Dear Employers: Non-STEM Autistics Make Good Employees, Too

Many tech companies and production lines, from Microsoft to SAP to Freddie Mac, are eagerly seeking out employees on the autism spectrum for their “attention to detail” and “meticulous nature.” This is appreciated by both employers and employees–the unemployment rate is high among those on the spectrum, and increasing technological demands require an increasing workforce. In fact, career advice geared towards those on the spectrum often encourage the potential employees to look for the more mechanic, technological and/or production-based fields.

But those skills common to autistics have applications outside of lines of programming and nuts-and-bolts.

The same detail-orientation that makes noticing errors in lines of codes more efficient also makes possible adding the right combination of lines, dots, and shades to create astounding images or to fix all of the comma splices and dangling modifiers in a manuscript in need of editing. The same extreme focus that drives factory workers and blueprint makers also drives musicians and quilters and educators. The same cognitive traits and sharpening of skills that make many autistic tech works such incredible employees also has the potential to boost the success of autistic workers in whatever field they so choose to enter.

It’s true that a lot of people on the spectrum naturally gravitate towards mathematics and sciences. But there are also many spectrumites who gravitate towards languages, arts, culinary, and caretaking professions, not to mention whatever other hobbies and interests lie out there.

And I do understand that the push towards STEM careers isn’t exclusive to those of us on the spectrum. In 2015, President Barack Obama urged the younger generation to advance in the maths and sciences and to become educators that help others to do so. Schools across the nation, from pre-schools to universities, are adding tech labs and tablets, sometimes at the expense of arts and music programs. Many student counselors try to steer students towards the STEM fields. There’s a lot of growth and innovation in the STEM fields–and a lot of room for further growth–and, thus, it is in these fields that a widespread growth of jobs can be found.

But it’d be precarious and outright dangerous to have everyone attempt to enter these fields. We need out artists, our writers, our craftsmen, our entertainers, our social media experiments, our pyschologists and sociologists and salespeople and manual laborers. People are skilled in different areas, and, thus, they each have their roles that they are better apt to fill.

The same is true for autistics.

Though the stereotype is that of the Sheldon-Cooper-like “geek,” some people on the spectrum actually have a much higher verbal intelligence (i.e. understanding words and their relationships) than performance intelligence (i.e. mentally rotating cubes and solving picture-patterns). There are a fair share of people on the spectrum who report great difficulty with solving equations but relative ease with learning languages; there are also a fair share who report difficulty in all of the “book-smart” areas but who are skilled with, say, their hands, or with understanding nature.

Truth be told, I could probably be a decent statistician. I would likely be a sufficient coder. My parents have even asked me why I don’t work for GeekSquad or some other tech-support provider. If I had to enter a STEM career to survive, I could probably do okay. Maybe I would even do a “good” job at my job.

But I can do a lot better than “good” in other areas.

My gift is my glab. My brain is skilled at stringing words together in a way that convey meaning and relationships (sometimes even with a dash of artistic prowess).

My “special interest,” that target of that acclaimed autistic obsessiveness, is people–specifically, how they vary mentally and physically, how those differences are labeled and categorized, and what I can do to bring the gaps in understanding and accessibility between those with different differences. I’ve spent hours comparing DSM criteria from edition to edition, reading articles and forums and books and blog posts about various mental health and developmental conditions, and interacting with others involved in advocacy on the Internet–not to mention all those years of coursework and textbooks. I don’t have the next big operating system or the next automotive innovation stashed anywhere on my hardrive, but I do have a Freudian analysis of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s works (and, of course, this blog). I’d be giving myself far too much credit if I claimed to be the Bill Gates or Andy Warhol of my field, but I’ve made some investments, and I’d like to think that I’ve gotten at least something from them.

So employers and human resource departments of publishing houses, newspapers, craft stores, daycares, school systems, art studios, museums, restaurants, sports recruiters, travel agencies, research organizations, and anyone else looking for employees, consider us. Every autistic person is different and, thus, has a different set of traits, of strengths and weaknesses, but many of us, from the practitioners of the Liberal Arts to the coders and math-whizzes and everyone in between, make for some driven, studious, highly engaged workers at whatever it is that we set out to work on.

And if we choose to work alongside you, and you choose to work alongside us, we can together bring more to the world around us than even the most current of hashtags ever thought possible.

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