Step 3 – Getting a Job when your Autistic: Guide to Getting the Right Qualifications

Background Information

Qualifications show that you are at a certain level of ability in a specific subject. For example, in the UK almost every teenager will study GCSEs until the age of 16. If you get a good grade in each subject at GCSE level (before it was a grade c and now it is a grade 4) you will have got a good pass. This is evidence you have done well in that subject for your age. As an example, if you got high grades in English and Maths an employer can be confident that you can read, write, type letters, follow written instructions, work with numbers and money so they are safe to employ you for the required job.

Everyone reading this will have some qualifications and they will be high enough to do some types of work. Obviously the higher the qualification the more qualified you are, which in turn means you will usually be able to get a higher paid job.

Most people, like me with high functioning autism/Asperger’s, would have probably loved to focus on a couple of subjects at school and not study the others. For me it would have been maths, science, computing and art. But in hindsight it is important to study every subject as it gives you a solid foundation to build on later, giving you the base qualifications to go into many different types of work. Most of us end up in a career that we least expect and it is these foundation skills we probably use the most, especially English, maths and science. Even though I have got high qualifications, I should have tried harder at school to broaden my knowledge of other subject when the opportunity was available. In addition, it would have increased my career prospects, even today, if I had achieved a wider range of high grades in all of the subjects at level 2 GCSEs.

Typical Route Through Qualifications

The typical qualifications route is to study your GCSEs at school, then A levels or a level three vocational subject. Then progress onto a degree or degree level qualification. After this a postgraduate qualification such as a Master’s degree, PhD or a teaching qualification. There are many variations to this but this is the normal route people take.

Although this is the usual route, nearly all of us do not make it through the entire path. This is fine and normal. The majority of people in society do not go to University for example. Some of us don’t get good GCSE’s or study after leaving school.

My Qualifications Path

I achieved good GCSEs, a good level 3 qualification, a decent degree, then a teaching qualification and a master’s degree. But the path was never easy or clear for me. For example, at my school almost everyone went to work after leaving and didn’t continue studying. I had to overcome this to study at a college. I found the course incredibly difficult but managed to do well over the two years I studied. I then went onto a low paid, low skilled job for a few years but hated. I hated that I hadn’t achieved much in life. So made massive sacrifices to go to University where I did exceptionally well. I worked for three years in-between my teaching qualification and master’s degree but my job was too much for me to handle. So again I made a massive sacrifice to leave work and go back to studying.

Even with all of my qualifications I still work in a part time job where I only need qualifications up to level 3. But university was absolutely the right decision for me. I would never regret doing this and it definitely benefits me in other ways. I am also sure my future career will use more of my qualifications. A couple of years ago I completed a level 2 qualification even after my level 7 qualification as I needed it for my work.

Almost everyone I know, didn’t follow their expected path for their qualifications. Many left school and stopped studying and others studied a degree in their 30s and 40s. There isn’t a right or wrong way. You may even be like me and have all the qualifications you could ever dream of but not get the job you thought you would before studying. It is never too late to study again. There are plenty of opportunities to learn at any age. If your mind is like mine with high functioning autism/asperger’s you will be self-defeatist and hyper critical of yourself, believing your disability holds you back and you cannot change that. But you have to try. I find I’m always capable of more than I expected of myself. It is usually the first step of wanting to try that gets you where you deserve to be in life. You may feel age is a barrier to learning but you will probably be surprised and many older people study in the courses I and my friends have taken and they tend to be just as successful as younger people.

One good piece of advice I was given was after I completed my level 3 qualification and I was terrified of going to university. I convinced myself I would not manage studying at a higher level. I’d also worked for a few years and believed I would never be able to pick up where I left off. I went into university and spoke to a professor there who said that it is just the next level up. You have done level 3 and the first year of the degree is just one step up from that. He believed in me more than I did myself and said I had nothing to be worried about of scared of. He was right of course, and I didn’t just get through University but I did it with mostly grade As.

Choosing the Right Qualifications for your Future Job

Many of us study what we are interested in or are good at. This is a good direction and works out for many people. But unfortunately there are just as many people it doesn’t work for. I have made a number of friends in work and university that have studied subjects such as art, English, law and computing at degree level and then never put them to use in the real working world. One friend studied law but hated office work and the repetitive administration duties so left to study education. A few of my friends got good degrees in art but now work with me as learning support assistants as there aren’t many jobs in this area. Other friends (myself included) studied computing without thinking about the kind of job it would lead to. Then later realising most jobs involve working in call centres or tied to a desk in open planned offices all day long, which wasn’t what we had hoped from life. My friends who did this ended up quitting and working in jobs that didn’t use their qualifications.

In a perfect world it is better to work backwards when thinking about the qualifications you need. Start by looking for jobs (in jobs papers or on job websites) that: a. you would enjoy doing, b. there is demand for and c. in an area you can move or travel to. Then try and find out as much as possible about the realities of that job. This can be done through researching on the internet but the best way is having an honest discussion with someone who does the job and asking them to explain the good side and bad side of it. It’s even better if you get a range of opinions, as people experience things differently and there are always people more negative than others. There are many hidden aspects of a job that only a person doing the job can tell you and it’s these things that will make a job tolerable or not.

You will also find people who are negative of you and believe they know what is better for you than you do yourself. Perhaps they look at us and our disability/difference and think we are only capable of doing certain things in society. They will often cause you to doubt yourself and dent your confidence and self-esteem no matter how hard you try to ignore them. Or even worse, you will believe them (as I have done in the past) without questioning if they are right or wrong. They are often wrong in their opinion, but unfortunately you may believe what they have to say.

Once you’ve found the job you want, that’s realistic to the qualifications you have got at the time or could potentially gain in the future, it’s time to put a plan together about how you will get the qualifications you need. It’s important you’re realistic though otherwise it is harder to succeed. For example, if you got very low grades at your A levels you would find it hard to be a brain surgeon.

Finding the Course you Need

If you haven’t got the basic level of Maths and English these are probably the first qualifications to improve. As a good level of Maths and English are required for the majority of jobs and higher level courses. Colleges and local council courses are ideal for this and often offer a wide range of courses from absolute beginners up to level 2. Some people will study these courses for a number of years to get to the level 2 but often love studying, love the social aspect of the course and achieve at their own pace.

Then finding the course you need will depend on the level of study you wish to do. For vocational courses such as plumbing, electrics and building you can search online for reputable suppliers of the course. Usually further education colleges are a safe bet in the UK. For courses relating to teaching and supporting students in schools again colleges are a good source of courses and you’ll often find your local council offer part time evening classes in this area. Colleges are also good for most courses up to level 3. They are free for young adults studying full time. But if you are older, and studying level 3 courses part time, you need a student loan to pay for them as they can easily cost a couple of thousand pounds. You don’t pay them back until you are in a good job and earning a good amount of money.

If you want to study a university level course, many universities offer part time and full time degrees. There is often loans available to pay for the course and to pay towards your living costs which you only pay back when you earn £21,000 or more per year in the future. Then only pay back a percentage of what you earn above that amount. Which in my eyes is an OK deal as many of us would never even earn that sort of money without a degree. You do need to pay a massive amount of money towards tuition fees and, in my eyes, the state should really contribute more towards it’s societies education but if you need the qualifications it is the only realistic way to get them. A well know university for being excellent at offering part time degrees for older students is the Open University but many local universities offer a wide range of part time degrees that may be suitable for your needs.

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