CHOOSING THE RIGHT JOB
FOR PEOPLE WITH
AUTISM OR ASPERGER'S SYNDROME
Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
Jobs need to be chosen that make use of the strengths
of people with Autism
syndrome. Both high and low functioning people have very poor
short-term working memory, but they often have a better long-term
memory than most normal people. I have great difficulty with tasks
that put high demands on short-term working memory. I cannot handle
multiple tasks at the same time. Table 1 is a list of BAD jobs that
I would have great difficulty doing. Table 2 is a list of easy jobs
for a visual thinker like me. I have difficulty doing abstract math
such as algebra and most of the jobs on Table 2 do not require complex
math. Many of the visual thinking jobs would also be good for people
The visual thinking jobs on Table 2 put very little
demand on fast processing of information in short-term working memory.
They would fully utilize my visual thinking and large long-term
memory. Table 3 is a list of jobs that non-visual thinkers who are
good with numbers, facts and music could do easily. They also put
low demands on short-term working memory and utilize an excellent
long-term memory. Table 4 shows jobs that lower functioning people
with Autism could do well. For all types of Autism and Asperger's
syndrome, demands on short-term working memory must be kept low.
If I were a computer, I would have a huge hard drive that could
hold 10 times as much information as an ordinary computer but my
processor chip would be small. To use 1999 computer terminology,
I have a 1000 gigabyte hard drive and a little 286 processor. Normal
people may have only 10 gigabytes of disc space on their hard drive
and a Pentium for a processor. I cannot do two or three things at
Some job tips for people with Autism or Asperger's
• Jobs should have a well-defined goal or endpoint.
• Sell your work, not your personality. Make a portfolio of your
• The boss must recognize your social limitations.
It is important that high functioning autistics
and Asperger's syndrome people pick a college major in an area where
they can get jobs. Computer science is a good choice because it
is very likely that many of the best programmers have either Asperger's
syndrome or some of its traits. Other good majors are: accounting,
engineering, library science, and art with an emphasis on commercial
art and drafting. Majors in history, political science, business,
English or pure math should be avoided. However, one could major
in library science with a minor in history, but the library science
degree makes it easier to get a good job.
Some individuals while they are still in high
school should be encouraged to take courses at a local college in
drafting, computer programming or commercial art. This will help
keep them motivated and serve as a refuge from teasing. Families
with low income may be wondering how they can afford computers for
their child to learn programming or computer aided drafting. Used
computers can often be obtained for free or at a very low cost when
a business or an engineering company upgrades their equipment. Many
people do not realize that there are many usable older computers
sitting in storerooms at schools, banks, factories and other businesses.
It will not be the latest new thing, but it is more than adequate
for a student to learn on.
In conclusion: a person with Asperger's syndrome
or Autism has to compensate for poor social skills by making themselves
so good in a specialized field that people will be willing to "buy"
their skill even though social skills are poor. This is why making
a portfolio of your work is so important. You need to learn a few
social survival skills, but you will make friends at work by sharing
your shared interest with the other people who work in your specialty.
My social life is almost all work related. I am friends with people
I do interesting work with.
Bad Jobs for People with High Functioning Autism or Asperger's
Jobs that require high demands on short-term working
• Cashier -- making change quickly puts too much
demand on short-term working memory
• Short order cook -- Have to keep track of many orders and cook
many different things at the same time
• Waitress -- Especially difficult if have to keep track of many
• Casino dealer -- Too many things to keep track of
• Taxi dispatcher -- Too many things to keep track of
• Taking oral dictation -- Difficult due to auditory processing
• Airline ticket agent -- Deal with angry people when flights are
• Future market trader -- Totally impossible
• Air traffic controller -- Information overload and stress
• Receptionist and telephone operator -- Would have problems when
the switch board got busy.
Good Jobs for Visual Thinkers
• Computer programming -- Wide-open field with
many jobs available especially in industrial automation, software
design, business computers, communications and network systems
• Drafting -- Engineering drawings and computer aided drafting.
