Career advice/resources for autistic adults: go!
December 4, 2013 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Recently I have had to come to terms with the fact that 1) I am somewhere on the autistic spectrum and 2) I am working in a field that is not ever going to be very accommodating for me. Advice and pointers needed; secret spices, more info and toy inside.

...okay, sorry, let's just pull that band-aid off right now: there is no toy. Sorry. I was just being silly. Ahem, that out of the way, the story so far: I am female, late 20s, and have long struggled with being slightly "different," particularly in social interaction (those cues? the ones you want me to catch? that you're mad at me for not catching? that you're sending now because you're mad at me for not catching? yeah, I don't see those, you have to actually talk to me) and sensory processing (I have no filters: every sound, every color, every smell, it's all cranked to 11 all the time). Now, my family have long suspected some variant of autism, and I have long brushed that off as yet another shot in the dark attempt at explaining what is "wrong" with me. But--various circumstances over the past year have exposed me to more detailed information on autism and Asperger syndrome, particularly expressions that don't conform to the stereotype of "hyper-obsessive male engineer math wiz." And I'm finding that I relate to those expressions a great deal. Long story short: my understanding and education are still ongoing (and I'd appreciate recommendations for books!), but it's something I've looked into more and more over the course of the year and, yes, as it turns out, I am autistic.

I'm also unemployed. I lost my job about two months ago. Now: this is not the first time this has happened to me. Working is extremely difficult for me because:

1) I need routine. New environments and not knowing what to expect throw me off really badly.
2) I am easily overwhelmed. Again, no filters, and sensory overload happens quite easily if I'm not fully familiar with an environment and/or in a place with few stimuli. When sensory overload happens, I can fall into a panic attack and am essentially nonfunctional for a bit.
3) I have middling to bad social anxiety, and lots and lots of trouble communicating.
4) I'm intelligent, but I'm really stupid. This one's hard to explain. It's not even a "book smart"/"street smart" dichotomy. It's more like I can't do autopilot, when most of what everyone does each day is in autopilot. I have to consciously do all my cognition and motor skillsing by hand. It's...difficult.
5) I have weird ways of doing things. I'm really bad at following steps and methods laid out by others. This is a biggie because...

...I work in healthcare, as a nurse. The majority of nursing environments trigger bad sensory overload for me, I rarely have any idea what I'll be doing when I go in each day and following prescribed steps is super important. As far as relating to patients, conveying empathy and comfort, I am wonderful. Probably because it's such a highly structured situation, and tends to happen in low-stimulus private rooms; I don't know. It doesn't really matter, because there is just no way on earth I can keep doing nursing. It hurts my brain, and making mistakes and losing my job are inevitable.

The good news is: I'm still going to school for my RN license and my bachelor's degree, and have a few years left. So, it's not absolutely devastating if I turn around now. The bad news is: I'm almost thirty and haven't settled into any kind of career I can support myself on. I'm really bad at being an adult; I depend on my family for almost everything. Over the past two or three years, I've made a lot of progress as far as becoming more independent, but I still can't really survive on my own.

More bad news: I live in an isolated region of the US. Resources There's a local MHMR branch, possibly a few doctors with experience, occasional college courses on autism, but that's about it as far as autism-specific assistance goes. I'm about an hour and a half's drive (three hours both ways; expensive and exhausting; but not too bad) from three different colleges, and attend a local satellite campus of one that's just down the street. I'm looking into alternate courses to take, but... I'm stumped.

I just don't know. What occupations are there that are fairly accommodating to people with autism/Asperger? Library science has been suggested to me, and seems like something that would fit me well (except, could I realistically expect to find work ever?). I have a fairly strong interest in biology (except, no idea how to follow that into a career) and literature/art (college professor seems the only avenue there). I'm a decent to good writer and have had some work published before (but I've written off writing because how does anyone make real money doing it?). I am super bad at math and do not understand the engineering mindset at all; programming or IT stuff is impossible. I do have a background now in nursing/health sciences, but I don't think there are many careers available there that would fit my abilities while also paying the bills.

