I’m graduating this December, which is huge for me. It’s something I never thought was going to happen. I have Asperger’s, and school, well, let’s just say that this isn’t the place I thought I’d be even two years ago. I’m high-functioning, but anyone who meets me can tell that I’m not neurotypical. I’ve learned to live with it. In fact I’ve learned to love it. I’m pretty proud of who I am and what I’ve done.
Like many students, I’m facing the big, wide, scary world. I’m considering career choices, and I want to do something in the STEM field – I have a science degree. The thing is, I don’t really want to do the normal research/work in a tech firm life. I really want to do something for other people like me. What are some fields I might go into that could help people like me, given the fact I am who I am?
Your story sounds incredible. We applaud your initiative and your drive to give back. Finding a career is challenging for anybody, though let’s step back and consider the notion of a “career” for a second in order to recognize something really remarkable about you. You say that you are considering career choices: just know that no matter what you do, you are not choosing a career the moment you set foot out of college. Career paths are long and winding, and you will hold many different jobs throughout your life. Rare is the person who begins in a job at 22 and retires from that same job 45 years later.
Rather than thinking about career choices, you should think about purpose, or the thing that you want to do that is bigger than just yourself (in the words of Mark Zuckerberg). In your question, you articulated purpose beautifully. Careers are instrumental to the objective of achieving a purpose; remember this as you move forward in life.
One field you may want to consider is healthcare, since you could work directly with autistic patients. You can become a certified nurse assistant, registered nurse, or a doctor. The Good Doctor, as I’m sure you are aware, is not a very good depiction of autism, but this doctors’ story is.
There are a surprising number of nurses with ASD, and a Google search reveals many more stories like the one linked above. Nursing school doesn’t necessarily require a nursing bachelors, and your science background would serve you well. You could then attend an RN to BSN degree program once you have worked in the field for a few years.
Psychology and psychiatry also offer opportunities for people with ASD. Judy Endow, an autistic therapist who has written several articles on her experiences, notes that her patients appreciate the fact that she shares a diagnosis with them. Becoming a therapist would give you a way to help other people like yourself who will appreciate your advice and your accomplishments.
If healthcare isn’t your thing, you could become involved in the growing movement by museums, cinemas, and live performances to offer sensory-friendly activities. Take a look at this website for sensory friendly activities in Lansing, MI. They include visits to planetariums, movies, and live performances designed to accommodate people with ASD. It is another field that would give you a direct way to help people like yourself who have been underserved by public organizations for many years.
This article in Smithsonian Magazine recounts the history of the movement, which began in 2011 and has since grown into museums across America. With your major and life experience, we think you would be a very strong candidate for any museum that runs, or is looking to run, this type of program. If you don’t immediately find work in a museum environment, volunteering or interning could be another avenue into that field.
Legal professions have also grown more acclimated and more responsive to people with ASD, both in the concerns of the law, and in the opportunities for people to work in those professions. As a paralegal or lawyer, you could have direct access to cases that change people’s lives, especially if you worked in special education law or with a special needs alliance. Even if you worked in a law office in a supporting role, researching as a legal secretary or developing websites for lawyers, finding the right legal niche could involve you in the important work of fighting for the rights of people with ASD.
There are many professions adjacent to the legal world that have sprung up in response to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, and IDEA ensures that students with disabilities receive public education that is tailored to their needs. Both are federal laws, but compliance is decided at the state level, which means that states have developed a dizzying network of institutions to enforce them. Businesses, schools, and colleges need people to ensure that they comply with these laws. This type of work could lead to a career as a private compliance consultant, or working with an office of special education at the local, state, or federal level.
Healthcare, museums, legal work: none of the ideas here are binding. All of them will come with challenges, and most of them (with the exception perhaps of being a museum guide) involve additional education and training. Since you have another semester of college, you still have the opportunity to take classes that could help you move in one particular direction or another, but broadening your horizons is more important restricting yourself to a single plan.
You articulated your purpose as helping other people like yourself. The fact that you have a science degree isn’t a disadvantage, and it certainly does not mean that you are restricted to working in one field your entire life. In fact, it can be an opportunity. As Linfield College’s page on STEM education mentions, “student-scientists draw from other disciplines, and are better scientists because of it.” We gave you a few recommendations here, but the world is wide, and the paths are many. You, to your credit, have a direction.
“I can not do everything, but I can do something. I must not fail to do the something that I can do.” –Helen Keller