Autistic Workers Project
by Mona Pereth
One of the types of groups the autistic community needs, in my opinion, is career-oriented groups of autistic workers (or groups of neurodivergent workers more generally) in particular categories of professions / occupations / jobs (or who aspire to same).
- Some of the career-oriented groups we need
- Why we need them
- How allistics (non-autistics) can help
- My own plans
- Preliminary networking on Twitter
- Other helpful groups/networks
- How you can help create an NYC-based group
Some of the career-oriented groups we need
Below are some possible examples, most of which do not exist yet. The groups that do exist are mostly in the U.K. Hopefully there will soon be more groups of this kind here in the U.S.A. as well, both on a national level and on a local/regional level, e.g. here in the NYC metro area.
Some of the career-oriented groups we need are:
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent engineers and computer professionals (and aspiring engineers / computer professionals). In February 2021, I launched Autistic Techies of the NYC Area, which currently is just a small informal specialized support group, but hopefully will eventually evolve into a full-fledged professional association. Hopefully also some members of this group (perhaps including myself) can eventually create a good online platform that can help some of the other proposed groups below get organized too.
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent lawyers and other legal professionals (and aspiring legal professionals).
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent accountants, financial analysts, etc. (and people who want to work in those fields).
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent people who work, or want to work, in health-related professions. Currently there appear to be some small informal online networks of autistic doctors. (One of these is Autistic Doctors International, headed by Mary Doherty in Ireland. See articles by members.) Hopefully there will eventually be both a professional association of autistic doctors AND a more general organization of autistic workers at all levels of the health care hierarchy, from doctors to home health aides.
A professional association of autistic autism professionals! Members would include psychotherapists, social workers, speech-language pathologiests, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc., who work with autistic people, either children or adults. (Personally I think it would be highly desirable for the staff of all services for autistic children to be about 50% autistic at all levels of the hierarchy -- although it's desirable for NT's to be involved too, ideally paired with autistic staff members.) Currently there exists a small (so far) U.S.A.-based international organization called the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective, founded in 2018, for speech-language pathologiests, occupational therapists, and physical therapists (of any neurotype) who practice in accordance with the principles of the neurodiversity movement.
Groups of neurodivergent special ed teachers. The educational establishment could learn one heck of a lot from such a group! Hopefully it would be able to form a good working relationship with the teachers' unions.
Groups of autistic teachers (in general, not just special ed) and other school staff. (There's currently a research project, the Autistic School Staff Project, based in the U.K. According to this tweet, they have plans to do research in the U.S.A. too.)
A U.S.A.-based (or NYC-metro-area-based) professional association of neurodivergent psychotherapists and social workers. There already exists a U.K.-based Association of Neurodivergent Therapists, founded in spring 2021. As far as I am aware, this is the world's first professional association of neurodivergent people in any profession.
A professional association of autistic autism researchers! In January 2020, the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) unanimously appointed an Autistic Researchers Committee, which looks to me like an important step toward the creation of the needed professional association. Currently there also exist AASPIRE (based at Portland State University in Oregon, here in the U.S.A.) and The Participatory Autism Research Collective (based in the U.K.). These are Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) programs, which are NOT the same thing as a professional association of autistic autism scientists, though they too are an important step forward. (See also the Spectrum News article Meet the autistic scientists redefining autism research by Rachel Nuwer, 10 June 2020, and see also this list of some of the better-known "Autistic Researchers Researching Autism.")
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent scientists more generally, not focussed on autism/neurodiversity research in particular.
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent people in academia more generally. (There's an informal AutisticAcademics peer support network that meets on Slack; see its Slack sign-up form (via Google Docs) and Twitter account. In the U.K. there is also an informal Neurodiverse Postgrad Researchers Network, founded in 2019; Twitter account here. Here in the U.S.A. there's also a more general, but formally organized, Disabled in Higher Ed group.)
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent people who work, or want to work, in civil service -- which has traditionally been a relatively friendly environment for unpopular minorities of all kinds. Hopefully such a group, once it gets big enough, could form some sort of relationship with the various labor unions for civil service workers. (In the U.K., there is the Public Sector Neurodiversity Network, founded by Tia Shafee in February 2017, according to this news story. Twitter account here.)
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent journalists, nonfiction writers, and editors.
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent writers and editors of fiction.
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent artists.
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent people who work, or want to work, in skilled trades (electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics, etc.)
Groups of autistic/neurodivergent small-business owners and co-owners.
Why we need them
The existence of some of these proposed groups, once they get big enough, would make it easier for autistic-friendly workplaces to recruit autistic workers, and would thereby also make it easier for the groups' members to find work in autistic-friendly workplaces. The groups could even facilitate the creation of some autistic-friendly workplaces in the first place. (See the Wrong Planet threads Autistic-friendly workplaces and Employer that only employs neurodivergents?.)
The proposed groups could also function as a support network for those members who have, or are seeking, jobs in traditional NT-dominated workplaces as well. In some cases (e.g. the group for civil service workers), the groups could collaborate with any disability-related advocacy services offered by relevant labor unions, and/or could perhaps aid labor unions in the creation of said services.
Other disability communities are similarly organized by professional / occupational category. For example, here in the U.S.A., the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has lots of Divisions, Committees, and Groups, many of which are occupation-based.
Unlike the NFB, however, I don't think occupation-based groups for autistic people should all be part of one big organization. Instead they should be part of a looser network. While some of us can do a reasonably good job of leading small groups, I doubt that very many of even the best leaders among us can cope well with the politics of a large organization. The loose-network-of-smaller-groups approach has worked well for at least some other kinds of minority communities, such as the LGBT community.
How allistics (non-autistics) can help
Ideally, each occupation-based group could also have a "Friends and Family Auxiliary," or an "Allistic Auxiliary," or something similar, enabling some (mostly NT) parents, spouses/partners, etc., to help out with fund-raising, business networking, and other aspects of running the group that may be especially difficult for the autistic peer leaders.
As I envision them, both the occupation-based autistic worker groups themselves and their friends-and-family auxiliaries would exist primarily online (as forums and chats) with occasional local in-person events. Online chats could include both text-based chats and video/audio chats, to accommodate the differing communication needs of different work-capable autistic people.
My own plans
To help all these groups get started, I plan to (1) introduce people in the same or closely-related professions to each other, as I happen to get to know them, e.g. via the support groups I attend, and (2) eventually help create (perhaps together with some other members of Autistic Techies of the NYC Area), an online platform that will facilitate the creation of these various groups.
Preliminary networking on Twitter
It will be a while before the above-mentioned online platform can be created. In the meantime, for informal non-local contacts, here are some relevant Twitter hashtags:
- #AutisticsInAcademia and #AutisticAcademics (see also The Neurominority Academics Network (@Neurominorities))
- #AutisticTeachers and #AutisticEducators
- #NeurodivergentInfinity (for neurodivergent educators -- see also NeurodivergentInfinity (@NINE_On_Can))
- #AutisticDoctors (see also @DoctorsAutistic and @Divergent_Docs) and #AutisticNurses
- #AutisticLawyer and #AutisticLawyers
- #NeurodiversityNetwork (various careers)
Let me know if you find any other, similar Twitter hashtags.
Other helpful groups/networks
And here are some groups that aren't professional associations or other career-oriented groups, but do look like they could be helpful toward the eventual creation of some kinds of career-oriented groups:
Aucademy, a U.K.-based group of "Autistic academics, researchers, teachers, speakers, trainers, and advocates educating on Autistic experience for Autistic and non-autistic learners, because the best way to learn about autism is from Autistic educators."
Narratives of Neurodiversity Network (on Twitter and Discord), "a group of academics, creatives, & others who enjoy exploring the cultures of neurodiversity. ... We like to talk about #neurodiversity in art, culture, poetry and all forms of creative expression."
How you can help create an NYC-based group
If you are interested in being introduced to autistic people in the NYC area who work, or want to work, in a particular professional / occupational category, with the eventual aim of being one of the founding members of a career-oriented group (or an auxiliary thereof), feel free to contact me.
"Autistic-like" is not a clinically-defined term. Anyone who feels that they face the same problems as autistic people can identify as "Autistic-like," similar to the term "cousin" as used by the first autistic adult organization, the Autism Network International. (See Autism Network International -- The Development of a Community and Its Culture by Jim Sinclair, 2005. See also Reviving the concept of cousins by Mel Baggs, 2016.)
Various autistic peer-led groups including support groups, career-oriented groups, and hobby-oriented social groups, led or facilitated by members of the Autistic Peer Leadership Group. Our newest group is the Autistic Women's Support & Social Group. All groups currently meet via text-based chat. Some groups will hopefully meet in-person after the COVID crisis is finally over with.
Where to get an ASD evaluation as an adult: This page will be expanded and updated sometime after the COVID crisis is over with.