In this society the upsetting truth is that if you are high functioning autisic/Aspergers it is incredibly difficult to get any kind of job that pays. Even if you are highly intelligent and have excellent qualifications, such as a degree, it only improves your chances a little. In addition, those of us with high qualifications often only manage to find work at an unskilled level. Our chances are so limited that it is often stated that people with autism are the most excluded of nearly all the disabilities when it comes to employment rates. It is clear to me, as unfortunate and unfair as it is, that if you are autistic the only way to get employed is by being prepared to try much harder than other people to get the job you want.
Once you have got all the qualifications you need, for the career your interested in, you need to get experience to get a job. It is a well known problem that you cannot get a job if you have not got experience, and you cannot get experience unless you have had a job.
In my opinion experience is even more important than qualifications if you are autistic. It tells a potential employer that although you have some difficulties or differences you can do the job as you have done it before. It also gives you that reference to say you can do the job. Which will probably highlight the unique strengths that you can bring to a job such as exceptional reliability and trustworthiness. When having an interview for a job it will give you the confidence to answer the questions and give real examples of your previous work and how this matches the job you have applied for. The biggest difficulty is getting the experience and for me this is where volunteering comes in.
I have volunteered many times and each time has given me valuable experience and knowledge. I certainly wouldn’t have got the job I’ve got today if I did not start off my experience by volunteering.
Volunteering is hard and, if you do it right, it is the same as working but without the pay. It is additionally hard if you do not like doing more than one thing at once (often an autistic trait). Which has been the case for me in the past. I have volunteered whilst doing another job and I have also volunteered whilst studying. This was really hard for me to manage but still really worth it.
Just like a job it can be difficult to find a suitable vacancy and to be accepted for it, but in many ways it is more suited to someone with autism. Usually there does not need to be the lengthy application form and instead of an interview you normally have a talk with someone. This is still not easy but a bit easier than an interview. It causes me a lot of anxiety for days beforehand but I usually succeed in getting a position. It is hard for anyone to turn down a person offering to work for free who is committed and has a lot to offer.
The benefits of volunteering are:
- You can choose the job and it can be something that you really enjoy.
- You can choose the hours and often start off just doing a few hours or one day a week.
- You can give in almost immediately without consequences such as it looking bad on an application form or CV.
- If you do well you can usually get a good reference.
- You get first hand experience at what the job would be like to see if it is suited to you. Quite often a job that you think your suited for is very different to how you imagined it to be.
- Although it is not recommended, you can make things easier when you find them to be too difficult. (For example I never used to have lunch in the staffroom as I found the social interactions to be too difficult, so I would leave the premises, but it was at the expense of not fitting in well).
- It gives you brilliant practise at the things that you need to be good at in work. Such as social skills, office politics, making work friends and seeing the different personalities and how they fit into friendship groups.
- It gives you experience that will be useful for any job that you apply for but especially useful if you apply for a similar job to the one that you volunteer for.
- Depending on where you volunteer it can give you a great sense of achievement, improve your confidence and self esteem and make you feel happy that you are helping others.
Volunteering is really good. Even though I have never been paid for it I would do it again.
Usually the first step is the hardest, which is to find a suitable place and ask if there are any volunteering opportunities there.
The way I have found volunteering, was to work where my sister works so she could help me get a place. Or as part of a course where the university helped me find a place. But many places offer volunteering opportunities. It helps if you know someone that can get you in but volunteering exists in many places such as charity shops, police force, army, call centres like childline and so on. It is often the case of asking to see. A good website in the uk is https://do-it.org that have many good opportunities to get you started.
Although volunteering will not always lead to a job in the place you volunteer, it can sometimes and I have worked with a number of people who got their jobs through volunteering in the same workplace first.
In many ways volunteering can have negatives (such as working hard and not being paid) and there may be times when you do have to leave (such as being taken advantage of or if your given all the jobs that others do not want to do) but I think it is worth a try as the benefits usually outweigh the negatives.