31 Great Jobs for Autistic People in a Huge Range of Industries
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Jobs for autistic people are far more varied than you might realize. The stereotype of individuals who've been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) working alone in highly technical fields like information technology and engineering may hold true in some cases, but it doesn't begin to cover all the job possibilities for people on the spectrum.
In fact, what makes a job autism-friendly is usually more about the work environment than the career field. Generally speaking, the best jobs for autistic adults tend to be positions that:
- Allow you to focus on one task at a time
- Have clearly defined responsibilities and expectations
- Emphasize quality and accuracy over speed
- Involve some degree of structure and routine
Fortunately, those conditions can be found in a wide range of different fields. People with autism have found success in writing, music, the visual and performing arts, accounting, law, finance, science, human services, and many other sectors.
The information below describes more than 30 potential jobs for adults with autism across a variety of sectors. It also explains some basic facts about autism and explores the issues surrounding the use of terminology like "high-functioning autism" and "Asperger's syndrome." In addition, it highlights several strengths that are common among people on the spectrum and provides practical tips for how you can go about getting a job.
A note on language: We recognize that some people prefer person-first language (i.e., "people with autism") while others prefer identity-first language (i.e., "autistic people"). In order to be as inclusive as possible, this article uses both types of language interchangeably.
- 31 good jobs for autistic adults
- Basic facts about autism
- Common strengths of autistic people
- Tips on getting a job with autism
31 Good Jobs for Autistic Adults
Looking to be inspired in your career exploration? Here are more than two dozen examples of possible jobs for people with autism, along with the median wages (yearly, in most cases) for each one:
1. Software developer—$104K to $110K1
There's a reason why autism and computer programming are linked in many people's minds. The logic-based world of software development offers plenty of appealing (and often high-paying) jobs for people with Asperger's or ASD who have good analytical and problem-solving abilities. Most positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science or software engineering.
If you enjoy delving deep into math and statistics, you might want to consider a career as an actuary. These professionals determine the likelihood that a negative event will occur and calculate the financial fallout that could result if it did. Their job is to help insurance companies set appropriate premiums and manage risk.
3. Information security analyst—$98K1
Keeping networks and data systems safe from viruses and hackers requires careful analysis and keen attention to detail, which may be strengths of yours. Information security analysts are responsible for identifying weaknesses that could result in security breaches and developing standards and policies to protect an organization's data. Security-specific certifications can boost your employment potential.
Are you good at identifying patterns? Are you curious about how the atmosphere affects the earth's environment? Meteorologists identify climate trends and analyze data from photos and satellites in order to predict what the weather will be like in the coming days, weeks, or months. Some of them specialize in creating forecasts for particular groups, such as pilots, farmers, or utility companies.
5. Mechanical engineer—$87K1
Here's a career that involves using scientific principles to solve real-world problems. Mechanical engineers design and develop machines, tools, devices, and systems. They analyze their designs, run simulations to see how the products will perform, and make adjustments as required. You might work on anything from generators and engines to medical devices and sports equipment.
6. Financial analyst—$86K1
Do you have a methodical mind and a love of math? If so, a career in financial analysis might be a good fit. Banks, insurance firms, and mutual fund companies rely on these professionals to evaluate business performance data and help organizations make good investment decisions. A degree in finance, accounting, or economics can get you started.
Designing houses, office buildings, bridges, and other structures can be an appealing job for autistic people who have good visualization skills and are keenly interested in the arrangement of objects. Architects consider the function, safety, and appearance of a structure, then they develop sketches and computer models of their designs. You'll need a bachelor's degree as well as a license from your state.
8. Clinical psychologist—$77K1
People with autism don't typically put much stock in social expectations, so they tend to be very accepting and nonjudgmental. Those are qualities of an excellent therapist. If you're fascinated by the workings of the human mind and have a genuine desire to help people cope with mental and emotional challenges, you may want to consider this career.
The animation industry offers good opportunities for creative individuals who excel at drawing and telling stories. That's an apt description of many people on the autism spectrum. You could focus on designing scenery, developing storyboards, or creating visual effects for TV shows, movies, and video games. Building a portfolio of your work will help you show potential employers what you can do.
10. Technical writer—$72K1
A literal approach to language can be a valuable asset in technical writing. That's because the primary goal of a technical writer is to explain complex concepts in a clear and concise manner, using plain language that cannot be misconstrued. You could produce user manuals, instruction guides, video tutorials, and more. Courses in journalism can come in handy.
If you're a whiz with numbers and find joy in making sure everything balances out correctly, you may have what it takes to be a great accountant. In this role, you maintain financial records, prepare and file tax returns, and suggest ways to boost revenue and lower costs. Getting your CPA (Certified Public Accountant) credential can be a good career move.