This job can offer many opportunities. Drafting is an excellent
portal of entry for many interesting technical jobs. I know people
who started out at a company doing drafting and then moved into
designing and laying out entire factories. To become really skilled
at drafting, one needs to learn how to draw by hand first. I have
observed that most of the people who draw beautiful drawings on
a computer learned to draw by hand first. People who never learn
to draw by hand first tend to leave important details out of their
• Commercial art -- Advertising and magazine layout can be done
as freelance work
• Photography -- Still and video, TV cameraman can be done as freelance
• Equipment designing -- Many industries, often a person starts
as a draftsman and then moves into designing factory equipment
• Animal trainer or veterinary technician -- Dog obedience trainer,
behavior problem consultant
• Automobile mechanic -- Can visualize how the entire car works
• Computer-troubleshooter and repair -- Can visualize problems in
computers and networks
• Small appliance and lawnmower repair -- Can make a nice local
• Handcrafts of many different types such as wood carving, jewelry
making, ceramics, etc.
• Laboratory technician -- Who modifies and builds specialized lab
• Web page design -- Find a good niche market can be done as freelance
• Building trades -- Carpenter or welder. These jobs make good use
of visual skills but some people will not be able to do them well
due to motor and coordination problems.
• Video game designer -- Stay out of this field. Jobs are scarce
and the field is overcrowded. There are many more jobs in industrial,
communications business and software design computer programming.
Another bad thing about this job is exposure to violent images.
• Computer animation -- Visual thinkers would be very good at this
field, but there is more competition in this field than in business
or industrial computer programming. Businesses are recruiting immigrants
from overseas because there is a shortage of good programmers in
business and industrial fields.
• Building maintenance -- Fixes broken pipes, windows and other
things in an apartment complex, hotel or office building
• Factory maintenance -- Repairs and fixes factory equipment.
Good Jobs for Non-Visual Thinkers: Those who are good at math,
music or facts
• Accounting -- Get very good in a specialized
field such as income taxes
• Library science -- reference librarian. Help people find information
in the library or on the Internet.
• Computer programming -- Less visual types can be done as freelance
• Engineering -- Electrical, electronic and chemical engineering
• Journalist -- Very accurate facts, can be done as freelance
• Copy editor -- Corrects manuscripts. Many people freelance for
• Taxi driver -- Knows where every street is
• Inventory control -- Keeps track of merchandise stocked in a store
• Tuning pianos and other musical instruments, can be done as freelance
• Laboratory technician -- Running laboratory equipment
• Bank Teller -- Very accurate money counting, much less demand
on short-term working memory than a busy cashier who mostly makes
• Clerk and filing jobs -- knows where every file is
• Telemarketing -- Get to repeat the same thing over and over, selling
on the telephone. Noisy environment may be a problem. Telephone
sales avoids many social problems.
• Statistician -- Work in many different fields such as research,
census bureau, industrial quality control, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,
• Physicist or mathematician -- There are very few jobs in these
fields. Only the very brilliant can get and keep jobs. Jobs are
much more plentiful in computer programming and accounting.
Jobs for Nonverbal People with Autism or People with Poor Verbal
• Reshelving library books -- Can memorize the
entire numbering system and shelf locations
• Factory assembly work -- Especially if the environment is quiet
• Copy shop -- Running photocopies. Printing jobs should be lined
up by somebody else
• Janitor jobs -- Cleaning floors, toilets, windows and offices
• Restocking shelves -- In many types of stores
• Recycling plant -- Sorting jobs
• Warehouse -- Loading trucks, stacking boxes
• Lawn and garden work -- Mowing lawns and landscaping work
• Data entry -- If the person has fine motor problems, this would
be a bad job
• Fast food restaurant -- Cleaning and cooking jobs with little
demand on short-term memory
• Plant care -- Water plants in a large office building.
© Copyright Temple Grandin.
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