At 25, one of my first dreams came true on finding a full-time job. 21 years before that happened I was diagnosed with autism. At the age of 4 I took on the full-time job of going from therapy appointment to therapy appointment to help myself progress. I knew that my mindset had to be on working on my therapy though. Today I can say that I’ve overcome many of my challenges and now have 5 jobs today as a professional speaker, author, consultant, TV talk show host and non-profit founder.
Employment of those with disabilities is a huge topic we discuss with companies today. We often do this during the month of October that has been designated by the Department of Labor as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). When we consult, we tend to actually collaborate with many young adults with autism. In the hopes of spreading an education and helping even more of those on the spectrum I wanted to share some tips on how to find employment today from my experiences…
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
Learn some self-reflection techniques like writing in a journal about your strengths and weaknesses. Also, although this may not be the norm for all on the spectrum, look at potential fields in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
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. This will help you in the workplace as well as employers are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" to qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities. This is when self-advocating for yourself becomes imperative.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If you are a company looking to host an event please contact us here for more details. We give a lunch-and-learn called “Disabilities In The Workforce: What You Need To Know” that has been well received among other presentations.
You can read more about NDEAM on The Department of Labor’s website here.
Kerry Magro is an international speaker on the autism spectrum. A version of this article originally appeared here.