Any suggestions would be great; or resources for career hunting for autistic adults; or resources for improving literacy of "basic life stuff" (not so much "how to budget!" as "here are a bunch of important little things normal people don't think of at all that you, as an autistic weirdo, will have never noticed before"); or anecdotes, book recs, whatever. I'm casting a wide net here, because I really have no idea.

tl;dr: Recently lost a job due to mistake almost certainly related to autism and funky sensory processing, tired of doing it, looking for a job that plays nice with autism and funky sensory processing.
Throwaway email for those who'd rather reply that way: aspiegirlthrowawaything at gmail dot com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
What about working as a medical technician of some sort (e.g., radiology tech, ultrasound tech)? Thinking about my friends who do this sort of work, it seems to be more structured and routine-oriented than nursing.
posted by scody at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was also thinking lab tech.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Most areas of library science these days involve dealing with a lot of people and not a lot of routine. Cataloging/metadata type jobs are likely to work better than reference/instruction/liaison type of jobs since they involve a lot less interaction with people and a lot more routine processes. (I'm a reference/instruction/liaison type of librarian and no two days are the same).
posted by kbuxton at 2:44 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Or some sort of records processing or data analysis?
posted by mercredi at 2:45 PM on December 4, 2013

I say this without knowing much about the relevant working environments, but are there lower-key nursing jobs, as in hospice or elder care or private nursing?
posted by trig at 3:15 PM on December 4, 2013

What about working on one of those nurse advice lines operated by insurers, some employers, etc? You wouldn't have to be face to face with patients, you'd be solving discrete problems as opposed to judging complex, evolving situations, and because you'd be behind a computer, you would be able to look up anything you weren't certain of.
posted by embrangled at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2013

What about some kind of technical writing? I don't know much about it but someone must write medical literature and if you like writing it may be a good fit.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 3:29 PM on December 4, 2013

I know someone who used to work for Health Link Alberta, which is a phone line for people to call when they are experiencing medical issues and are trying to figure out what services they need to access, or just get some basic advice. You had to be an RN to work there, so something along those lines would fit very closely with the skills you are already developing (which is probably good if you don't want to have to change paths too much.) The nurses had to follow very clear procedures using a computer program that would specifically prompt questions, while they typed in the answers that the patients were giving. In a job like that, the environment would never change (sitting at a desk in a quiet call centre), stimulus would be predictable, and communication would be take place entirely within prescribed guidelines. Since you say that you are good at relating to patients within structured situations, it seems perfect to me as a way of using your nursing training in a highly structured setting.

I don't know if you're in the US, but an equivalent there might be the hotlines run by insurance companies that have nurses giving advice, like this. Looks like some hospitals have a similar thing, the key word to search might be Telephone Triage Nurse.
posted by lookoutbelow at 4:31 PM on December 4, 2013

And looks like embrangled got to it before I did. One thing to add is that working on those lines emotionally intense situations would still sometimes arise, for example they did occasionally get calls from people who intended on committing suicide. However, since there are supervisors nearby, form my understanding it was always possible to get help with a situation on short notice.
posted by lookoutbelow at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2013

FWIW, I know someone that almost entirely matches your description and has extensive diagnosis and treatments and autism has never been even mentioned as a possibility. The rigidity and lack of focus you describe sounds far more like severe anxiety to me. The first step should be to get a correct diagnosis from a professional and try different treatment plans before making any major life plans.
posted by saucysault at 6:55 PM on December 4, 2013

Hi anon,

I just went through the process of being evaluated for Asperger's (or Austism Spectrum Disorder 1, as it's now known in the DSM-5) and was given an official diagnosis on 11/25/13. We share a lot of the same problems, especially the sensory overload and needing a routine, having difficulties keeping employment, etc. I'm going to share some of what worked for me and mix in some advice/suggestions.
4) I'm intelligent, but I'm really stupid. This one's hard to explain. It's not even a "book smart"/"street smart" dichotomy. It's more like I can't do autopilot, when most of what everyone does each day is in autopilot. I have to consciously do all my cognition and motor skillsing by hand. It's...difficult.
Haha, I know this! I call it, "Being just smart enough to know how I'm stupid." If you've been doing your homework, you probably know about the VIQ/PIQ gap in Asperger's, right? (Verbal Processing vs Performance IQ on standard Wechsler intelligence tests, like the WAIS-III or WAIS-IV for adults). Depending on your scores, you will most likely have a small to possibly significant gap in your processing abilities, depending on if you skew verbal or skew non-verbal. I just wanted to throw that out there if you haven't encountered it yet.

