It’s not all about IT…Breaking the stigma in employment choices for autistic & neurodivergent people

By Barb Cook, M.Aut., Dip. HSc. (used with permission)

Information and technology (IT) has boomed over the past 30 years and become an integral part of the modern developed world. Employment opportunities in IT exploded alongside this growth and created pathways for autistic people in finding job security in an industry that has been stigmatized as the place where the ‘geeks’ gravitate. Software giants headhunt talented autistic people for positions in program development and defending against cybercrimes. Autistic people have been pigeonholed into this perception that we are gifted and talented in computers, math and science. Certainly, some of us fit this role like a glove, but what about the millions of autistic and neurodivergent people globally who do not replicate the misconception that we are computer ‘nerds’? What are the jobs for this population?

Considering the powerful trends of media in recent months, had me thinking of potential industries and career pathways that autistic and neurodivergent people could embrace with a passion, outside the IT box. Greta Thunberg ignited a global fervor within the autistic community, showing the true empathetic depth, determination and a powerful side that many autistic people have around environmental and sustainable practices. The neurological differences of autistic and neurodivergent people, is reflected in the difference of thought and analysis of global concerns. Being passionate researchers, seeing patterns and connections in weather events, the changes in climate, the environmental design of our cities, the consumerism and waste management, alongside the precious commodities of clean water, healthy food and overall wellbeing of our fellow humankind, not only dispels, but smashes the stubborn empathy myths that stigmatize autistic people still today.

The recent catastrophic fires across Australia highlight another serious consideration of our environmental future within a country with climatic extremes. This unfortunate wake up call sends a resounding message in the terms that we considerably need more people in roles of land management, sustainability and conservation to reduce the impact of devastating and destructive events. The deep empathy autistic people have for wildlife and fauna needs to be embraced and career opportunities expanded, to ensure Australia and the rest of the world has a sensible and pragmatic approach in creating harmony between ecosystems and the consumer-based world we live in. The employment opportunities are immense when we steer away from the perception that autistic people are only suitable for IT.

Considering these recent events, I would like to highlight and encourage governing bodies and sustainability-based industries, to invest in creating opportunities for autistic and neurodivergent people.

These are some of the career pathways that I envision as priority in our global future:

  • Landcare – forestry, agricultural technicians, land economists
  • Fire Land Management
  • Rangers
  • Conservation
  • Sustainability
  • Ecosystem Management
  • Wildlife and Fauna
  • Environmental Planning
  • Alternative energies – solar, energy storage, wind
  • Public health and society – Food and nutrition
  • Water sustainability and sanitation
  • Inspectors and regulators
  • Occupational and environmental health professionals
  • Legislators and public relations
  • Atmospheric scientists and meteorologists

This is only a small sample of potential career pathways that autistic and neurodivergent would excel in. In coming articles, I wish to expand on these career choices and how autistic people can be part of a significant change to our planet’s sustainability. I also put to the governing bodies, our leaders and businesses to expand on their current trajectory and to be part of embracing differences in thinking and to employ neurodiverse minds, that could potential create a world that benefits all of society.

About Barb Cook

Autism & Neurodiversity Employment Consultant, Developmental Educator, International Author, Speaker and Neurodiversity Advocate

Barb is an Autism and Neurodiversity Employment Consultant and a registered Developmental Educator (DE) who is passionate in supporting, consulting and mentoring on employment issues for neurodiverse adults and employers. Barb has a Master of Autism (education) with focus on employment from the University of Wollongong, where she is also a tutor in this program and a research assistant in the area of self-determination and self-advocacy for autistic adults.

Barb was formally diagnosed as autistic along with ADHD and phonological dyslexia at age 40, and is editor and co-author of the internationally acclaimed book Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, and editor in chief of Spectrum Women Magazine.

As a Developmental Educator, Barb focuses on developing individualised learning strategies, tools and supports with positive outcomes for individuals across the lifespan. Barb embraces a collaborative approach by working with health and educational professionals, support staff, employers, employees, families and caregivers to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of a person-centred approach in fostering positive support and enhancement of life outcomes. Barb has extensive experience in working with autistic people, ADHD and dyslexia, especially with adults in creating pathways in attaining life goals in the areas of education, employment, health and interpersonal relationships.


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