The exceptional attention to detail that many autistic people exhibit can be put to good use in the auditing field. Auditors review the documents prepared by accountants to make sure that financial transactions are recorded accurately and that the statements comply with applicable laws and regulations. Most of them have degrees in accounting.
13. Music producer—$71K1
Research has demonstrated that many autistic people have enhanced pitch perception.3 If you have an affinity for music, why not pursue a career as a producer? This role involves overseeing the whole process of creating a song or entire album. The goal is to produce a sound that resonates with people and makes them want to buy the music.
14. Aviation maintenance inspector—$70K2
Making sure that airplanes are airworthy is critically important work that requires great focus and precision. Aviation inspectors check that all aircraft instruments, components, and systems are functioning properly and that all repairs are carried out in accordance with established standards. You'll need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
15. Copy editor—$59K1
If you often spot typos and grammatical errors that few other people seem to see, you might be cut out to be a copy editor. These language experts meticulously search out errors and inconsistencies in grammar, spelling, and continuity as well as in character descriptions, plot points, and story arcs. They make sure a document or manuscript is cohesive and well polished.
Does organizing library collections and helping patrons find the information they need appeal to you? Librarians are information specialists who can work in a huge range of different settings, including schools, colleges, corporations, government agencies, legal firms, hospitals, and more. A master's degree in library science is required; you might also need specialized knowledge in a particular field.
17. Data analyst—$59K2
Spotting meaningful patterns in vast amounts of data is a key ability of many autistic individuals. Data analysts collect and review data in order to figure out how it can be used to solve business problems and boost an organization's profitability. Some colleges offer degrees specifically in data analytics, but you can also get into this career with training in math or economics.
18. Video game designer—$59K2
Want to create awesome virtual worlds and interactive experiences? Video game designers use their artistic talents and technical skills to come up with detailed concepts for storylines, layouts, characters, gameplay, and more. In this field, experience is very important; completing an internship as part of your training can enhance your job prospects.
19. Forensic science technician—$58K1
A methodical focus on detail is important for forensic science technicians. These professionals collect, examine, and analyze crime scene evidence like blood, fingerprints, and bullet fragments. They also write up reports about their findings and give testimony in court. A bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, or another natural science is typically required.
20. Software tester—$56K2
Rooting out bugs, performance problems, and user-interface issues is a key step in the software development process. Software testers are responsible for ensuring that an application meets acceptable standards of quality. They create test procedures, execute tests, and document any deviations from expected results. Industry certifications are available.
Drafters are in charge of translating the sketches and specifications of architects or engineers into detailed blueprints or schematics. They use sophisticated computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) programs to produce technical drawings that specify exactly how things like buildings, highways, machines, or circuit boards should be built. You can get the relevant training in just two years.
22. CNC machine programmer—$53K1
Precision and accuracy are the name of the game for computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine programmers. They write the commands for computer-controlled manufacturing tools that produce mechanical components and parts to exact specifications. They study blueprints, determine the sequence of steps that are required, and come up with a set of instructions that tell the machine what to do.
23. Medical lab tech—$52K1
Want to play a vital behind-the-scenes role in the healthcare industry? Lab techs study urine, blood, and tissue samples to search for abnormalities or evidence of disease. This is detail-oriented work that requires a high degree of precision. You could choose to specialize in areas like immunology, molecular biology, or cytotechnology.
The structured rules and defined processes of the legal field can be very appealing to people on the autism spectrum. Paralegals conduct research, draft documents, organize files, and perform a range of other tasks to support the work of lawyers. An associate degree can get you started in this field; some employers may look for candidates who also have voluntary certifications.
Did you know that employment in the plumbing field is expected to see faster-than-average growth between 2016 and 2026?4 If you have good dexterity and enjoy hands-on work, you may find that a career that focuses on installing, maintaining, and repairing the piping systems that carry liquids and wastes is a good fit.
26. Interior designer—$54K1
Interior designers understand how to combine the details of colors, materials, and textures to produce indoor spaces that are both attractive and functional. They visualize how everything from furnishings to flooring will fit together in a cohesive and appealing way, then they bring their vision to life by creating hand sketches and computer models of their designs. Some states require interior designers to be licensed.
If you can read and write fluently in more than one language, you may find rewarding opportunities as a translator. This is computer-based (and often home-based) work that involves converting text from one language to another while maintaining the original meaning. Formal training is not usually required, but voluntary certification can make you more attractive to potential employers.
28. Automotive technician—$41K1
Maintaining and repairing all kinds of vehicles is a great career choice for autistic people who have an interest in mechanical systems and an aptitude for visualizing the inner workings of a car, truck, van, or SUV. Training programs emphasize hands-on practice and often include an internship that enables you to get practical experience even before you graduate.
