Certification can provide the entry point of a management job for aspiring non-autistic people to climb the corporate ladder, the beginning of a career of a small business owner, or the means for a worker to get a pay raise by changing to a job requiring higher qualifications.
Many caregivers and autistic advocates thus see being recognised as a professional via certification as the solution against discrimination. They may not realise that such certification systems were built by non-autistics for non-autistics.
Whether each certification is valuable or not depends on how many people and which social strata recognises it. When powerful parties such as governments and big corporations recognise it, it is valuable for employment opportunities. Otherwise, it may only be worthless decorative pieces of paper. Or worse, it may even be detrimental to our reputation (e.g. getting certifications on occult skills may present us as mentally unbalanced).
As a proxy for the demonstration of competency, the value of certifications relies on subjective perception. Most people see autistics as inferior and incompetent in social skills. Hence, the positive impression of having a reputable certificate can be easily cancelled by the negative impression of identifying as autistic.
Being openly autistic is less of a problem if the certification is related to technical skills such as programming, academic skills such as quantum physics, or artistic skills such as fine arts. The more our choice of career requires people skills, the more severely affected our professional reputation will be by autism.
This means that if we are seeking a career as an early childhood educator or psychotherapist, our career may already be over before it has even begun.
Autistic people will benefit from being aware of their limitations. If they are indeed unable to work well with non-autistics, pursuing qualifications for work requiring social skills may well be a waste of their time and effort. Choosing a more suitable career path or working in an unconventional niche can provide them with a better payoff.
If they can work well with non-autistics, then their priority is to dispel the misconception that they have poor social skills. Almost all paper qualifications are useless for this purpose (though we might still consider Applied Drama, Applied Teaching and Applied Counselling). Instead, they must use highly visible social achievements such as organising large public events, starting businesses and facilitating interactive in-person workshops.
Even so, these may still be insufficient to change biased perceptions, hence the importance of developing unconventional career paths and strategies that go beyond relying on formal qualifications. Or take the easy way out by not disclosing autism.
While certifications may be correlated with ability, it is not always so especially if they were not designed to accommodate diverse types of people. For instance, counselling certifications impose non-autistic standards of social behaviour and competencies on all trainees, even if it is an autistic trainee working with autistic clients.
Certification assessments have right and wrong answers as well as a right and wrong way of behaving. If we do not answer or behave correctly, we will fail and be denied the certifications. For subjective questions/activities, what is right and wrong are not based on our life experiences and worldview, but the life experiences and worldview of the senior elites assessing us.
If we disagree with the senior elites, we either keep the disagreement to ourselves or fail their assessments. Debating about the assessment content may be considered disrespectful as the seniors are assumed to be wiser and more experienced. This can mean years of camouflaging/masking for autistic people to complete courses.
Thus, many eccentric geniuses (read: Neurodivergent and autistic people) are unable or unwilling to accept the social demands imposed by the certification system. Some start successful small businesses, some are adopted by patrons who shield them from the social demands, while others become oddball outcasts.
For those who persist with spending the money, time and effort on certification, many find themselves burned out after taking up jobs requiring demanding qualifications.
Those in more sensitive occupations such as mental health and childhood education may be stuck with the need to mask due to fear of having their certifications revoked for not following professional practices of their industry.
In addition, having invested heavily to specialise in one area, there is also an ever-present risk that technological advances will make that entire professional obsolete.
In conclusion, what works for most non-autistic people may not work for autistic people.
For openly autistic people, it may not be worthwhile for us to pay the price of acquiring certifications that people won’t recognise unless we also have a plan to demonstrate our competency in other ways.
For autistic people who can camouflage/mask their autism, we will have to allow our career to be dictated by non-autistic standards and behaviours. By hiding our identity, we lose our right to ask for accommodation.
We don’t have to play the social and money games of non-autistic people; we can also redefine the rules and create new possibilities that allow us to truly thrive in our special ways.