Napoleon was above average height for his time. The Great Wall of China is not visible from space. Bats are not blind. And not all autistic people want to work in tech.
False beliefs and assumptions are everywhere – we live in the era of fake news, after all. Some of these are harmless. It does not make much difference to most of us whether what we can or cannot see from space. But when we make assumptions about what others are good at based on a particular characteristic, such as being autistic, there is the potential for damage to be done.
Of course, some autistic people have brilliant tech skills and would not want to work in any other area. But so do many neurotypical people. Many autistic people have huge strengths in other areas which can be easily overlooked because of this mistaken assumption.
The belief that all or most autistic people are good at tech is probably based on a few portrayals of autistic people in the media perpetuating stereotypes that would be outrageous if they were applied in the same way based on gender or race. Autistic people have so much to offer, in tech jobs and every other kind of job that there is, yet around 80% of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed according to the UN.
Being autistic simply means that your brain works in a different way, including how you sense the world around you. Not a better or worse way, just different. These differences in turn affect the strengths and weaknesses of the individual. But what is crucial to recognise is that all autistic people are different – there is not a single characteristic or effect that is common to all autistic people.
So what jobs can autistic people do if they do not want to work in tech? Any job at all!
For example, many autistic people are both visually oriented and hugely creative. This can make them a great fit for jobs in areas like architecture and graphic design.
One result of sensing the world differently and not understanding the unspoken rules that much of society is based on is that autistic people may see a problem in a different way and come up with potential solutions that others have missed. Combined with enhanced analytical skills, this can make some autistic people ideal for engineering jobs in a much wider range of areas than just technology – mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering, for example.
An autistic person may have a special interest in a particular area and a near encyclopaedic knowledge of it, as well as the ability to hyper focus on a piece of work. This can make them great researchers and fact checkers.
Finally, many autistic people have a great affinity with animals, so can excel in jobs from veterinarian to pet groomer and livestock handler.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg – autistic people can and do shine in every area of work according to their unique combinations of skills and talents.
So many strengths and assets to employers that are missed if recruiters pigeonhole all autistic people as only suitable for working in tech. What’s more, there is a very easy way to find out what an autistic person is good at, what skills and talents they could bring to a job. You just ask them.