Do you have a passion for capturing images? As a visual art form that draws on both creativity and technical knowledge, photography is an excellent field for some people with ASD. You could specialize in taking pictures of people, buildings, landscapes, wildlife, or even scientific phenomena. Assembling a strong portfolio is essential.
30. Human services worker—$34K1
If you're driven to make a difference in the lives of people who are dealing with a range of challenges, you may find your calling in the human services field. These workers help connect struggling people with appropriate aid and community resources. They might find support groups, arrange for personal care services, or help people find meaningful employment.
31. Actor—$17.54 per hour1
For some people with autism, becoming immersed in a role on stage or on screen can be deeply satisfying. In fact, well-known actors like Daryl Hannah and Anthony Hopkins have revealed that they have autism. You have to be able to memorize a script and repeat the same performance over and over again. Formal training can help you develop your craft.
Basic Facts About Autism
Autism, officially known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental condition characterized by restricted or repetitive behaviors as well as difficulties with communication and social interaction. Autistic people have widely varying degrees of social, verbal, behavioral, and sensory challenges. The combination and severity of symptoms can differ significantly from person to person, which is why it's known as a spectrum disorder. Some people with ASD are completely non-verbal and require constant care, while others experience relatively mild challenges and can function well independently.
High-functioning autism is a commonly used but not medically recognized term. "High-functioning" usually refers to a person on the spectrum who has good verbal abilities and can carry out basic activities of daily living without much support.
However, many people argue that "high-functioning" is not an especially useful term, since each person's abilities can change depending on the setting and the situation. For example, an autistic person might have good expressive language skills and be able to take care of his or her basic needs, but he or she might also have sensory input challenges that make it impossible to drive a car or work in a room with fluorescent lighting. Thus, the "high-functioning" label can mask the true struggles a person faces. Similarly, being labeled as "low-functioning" can minimize the true abilities of an autistic person who has difficulties with spoken language or adaptive tasks.
Asperger's syndrome used to be recognized as a separate disorder that shared many of the same characteristics as autism, but in a less severe form. One of the main distinctions of Asperger's vs. autism was the absence of a significant speech delay in childhood. People with Asperger's generally begin to speak on a typical or even early timeline, but they tend to have unusual speech patterns and take language very literally. Like all people with autism, they also have difficulty interpreting body language and picking up on non-verbal social cues.
In 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) eliminated Asperger's as a stand-alone diagnosis and subsumed it under the umbrella term "autism spectrum disorder." However, many people continue to use and self-identify with the term Asperger's. Some even refer to themselves as "Aspies."
Autism and intelligence
People with ASD may have IQ scores in any range. (However, in order for people to be diagnosed with Asperger's, IQ levels had to be in the average or above-average range. That's because, by definition, Asperger's involved no delay in cognitive development.)
For a long time, it was thought that a high percentage of autistic people were intellectually disabled, meaning they had an IQ score of 70 or less. But researchers have discovered that standard IQ tests that are timed and given verbally are not necessarily an effective way of measuring the intellectual abilities of people with ASD.
In one study, groups of autistic and non-autistic adults were assessed on both the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) test, which is an oral test that draws partially on cultural knowledge, and the Raven test, which is a self-paced test that uses non-verbal instructions to direct test takers to complete patterns and designs. While the non-autistic adults had similar scores on both tests, the autistic adults scored an average of 30 points higher on the Raven than they did on the WAIS.5
Interestingly, autistic tendencies have been noted in many famously brilliant individuals throughout history who were never diagnosed, including Mozart, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs. Autism experts concede that it's impossible to say for sure whether those men were on the spectrum, but some people believe there is evidence to suggest that may have been the case.
Common Strengths of Autistic People
Since autism can manifest in so many different ways, there is no one specific set of characteristics that applies to every person on the spectrum. After all, every human being is unique. That said, autistic people often exhibit strengths such as:
- Long-term memory—People with autism frequently have phenomenal powers of recall when it comes to facts and data. They tend to excel at rote learning and tasks that require memorization. (However, short-term working memory is usually weak, which makes multi-tasking difficult. People with ASD typically like to work on only one thing at a time.)
- Hyper-focus on areas of interest—Many people on the spectrum can spend an untold number of hours researching, concentrating on, or talking about something that fascinates them. They can get so caught up in a favorite activity or subject that they effectively tune out everything else around them. Such obsessive focus can help them develop expert-level knowledge in a particular area.
- Pattern recognition—Studies have shown that in people with autism, brain regions responsible for perceiving and identifying patterns show a higher level of activity compared to the same brain regions of neurotypical people.6 This enhanced ability to detect the rules within a system can be a valuable asset in a huge range of areas, including math, music, science, art, and information technology.
