It’s Not All About IT… Breaking the Stigma in Employment Choices for Autistic & Neurodivergent People

Information and technology (IT) have 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 stigmatised 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 fervour 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 are 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 stigmatise autistic people still today.

The 2019 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 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.

Invest in creating opportunities

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 a 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 the 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 potentially create a world that benefits all of society.

About Barb Cook, M.Aut. (Edu), Dip.HSc. (Nut)

Barb is a registered Developmental Educator, Deputy Chair of the Developmental Educators Australia Incorporated (DEAI), and an Autism and Neurodiversity Employment Consultant and Life Coach for neurodivergent adults (ADHD, autism and dyslexia). Barb holds a Master of Autism (education) degree with focus on employment from the University of Wollongong, where she is also a researcher and co-project lead in the area of self-determination and self-advocacy for adults on the autism spectrum.

Barb has extensive experience in working with adults on the autism spectrum and ADHD, in creating pathways in attaining life goals in the areas of self-determination and self-advocacy, education, employment, health and interpersonal relationships.

Barb is founder of the Neurodiversity Hub in Gympie Queensland, a space providing allied health services for neurodivergent people, including one-on-one support, therapeutic groups, workshops and presentations and an informal space to meet.

Barb is Director and Founder of NeuroEmploy Pty Ltd, a company providing a variety of neurodiversity specific educational and training programs for neurodivergent individuals, workplace staff, management and businesses.

Barb is internationally recognised for her bestselling book on autism in women, Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism with Dr Michelle Garnett, filling the gap in literature between lived experience of autistic women and the clinical knowledge. Barb’s recently released and second best-selling book co-authored with Yenn Purkis, The Autism and Neurodiversity Self-Advocacy Handbook: Developing Skills to Determine Your Own Future, is an essential guidebook that gives you the tools and strategies to advocate for yourself in any situation, developing your skills in standing up for yourself, your needs and wishes.

Barb is founder of Spectrum Women Magazine and is a prolific writer on autism, ADHD and neurodivergence and employment and is published in academic research.

Barb is a highly sought-after international speaker and presents on a variety of topics related to women, autism, ADHD and Neurodiversity. Barb spoke at the World Autism Organisation Congress 2018 in Houston Texas and 2019, and was invited by the United States government to keynote a special event “A Woman’s Voice: Understanding Autistic Needs” for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) in Washington DC, USA.

Barb identifies as neurodivergent, being formally diagnosed mid-life with ADHD, Autism and dyslexia in 2009, and promotes a strength-based and person-centred approach in her life and work.

Barb is a passionate motorcyclist, and enjoys riding the love of her life, Ron Strom Burgundy, a Suzuki VStrom DL1000, who assists her with good self-care and an effective anxiety reducing and depression busting practice.

Visit www.neurodiversityhub.com/barb-cook/ and www.barbcook.com.au to learn more about Barb Cook.

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