Three years ago, I started working full time for Autism Speaks as a Social Marketing Coordinator. After finishing my course work for my Masters that January, I was thrilled that Autism Speaks would offer me an opportunity for my first full time position within their organization.
My employment record before this included several internships and part time jobs. As we get further into National Disability Employment Awareness Month, I wanted to share some tips I’ve learned from my experiences with individuals with autism looking for employment.
1. Find your passion and maximize it.
During college, I was constantly told about the hardships I would face trying to find a job in this economy. One way I managed to work through that was working on my first book called “Defining Autism From The Heart”. I have always loved to write and using that passion to do something I was interested in really benefited me. During college, I also started the paperwork to establish my 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization to build on another passion of mine, Self-Advocacy. I know these both seem like big projects and they did take a few years of work to accomplish. But no matter what you do, you should always be reflecting on what you’re passionate about and try to turn those passions into opportunities for yourself
2. Ask Questions.
In school they always tell you that the only dumb question is not asking that question. I’ve always seen asking questions as a critical element to whatever you are doing. No matter what type of education you have, self-advocating and being aware are key to any success you’ll have. Many young kids I know with autism have trouble with this. For those educators out there, teaching these “social skills” and self-advocacy skills can be critical to future success.
3. Do Your Research.
This goes hand-in-hand with what I mentioned earlier about reflection. Research needs to become both an internal and external factor in your efforts to find a job. You need to target your strengths and then capitalize on them. Take the first two tips above, internally try to process this and then switch to external research, which is ultimately who is hiring and if a job isn’t available, what possibilities there are in these situations to create volunteer/internships. Getting experience as a volunteer or an intern may open the door to entry-level employment within organizations or companies.
4. Don’t Run From Learning Experiences.
Many individuals with autism who get an early diagnosis have already been working a nine to five job focusing on their therapies. So as young adults, they have already had work experience getting themselves to the point where they can be employed today. Hard work is not new to them. No matter what’s on the table, you should always give it a test run! Make sure you are very open about the accommodations you need in that workplace and then give it a few days to feel it out.
5. Don’t Sell Yourself Short! Reach for the Stars!
No matter if this is the first job you are looking for or your 30th, never sell yourself short. Always go in with the mantra that no matter if you have autism or you don’t, you can and will achieve greatness. I always tell kids I consult for to “define their autism.” Go look for work with the confidence that you are who you are and that you have a passion and unique ability that can be valued in the workforce. Then find the places that will best value that.
Individuals with autism are reaching adulthood every day. I encourage those young adults out there who do have positive job experiences to share them with our community. When I was a kid, I didn’t know that one day I would have a job in something I enjoyed, but I do now and it’s an amazing feeling! Our autism spectrum is very huge, don’t get me wrong, but I do believe there are opportunities out there and more will be available in the future.