For those on the autism spectrum a 9 to 5 job doesn’t always work
By Morgan Giosa
One of my biggest struggles in life has been adhering to a structured work environment. In school, my teachers and I were always at odds. I was a bit of an eccentric troublemaker and experienced a lot of anger, sadness and pain trying to do what was expected of me. While it’s not a conscious decision on my part, I have always rebelled against structure and lived outside the lines of “normal” (whatever that may be). I’ve found a lot of my struggles in school have carried over into trying to find a job or build a career in a world which often favors extroverts over introverts, confidence over vulnerability, brashness over sensitivity, and neurotypicals over those of us who are on the spectrum or those who struggle with mental illness.
Going forward, I envision a world where people don’t judge a book by its cover. I envision a world where someone on the autism spectrum isn’t incorrectly viewed by employers as intellectually disabled or incapable of feeling and comprehending things. I envision a world where someone who has bipolar disorder or schizophrenia isn’t automatically viewed by potential employers as a liability or a violent person and automatically set aside without being given a chance. I envision a world where all people are given the support they need to grow and thrive, and all people – including but not limited to corporate employers – are less quick to blame and judge others because they don’t understand what someone is going through, and where people are less apt to take advantage of the sensitivity and vulnerability of anyone who already struggles. I really hope the world of the 9-5 job catches up and continues to learn how to embrace and accommodate those who have struggled rather than expecting neurotypical traits to be a given in their employees.
At the time being, here are my thoughts on two very good alternative career paths for introverts, including any of us on the Spectrum, those of us with mental illness, those of us with anxiety, or any of us who struggle with interpersonal interaction in general:
- The Arts – Speaking personally, the arts have provided me with personal catharsis and have helped me grow. Not everyone has a natural inclination toward the arts, but I believe anyone can, if they set their mind and heart to it. The difficulty of these fields in my experience comes from the business and marketing side of it, and sometimes it can be hard to build the confidence to present a personal reflection of yourself though an original song or painting or sculpture (or any medium). But with the right passion and conviction and talent and the right support systems in place to help with the interpersonal communications and marketing, these can be good outlets for people who struggle to adhere to the conventional rules within society. One can build their own schedule, make their own connections, and follow their own heart and their own rules within the Arts. This is also a very broad field that is much bigger than it looks as one bullet point on a list. It can include music, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic design, creative writing, or anything your imagination leads you to do. I have a good friend who doesn’t identify as autistic, but had a difficulty adhering to building a career on anyone else’s terms, and found a passion for luthiery and now has a business building custom guitars for people. The arts can be anything creative, and there will always be a need in the world for art.
- Computer programming and web development – Computer programming and web development are fields that can be beneficial to individuals on the spectrum for a number of reasons. The first of which is that they are fields where shyness and social quirks are generally accepted. The second is that there are many remote, telecommute jobs that exist, and self-employment is a common practice. It’s also a misconception in my experience that modern computer programming is always mathematical and geared toward those who think like engineers. It can be that way, but it is also very creative and abstract, and requires a combination of strengths in mathematics and logic and emotional expression. The job of a computer programmer is to turn real-world problems into technological solutions. Web development specifically combines elements of visual design with computer programming. Building a career in technology requires some development of social skills – being able to interview, network, and interact with clients in non-technical terms – but it’s fairly introverted work overall.
Ultimately, the most important thing is for families to not give up on their loved ones on the spectrum or those who are suffering from depression or any mental illness. It requires a lot of time, money, and emotional investment to help those who are wired differently to succeed in a world that isn’t naturally prone to acceptance of those who are different.
At age 25, I’m still not at the place I want to be in my career or even in living independently and I don’t claim to be the ultimate authority on career building. I’ve personally focused on continued creative growth in multiple fields (blues guitar, abstract painting, photography, web development) at this point in my life at the expense of building one single path. Even so, I think there are creative, alternative careers out there in these fields and others, for those who have a good network of supportive people – friends and family. I have personally grown closer and closer to success and confidence with each passing day. Sometimes, it’s a struggle, and it does take time, but please, never give up on your loved ones if it does take them more time. People who are different still need to feel loved and supported and connected to the world, and every step helps toward their growth as individual and their career path.
As a web developer by profession, Morgan has worked with with the content management framework Drupal for over 7 years to successfully deliver websites to local businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations. His personal art and music website is www.morgangiosa.com.