place for anyone, but for those on the autism spectrum, it can be an especially daunting task. When you have autism, it is important to find a job that not only meets your needs but also capitalizes on your strengths.
Here are a few tips to help you choose the right job when you have autism.
1. Consider What You Want in a Job
Before beginning your job search, it is important to sit down and consider what you want and need in a job. Do you need accommodations? Would a more flexible schedule be helpful? What kind of working environment do you feel most comfortable in? Knowing the answers to these questions will help narrow your search and make the process less overwhelming.
2. Research Different Companies
Once you have an idea of what type of job you are looking for, start researching different companies. Look for companies that have experience working with neurodivergent employees and see if they offer any programs or support groups. You can also look for companies that are known for being accommodating and inclusive.
3. Ask for Recommendations
If you know someone who already has a job that you might be interested in, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. They can give you an inside look at what the job is really like and whether or not it would be a good fit for you. If you don’t know anyone with the exact job you want, ask around for general recommendations of good places to work.
It’s never too early (or late) to start networking! Attend events and workshops related to your field of interest and introduce yourself to as many people as possible. If there are no events happening, reach out to people online through LinkedIn or other social media platforms. The more people you know, the more likely it is that someone will be able to help you find a job that’s right for you. It's often not what you know, but who you know, that gets you the job!
5. Give It Time
Choosing the right job can take time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the perfect position right away. Keep trying and expanding your search until you find something that feels like a good fit. And remember, even if a job doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world – there will always be other opportunities!
What Are Some of the Best Jobs for People With Autism?
Depending on your thinking profile, there are a variety of jobs that may be well-suited to you.
When choosing a career, it's important to consider what you're passionate about, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. With so many options available, there's sure to be a perfect fit out there somewhere!
I will include five jobs that are good for visual thinkers and five that are good for non-visual thinkers (those who are good at math, music, or facts).
For Visual Thinkers...
1. Web Development
Web development is a job that is well-suited for people with autism. This type of work involves coding, designing, and maintaining websites. People with autism often have attention to detail and strong visual skills, which can be helpful in this field. Web developers typically work independently or in small teams, providing the kind of independence desired by many neurodivergent employees.
2. Graphic Designer
Graphic designers are responsible for creating visual content such as logos, advertisements, and website designs. This is a great job for adults with autism because it allows them to be creative and work independently.
3. Agricultural Work
Agricultural jobs vary greatly and can range from working on a farm to greenhouse work to food production in a factory setting. Individuals with autism might be particularly interested in agricultural work that involves caring for animals or working outdoors. These types of positions often offer opportunities for solitude and quiet, which can be beneficial for people with autism who prefer not to work in bustling environments.
Automobile, truck, or aircraft mechanics repair the vehicle's mechanical components, diagnose problems, and perform maintenance work to keep them running smoothly. This is a career where an autistic person's ability to visualize the entire vehicle and quickly understand what may be wrong with it is an enormous strength.
4. Building Trades
Trades like carpentry or welding make good use of visual skills, and these skills are in demand, as more people retire from these fields than there are people training to join them. Entrepreneurial-minded people could even start their own business with these skills.
5. Computer Programming
Skilled computer programmers are always in demand, the pay is good, and many large companies have identified that neurodivergent individuals bring unique strengths that benefit the business. Some have even developed programs to proactively recruit and retain neurodivergent employees.
For Non-Visual Thinkers...
6. Data Entry
Data entry is a job that may be well-suited for some people with autism. This type of work does not require much interaction with others, and it can be done independently. Data entry jobs often involve organizing and categorizing data. This can be a good fit for people with autism who like to organize things in a specific way.
For autistic people who excel at math and have strong attention to detail, accounting may be a good career option. Accountants typically work independently or in small teams, so they may not have to interact with others very often.
8. IT Support
IT support is another job that can be a good fit for people with autism. This type of work generally involves providing assistance to users with computer hardware or software problems. People with autism often have strong problem-solving skills, which can be helpful in this field, a definite advantage for this type of job.
9. Lab or Quality Control Technician
Lab technicians work in many fields related to science or medicine. They conduct tests, maintain equipment, and keep accurate records. They need to be comfortable working with numbers and have strong attention to detail, since even small mistakes can have big consequences in a lab setting.
10. Office Clerk
An office clerk is responsible for handling various administrative tasks within an organization. This job may include answering phones, filing paperwork, scheduling appointments, and managing calendars. Individuals with autism who like routine-based environments may excel at this position. Office clerks typically work in traditional office settings during regular business hours.
What to Look For in an Employer
As an autistic adult, you may have found that the traditional job market isn't always the most accommodating to your needs. Thankfully, there are a growing number of employers who are beginning to understand the value that autistic adults can bring to the workplace.
When you're job hunting, keep an eye out for these five things in an employer because they will contribute massively to your success.
1. A Diverse and Inclusive Workplace Culture
If you're going to feel comfortable and supported at work, a diverse and inclusive workplace culture is a huge clue that you will feel comfortable there. This includes things like having an employee resource group for employees with disabilities, offering accommodations for employees with disabilities, and ensuring that all workplace communications are accessible.
2. An Understanding of Autism
Ideally, your potential employer will have a good understanding of what autism is and how it can affect individuals in the workplace. They should also be willing to work with you to accommodate any challenges you may have.
3. A Commitment to Continued Learning
The world of work is constantly evolving, and it's important that your employer is committed to keeping up with the latest changes. This could manifest itself in things like offering professional development opportunities or investing in new technology that can help make the workplace more accessible for all employees.
4. Flexible Work Arrangements
Autistic adults often do their best work when given the opportunity to create a flexible work schedule that works for them. Look for employers who are open to things like flexible start times, reduced hours, or the ability to work from home on occasion.
5. A Respect for Your Talents and Abilities
Last but not least, it's important to find an employer who respects your talents and abilities—regardless of whether or not they relate directly to your autism diagnosis. Remember that you have a lot to offer potential employers, so don't settle for anyone who doesn't see your worth.
If you're an autistic adult seeking employment, know that you're not alone. There are many other autistic adults out there doing great work in a variety of fields. Career training and counseling is just one option that can help you find your path.
Utilize your strengths and look for opportunities that allow you to work independently so you can succeed in the workplace. You might also enjoy reading up on the 8 Worst Jobs for Autistic Adults.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.: Choosing the Right Job for People with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome
Scott Standifer, Ph.D.: Adult Autism & Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals