Aspie Adulthood: The Tough Spot Between Being Unable to Work -and- Not Qualifying for Disability6 min read

Editor’s note: We use the words aspie and Asperger’s interchangeably with autistic on this site.  We want to honor the way every autistic person identifies and also ensure that we cast a wide enough net for search engines.

After my own autism diagnosis, I tapped into the autistic community through online support groups, and I was immediately astounded by the number of people experiencing this one particular part of a wide-ranging struggle.

According to an article published by The Thinking Peron’s Guide to Autism, there is a massive 85% unemployment rate among college-educated autistic adults.  I think it’s closer to 89% today.  At the same time, the general population’s unemployment rate, at all education levels, is only 3.9% as of March 2019.

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Some may wonder: Why are so many “mildly” autistic adults unemployed or under-employed?

First of all…

So-called mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly…it means YOU experience their autism mildly.  You do not know how hard they may be working to mask their autistic traits and behaviors for the sake of going undetected or helping you feel more comfortable around them.

Many are unemployed or underemployed due to difficulties that stem from our ‘aspie’ traits.

Things like:

  • Lack of neurotypical social skills and social awkwardness that’s not due to lack of skills, but sometimes people just ‘judge’ based on the way we might look, or the energy we give off, or the way we sound when we talk, or because we don’t talk enough…or smile enough.  It can be hard to get, or keep, a job when you’re always doing or not doing things that cause people to not like you– basically, just being yourself. Yes, this really happens…and it sucks.
  • Then there are those who have led successful careers, but eventually experience mental burnout from decades of masking just to maintain those jobs or those who mask well enough to get the jobs but then don’t last very long and end up hopping around from job-to-job (often state-to-state) just to keep trying to support themselves. Yes, this really happens too…and it also sucks.
  • Then we have some who feel they are unemployable and don’t even realize they have earning potential because they never developed any ‘real’ skills.  This sometimes stems from the early stages and rough times in school due to the same social challenges mentioned above.  Yes, this definitely…sucks.
  • And, let’s not overlook the people who have been traumatized by all-of-the-above and now have a level of social anxiety that causes them to avoid human interaction as much as they can. Yes, being ‘afraid’ to answer the phone or walk into a public place alone IS real.

One prime example of what some of us go through at work everyday can be found here:

Aspie Mishaps and Misunderstandings at Work – “Do I really have to be ‘that’ literal and direct with you?”

The scenario may not seem like a huge deal in and of itself, but (if you have a minute to read it) imagine going through something similar every day at every job and for 10, 15, 20 years.

Why don’t you just get a remote job you can work from home?

-Says everyone who acts like it should be the obvious answer

When I was nearing the end of my own rope, I remember people saying things like: “Why don’t you just get a job you can work from home?  You can always just find a remote job.” And I’d be thinkingHOW!?!?!  You say it like it’s so easy! Where are those jobs??

But because I’d often been made aware of how ‘rude’ it is to ask direct and clarifying questions, basically putting people on the spot when they are trying to console you with words, I kept my mask on and just agreed that I should probably look into that.

Eventually, I walked out of my last 9-5 (unplanned/cold-turkey) and vowed NEVER to do it again.  After several bouts with suicide due to mental exhaustion, lack of support, beating myself up for not being able to conform to the rest of society, and not understanding why it was so hard for me, I decided that fully-remote work or self-employment was it for me.

All this while my friends and family would shake their heads at how ridiculous it was that I was acting like victim of normal everyday life.

So, I kept quiet and went looking for that remote job.  And I’d love to tell you that two weeks later, I found it on Monster or Indeed job search dot coms and lived happily ever after, but that’s just not the plight of the aspie.

I nearly lost everything before literally stumbling across the right resources and learning how to earn a livable wage without having to leave my house and pretend to be someone I’m not all day.

And let me tell you…most people were trying to help me by telling me where I could find another regular job.  Finding and getting jobs was never an issue for me because I was extremely good at what I did and was publicly recognized for it.

It’s hard to explain.

But when you appear ‘normal’ in the eyes of others, can have an intelligent conversation, and earn top dollar…people think your struggles are superficial no matter how well you articulate what you go through.  For me, it was almost like they didn’t believe me.  Some even thought it was funny.

And if I didn’t earn what I did, but still appeared to be normal and could have an intelligent conversation, then I’d just be lazy.

If you opened this article because the title resonated with you, then I’m sure you know this all too well.  And while I’m not too confident any neurotypical person will ever truly understand how REAL the struggle is…I can tell you this:

Disability may not be an option, but all is not lost!

  • If you have had a previously-successful career, the remote jobs are out there!
  • If you’re good at what you do but you’re tired of driving yourself insane constantly having to interpret the meanings of facial expressions and unsaid words, the remote jobs are out there!
  • If you have had to settle for low-level, often-demeaning jobs, the remote jobs are out there!
  • If you’ve never had a ‘real’ job but you have deep knowledge related to your special interest -or- ANY topic, you can earn!
  • If you think you just don’t have any marketable skills or knowledge, I challenge you on that!

Whether it’s software engineering, software testing, freelance writing, customer service, technical support, data entry, teaching what you know– if you can comprehend this article, YOU CAN EARN.

Do NOT be discouraged.

Do NOT underestimate yourself.

Do NOT underestimate your earning potential.

Do NOT give up.

You are NOT alone.

Our community is comprised of some of the world’s most brilliant minds.  I encourage you to find the gold!  DIG FOR IT if you must.  It’s there, I promise.

If you have questions, plan to go remote, want to share your experience or get insight from other people who work from home, check out the Remote Work Help Facebook group.  It’s free and open to all.

The group is not limited to the neurodiverse, but you have a friend there– me.  We regularly post featured remote job listings as well as job search help, free resources, and tips for interviewing.  Post ANY questions you have on this topic, and you will get answers.

Or, you can go directly to the Remote Work Help website which has some free resources.  I created this resource for exactly the reasons stated in this article– so that actually-autistic people and others struggling in similar ways could monetize their talents.

Another great resource to check out is http://ultratesting.us/.  They often have remote jobs available and their mission is to “prove that neurodiversity is a competitive advantage.”

Please Like and Share these words of encouragement. Our collective movement to clear up misconceptions, spread awareness, and get neurotypicals to be more understanding and accepting will never die, but we can also have a powerful and immediate impact on the state of our individual situations by remembering to support each Other, help and lift each Other up.

~ Until Next Time

colleagues cooperation fist bump fists

Shelly Willoughby

Instructor at Remote Work Help
Shelly is a retired project manager and technical writer. She now writes about travel and autism awareness with articles in Autism Parenting Magazine and other publications. Autistic herself, Shelly runs two small businesses: www.swagimports.com and www.sharemyniche.com. She has a passion for helping people discover and monetize their marketable talents, especially within the neurodivergent community. She has a tri-paw (three-legged Bengal cat) named Lagertha. Some of her special interests include unicorns, dragons, and wild cats. You can find Shelly's personal blog at www.shellywill.com.

9 Comments

  1. When I meet autistics who have “taught” themselves to use the same manipulation tactics as neurotypicals, I’m just nauseated.  I AM SO SICK OF AUTISTICS WHO MASK AND TRY TO BECOME NEUROTYPICAL. 
    Mask now; suicide later. 

    Also, autistics can easily obtain disability by visiting incompetent neurotypical mental health workers.  Most mental health workers are woefully obtuse regarding autism and they tend to see everyone who is different than themselves as “bad” or defective.  Go see some neurotypical counselors in the low-income mental health sector for a few months, be totally honest and your own naturally unlikable self, and they will load you up with every socalled “personality disorder” that exists in their little Destructive Sexism Manual (DSM).  Then you apply for disability with a profile that makes you look like a demented serial-killer on paper, but make sure to mention in your application that you disagree with the diagnoses and you hate doctors and you think they are all stupid.  Doctors are so arrogant that they’ll automatically rule anyone who doesn’t worship them “insane”. 

    Easy-peasy!

    Of course you will never obtain real mental healthcare doing this, but relax: you were never going to get real mental healthcare anyway, because the entire field is just a big dumb sham full of NT idiots passing judgment on who they “like” or “dislike”. 

    If you’re autistic, you’re much better off using your unlikability to your advantage than trying to mask in order to appear likable, which won’t work anyway. 

    Autistics need to stop pretending to be neurotypicals, it’s just creepy.

    1. Author

      Hi Bluebirt!  Mask now; suicide later should be COINED!  I’ve never heard anyone say it, but yesssss that’s exactly what it leads to after so long.  Not sure about the generalization of autistics who mask and try to become neurotypical though because many of us this for decades without knowing we are autistic.  Just living through constantly trying to figure it out and ‘fix’ ourselves.  Masking without even realizing it. 

      Also, I’m not sure where you are but I’m in the US and for a large part of our community it’s really not easy to get disability.  I e had therapist / mental health profession sales immediately dismiss my issues and even contest my diagnosis simply because I was able to hold an intelligent conversation with them.  But I LOVE the write up!  You’re an excellent writer!  ❤️ Your last bit of advice was on point too…better off using your (so-called) unlikability to your advantage.  #EmbraceIt #BeYOUtiful .  Thanks for the comment 🙂

      1. Great article and your hat looks so killer, man.  Much more stylish than our “fedora” crowd (they who have swallowed the many various colored “pills”). 
        We should start an online selfie-pic campaign for autistic women; “Take back the fedora!”



  2. i beat the system at its own game by burying it in paperwork, but i’m pretty sure i only managed that because i was so manic at the time that i could honestly describe my mental state as “think three-year-old doing crystal meth and washing it down with triple espressos” and because i’m white and the child of two professionals so i had a DOCUMENTED mental health history going back to when i was 16.  i also had a whole bunch of work history and a college degree.  (in other words, i am an EXTRA-SPECIAL snowflake, sarcasm font set to 128 point bold.)

    most folks, regardless of actual disability/inability to work, are not going to win.  for US: 70% of first-time applicants get denied, and only about 40% get it eventually.  my bff almost certainly had a better case as far as not being able to work at the time we both applied imo, and iirc hers was two appeals and a lawyer.  i know several people on SSDI, and i am the only one i know of who succeeded first time.

    also, even if you do win, contrary to myths, you’re going to be scraping by most likely.  the average SSDI check is about $1000-1100 a month, and the max last i heard was about $2700/month.

    now i’m 45, and although i’m not precisely one of the 85%,i can’t get a job other than seasonal tax work, because a) SSDI income limits b) i do great back office but those folks basically always want full-time c) the physical side of my chronic stuff has gotten worse as i’ve gotten older d) i literally told my hiring manager “this is as neurotypical as i get deal” and she didn’t bat an eye.  (for my clientele, being neurodivergent/probably autistic is frequently USEFUL.)

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