- Attention to detail—Autistic people are often extremely attuned to detail. They are frequently able to zero in on the parts of a whole and spot the tiniest inconsistencies or errors. They tend to value precision and accuracy, and they are often able to perform detail-oriented work for long periods of time without losing focus.
- Visual thinking—Many individuals with ASD excel at visualizing concepts or systems. Well-known autism advocate Temple Grandin has explained that she literally thinks in images rather than words. In fact, research has revealed that autistic people are often better than non-autistic people at processing visual information.6
- Creativity and problem solving—Thanks to their unique perspective on the world, people with autism can be more likely to question traditional assumptions and come up with truly innovative solutions. In one study, when a group of people with autistic traits were given a brick and paper clip and asked to come up with as many non-obvious uses for the items as possible, they gave highly unusual answers.7 To some individuals on the spectrum, out-of-the-box thinking comes naturally.
3 Tips on Getting a Job With Autism
For adults with autism, jobs can be challenging to get. But it is absolutely possible to create a more fulfilling future for yourself. Here are a few tips to help you:
1. Get prepared.
You have to attract an employer's attention with your skills and work product. Assemble a resume that emphasizes your strengths and abilities. And be sure to include a portfolio of your best work (such as writing samples, computer animations, software applications, or architectural drawings) whenever possible. You could even create a video resume to showcase your capabilities in visual form.
It's also important to practice your job interviewing skills. Ask a friend, relative, or support person to act out realistic scenarios with you so that you can get comfortable with what to expect.
Go through the process of smiling, introducing yourself, and shaking hands with the interviewer. If making eye contact is difficult for you, try looking at the interviewer's eyebrows or forehead instead. Work on sitting up straight in the chair and keeping your hands resting in your lap. Practice answering interview questions in two or three sentences; you need to give more than a one-word answer, but you should try not to go on and on and on.
Help is available if you need it. For instance, you can register with The Spectrum Careers, which provides free tools to help people with autism create a resume. In addition, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (known as GRASP) is a non-profit advocacy group that offers job coaching, resume writing, and interview preparation services specifically for people with ASD.
Plus, every state has a vocational rehabilitation office that is dedicated to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment. Contact the office in your region for more information.
2. Explore unique programs.
For people with autism, employment opportunities are expanding. A growing number of organizations are instituting hiring programs that target the unique abilities of individuals on the spectrum.
For instance, the Autism @ Work Roundtable is a group of employers—such as Microsoft, Ernst & Young, JPMorgan Chase, Fidelity Investments, Travelers Insurance, Rising Tide Car Wash, and Ford Motor Company—that are committed to hiring people with autism. Its Job Marketplace features postings of positions along with information on how to apply. Also, The Spectrum Careers functions a bit like an autism employment agency; it offers a searchable directory of job postings from businesses that are seeking to hire people with ASD.
Many companies that hire autistic adults recognize that the interview presents the biggest stumbling block. That's why some of them have developed alternative assessment processes for autistic job candidates. For example, at SAP, groups of candidates participate in task-based skills tests, such as creating robots out of LEGO blocks according to a set of written instructions. That allows hiring managers to gauge candidates' abilities to follow directions and work as a team. When it comes time for one-on-one chats, interviews can be tailored to an individual's preferences, such as conducting the conversation while walking around rather than sitting in an office.
3. Ask for what you need.
Under the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to help workers with disabilities (such as autism) succeed. So if you choose to self-identify as having ASD, some examples of reasonable accommodations you could ask for include:
- Instructions that are written or recorded so that you can review them whenever you need to
- Projects and tasks assigned in order of priority
- Frequent, direct, specific feedback on job performance
- Advance notice of meetings or changes in routine whenever possible
- The option to respond to queries or requests in writing rather than verbally
- A colleague or supervisor to be designated as a job mentor who can explain workplace social norms
- A flexible schedule or remote work arrangement
- A workspace away from kitchens, restrooms, or other areas with strong odors
- Non-fluorescent lighting
- Noise-canceling headphones
Take Aim at a More Fulfilling Future
Jobs for autistic people span an extremely wide range of industries. With the right training and the proper supports, you can make real progress toward your career goals. If you're looking to develop additional skills, why not have a look at the enormous range of career-focused programs offered by vocational colleges, trade schools, and technical institutes? Just put your zip code into the search tool below to discover nearby options!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on April 29, 2019.
2 PayScale, website last visited on April 29, 2019.
3 Cognition, "A sound advantage: Increased auditory capacity in autism," website last visited on April 29, 2019.
4 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last visited on April 29, 2019.
5 Psychological Science, "The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence," website last visited on April 29, 2019.
6 Live Science, "Autistic Brain Excels at Recognizing Patterns," website last visited on April 29, 2019.
7 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, "The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking," website last visited on April 29, 2019.