Many career paths exist for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Contrary to popular belief, individuals with autism can be successful in just about any career path as long as they receive adequate supports and training. I will quickly cover two career paths that may be suitable for those with autism, in what may become a series of career path posts.
Bicycles have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Bikes are a popular mode of transportation in many urban cities (e.g., San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, New York) and in many college towns. Many cities have incorporated bike lanes in roads and bike trails in parks. This popularity creates a need for bike maintenance and repair.
Bicycles need to be washed after every ride, or at least once per week. Wheels need to be trued regularly, chains and gears need to be maintained properly or fixed when something brakes or ceases to run smoothly.
Bicycle repair and maintenance can be a solo job or team effort. It can be done in shop or at home. The flexibility of social components make bicycle repair and maintenance perfect for many individuals with autism. Attention to detail is needed in various repairs and maintenance duties, which also lends well to those with autism. The spinning gears and wheels, categories and purposes, and predicability of bicycles can either be the cause of or support special interest areas for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Not everyone will find bicycle repair and maintenance interesting, or have the skills in which to be successful; however, it is a great option to explore with adolescents.
Watch making involves creating and repairing mechanical wrist watches, pocket watches, and clocks. Repairs can be fixing the face (e.g., hands, numerals, indices), case or movement (e.g., quartz, automatic) of the timepiece. Watches and clocks need to be serviced occasionally to keep good time. Repairs may be needed if a watch or clock is exposed to water, dust or dirt, or if any of the components–internal or external–is cracked or otherwise broken.
Watch and clock parts can be quite small and contain anywhere from a handful of components to hundreds of components. Attention and organizational skills are needed, as well as understanding of how parts interact with each other. Watch making is not a spectator sport, thereby allowing workers to perform their craft in their own private workshop. Some watch makers specialize in one brand (e.g., Rolex, Omega), while others specialize in a type of watch/clock (e.g., chronograph, day-date) or part (e.g., automatic movements, displays).
Like bicycle repair and maintenance, watch making requires extreme attention to detail, very little social interaction, and a uniformity that can match behaviors and special interest areas in individuals with autism. Watches and clocks also have a rich history and many categories of function that can appeal to those with autism. Not everyone with autism will have the fine motor or craftsmanship skills to succeed at watch making. However, those who do might find more success at it than working in an office or auto shop.
Many individuals with autism fail in the workforce not because they don’t possess useful skills or appropriate behaviors; rather, it is due to improper job and career placement. Bicycle repair and watch making are great choices for individuals who need to work alone or with limited social interaction, have great attention to detail, love engineering mechanics, and are great problem solvers (if they love watches or bikes, then one of these careers should be a dead giveaway). Some individuals might act disinterested in any career path you ask them about. As a parent or professional, do not shy away from making an individual take part in an activity related to bicycle maintenance or watch making. If the individual appears to hate the activity after a while, then discontinue your experiment and look for something else. However, if they appear to enjoy working on bikes or watches, then you may have found a career far better than sweeper at the local grocery store.