I wanted to both agree and slightly disagree with saucysault's comment. Aspies are known to have severe anxiety due to processing issues, so yeah, you might have Generalized Anxiety Disorder co-morbid with your suspected ASD. It comes with the territory of having to navigate your entire world intellectually instead of at times being able to do so instinctually. Proper testing is definitely what you need to follow-up with, asap!!

If you are in the US, your state government should have an autism commission or bureau or something. My state (PA) has three regional autism centers, and so that's what I was referred to for diagnosis by my therapist. If you can find something like this, or through a university, etc., you should be able to get sliding-scale costs and work out a payment arrangement for your diagnosis. Usually there should be some organization in your closest major city that can help you out.

Lastly, since you are unemployed right now and have a suspected "disability" (I hate that it is considered a disability!!), I bet you qualify for Occupational and Vocational Rehab services. I did the same thing, crashed and burned on a job, was unemployed, went to counseling, etc. So, because I was in therapy and unemployed due to my mental health issues, I qualified for OVR. They are actually the real reason why I ended up getting the autism evaluation...I had wildly high/low scores on my IQ tests, and all the research I was doing online kept coming back suggesting ASD and/or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, plus I was getting feedback from my therapist that fit a lot of the female Asperger's criteria that I was seeing.

OVR can help you with getting official work accommodations, work with a career counselor, etc., but you can't get the work accommodations under US law without an official diagnosis. Since you definitely are struggling (and don't feel guilty or ashamed about that, not one bit! It happens!), you have the right to request accommodations.

Good luck! I'll follow up with an email to your throwaway account.
posted by cardinality at 9:59 PM on December 4, 2013

There are many non-patient facing positions in healthcare that require a nursing background. Since you are still in school, talk to the career center about non-clinical nursing roles.
posted by natasha_k at 5:14 AM on December 5, 2013

I'm a lab tech at a university, and suspected autistic myself (Isn't it fun realizing at 20+ that the indicators for Aspergers in females are oh so slightly different?). I'm more of the...erm, "traditional" variant that can't empathize worth a damn, so YMMV, but there's a lot of satisfaction to be had in making sure all your dudes(i.e. scientific equipment worth millions of dollars) are running happily. (...I may empathize more with my equipment than with most people. Maybe. But they tell me what's wrong.)

My particular job involves making sure the equipment runs smoothly, being the first point of contact when something goes wrong, and training (a lot) of students. I also run some contract work for clients. My days are variable, but predominantly pre-scheduled so I can build my schedule as needed. A lot of the time it's just me and the equipment, or training. Training is a lot of social contact, but it is entirely in my terms and techs are kind of seen as "weirdos" already, so any flubs aren't really noted. At this point, I mostly have an internal script I go to to explain all the parts and procedures.

Contract work is hard for me because I have to communicate at a high scientific level professionally and there are no "takebacksies" on the phone. It makes me really nervous - but there are no phones in my lab proper so I take emails most of the time anyway.

If you like animals and the like - could you look into some kind of service dog assistance? Maybe in-home nursing care? Those would still require your empathy senses but in a far more low key environment. I know someone in nursing who, now that she's close to retirement age, does footcare clinics exclusively, for old-folks homes.
posted by aggyface at 1:20 PM on December 5, 2013

Something I've found useful is to say "I have hyper sensitivities and it's a bit bright/loud/whatever in here, can we [minor change]?" I don't usually need to be more specific than that in order to get people to make small accommodations from time to time. Clearly it's not the solution to your larger problem, but it helps clear up little annoyances surprisingly often without having to go into detail about disabilities and so on.
posted by danteGideon at 7:58 AM on December 31, 2013

« Older I'd like to cook up a batch of Breaking Bad recaps...   |   Lifeless in Palo Alto. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.