i autistic » Dark Side » Begin autism work with the end in mind

This article is about mitigating the hidden costs of autistic autism work in Asia. The intention is not to discourage autistic people but to raise awareness of important information that NeuroTypicals will not share due to political correctness and the hassle of trying to persuade autistic people.

In the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind” shares about imagining a future that motivates us. Inspirational works (intentionally) ignore the need to consider worst-case scenarios and then implement countermeasures to avoid that.

 

Due to survivorship bias, we will rarely hear from those before us who have tried and failed to challenge discrimination. Autistic people who can keep advocating often have a safe alternative source of income, such as retirement savings, financial support from family members or welfare benefits. Those who find their autistic identity preventing them from getting employment to pay their bills will silently retire from autism advocacy.

Autistics who could not obtain competitive employment may use advocacy advantageously to generate publicity to obtain customised jobs, such as by companies hiring a token number of disabled people. [The price to pay is these are usually charitable initiatives with low salaries and limited career advancement options.]

Autistic adults capable of competitive employment will likely find the costs of public association with autism far outweighing the benefits. At the very least, we must be prepared to give up careers that rely heavily on social skills, such as social work, mental health, and childhood education. It does not matter if we aced our degrees and projects; we will be left wondering why all our ex-classmates have found jobs while we mysteriously could not.

 

The repercussions of public autism advocacy can stick with us into our working lives, much like how former student activists may find themselves ignored by potential employers worried about getting a problematic employee. [This is also why I do not endorse autistic youths who chose to make many enemies at a tender young age by engaging in activism.]

While it is tempting to engage in public autism advocacy to improve our mental health while we are still studying in college, we will likely find it more disheartening when our supposedly inclusive allies refuse to hire us for our dream jobs after we have invested years of effort in preparing. We will then have to invest more years to pivot to technical careers that mainstream society believes autistic people are capable of handling. [I was inspired to write this article by an autistic friend undergoing this in 2024.]

There are different life stages when we should focus on personal careers and changing the world. The most vulnerable time is when we are fresh graduates facing potential discrimination by employers and insurers when we need their support the most. The least susceptible is when we have retired from working for money with a solid reputation and much lived experience.

Ideally, we should wait until retirement age to pursue autism work. However, if our conscience does not allow that, we should do the second-best thing of mitigating the risks.

 

If I could advise my younger self twenty years ago, I would have asked him to set a cut-loss threshold, prepare a backup plan and diversify efforts.

Firstly, we define the change we aim to create and give ourselves a reasonable amount of time. If we hit the deadline but cannot create the change, we will cut losses to move on to other goals more worthy of our time and effort. Otherwise, we can be stuck on our goal for an overly large portion of our limited lifespan.

Secondly, we should have a backup plan that works assuming the failure of our autism work and all potential employers knowing of our autistic identity. We can either migrate to an inclusive country to pursue our dream career or take up a new technical career in which we are able to excel. Do note that migration requires a lot of money and comes with unknown risks, such as potential racial discrimination.

Thirdly, we should diversify to avoid being unprepared when our plans fail. Part of this meant consistently investing a small amount of free time to study highly paid autism-friendly technical skills in high demand, even if we consider them a distraction to our passion. If I had spent just one day every week for over twenty years learning artificial intelligence and software programming, it would have been quick and easy for me to pivot into IT work right when I retired from autism work.

Lastly, only trust partners or organisations that have already demonstrated that they will prioritise our interests above their own. Refrain from assuming anyone else will continue supporting us when we need them most. It may be all smiles and encouragement while we are full-time students, but closed doors and silence when we ask for employment after graduation. Ultimately, we will likely be left on our own, and we must rely on ourselves to do whatever it takes to succeed.

 

For those of us who just learned our lesson the hard way, there are still ways to remedy the situation over the next few years:

Firstly, find a technical career that you are competent in. If the new job you are seeking requires a degree and industry certifications, obtain them as soon as possible. You can opt for private or online universities, but you must do your due diligence to ensure they are reputable and recognised by your potential employers. Read online about career advice for other job seekers on the same career path.

Secondly, optionally obtain certification that demonstrates social competency to allay the fears of potential employers. It must be a recognised formal certification with at least six months of in-person training with applied social skills such as Applied Drama, Workplace Counselling, Coaching, and Adult Education. Choose the one that adds the most value to your new career path.

Thirdly, if you are already committed to your previous plan (such as obtaining a Master’s degree), assess if it is still worthwhile to continue from the perspective of your new career path. The dealbreaker will be if you still must invest much time and money, yet it adds no value to your new career.

Lastly, work doubly hard to make up for the lost time. Turn down commitments that do not advance your new career; stay focused until you establish yourself.