“Mistake was Following My Passion”

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, November, 2017

“The mistake I made was following my ‘passion,’ without focusing on my real abilities, or aspects of my Asperger’s Syndrome that make it impossible for me to function in certain environments,” Aiden explained. Three years after earning an advanced degree in a life sciences discipline, he had lost one job and was barely completing tasks in his current position. He found the pressured and competitive work environment extremely difficult to manage. “My priority now is not interesting work,” he said, “but a job that will be manageable and pay enough for me to live independently.”

Over the years I have coached many clients like Aiden. They assume that being interested in a topic means that they will be successfully employed in a certain field. While this is true for some individuals, many others discover that they are not suited for the available jobs.

Kayla had dreamed of being a teacher ever since she could remember. She earned a master’s degree in education. Kayla enjoyed teaching students. However her Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) caused her to falter with classroom management, and have trouble interacting with school administrators and parents.

This is not to suggest that interests should be ignored. In fact, when I assist someone to explore jobs and careers, we usually begin with a list of possibilities based on the person’s interests. But then we methodically research the actual jobs that are available. We focus on the primary tasks, the skills required to perform those tasks, and the work environment. We also discuss how Asperger’s Syndrome or NLD impacts the individual, and use this information to avoid occupations that emphasize areas of difficulty.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/ooh) is an excellent source for preliminary occupational research, and can be accessed free of charge online. It includes information about various jobs and careers, including tasks and responsibilities, educational requirements, salary data, the employment outlook, and more.

Job posts are another useful resource. They provide valuable information about what employers want in terms of skills, education and experience.

The purpose of preliminary research is to narrow down occupational possibilities. For example, a person may decide to eliminate careers that require skill they don’t have or can’t easily acquire. Perhaps the pay is too low, or the field is highly competitive, or other important criteria are not met.

Consider seeking assistance as you perform your preliminary research. Occupational descriptions are written for neurotypicals. They do not spell out aspects of the work that are obvious to NTs, such as remembering and quickly performing sequential tasks; listening and writing at the same time; noticing visual detail; or managing time independently.

Beware of unrealistic expectations. It is highly unlikely that you will find work that 100% matches your ideal. Josh was ready to eliminate editorial work because he read that occasional overtime was required. Yet, there were many aspects of the work that were a great fit for his abilities. Think in terms of long-range goals. Accepting lower pay, performing some tasks you don’t like, or working occasional weekends is worth it to get a start in your career.

Aiden used preliminary research to identify three occupations within the life sciences area that were structured and did not involve multitasking. His next step was to arrange informational interviews. That is, he would speak with professionals already working at the jobs he was interested in pursuing. This would allow him to get more specific information about tasks and the work environment.

Kayla began exploring alternatives to classroom teaching such as tutoring, adult education and instructional design.

Careful research increases the likelihood of choosing the right job or career. If you have tried an occupation that didn’t work out, treat it as a learning experience. What did you discover about your strengths, skills to develop, and optimal work environment?

Copyright 2017, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching