Career change for someone with Aspergers

I am a freelance journalist in Los Angeles with quantifiable success but having trouble getting help moving into a new and more lucrative career, because I am too advanced for a lot of the disability focused state funded services and not successful enough for conventional headhunters and job coaches.

Job advisors I have worked with–both aimed at neurotypical clients and people with disabilities–tell me I am hirable but then abruptly drop me because nobody knows what to do with me.

I was the kid who was told to not set my sights too high. My parents were told that I would not be able to survive in a regular university and I should be targeted to vocational/factory type careers. We did not listen, and I have a Masters and BA to show for that. Before 2001, I spent my young adult life being bullied and fired at a variety of PR companies, and when I graduated, my university placement services would not help me get that important first job.

After a rough 18 months where I went through five jobs, and was told teaching was my only option because of my spotty job record, In 2002, I got lucky and found several freelance writing jobs that led to a freelance career, and supplemented my income with work as a substitute teacher. I got bullied and fired from one of my two districts this past year, but have no recourse and may lose my credential if the woman who fired me plans to place a spurious report with the California Teaching Credential office on why she fired me (this woman is known for trashing past employees and getting away with it, and she breaks a lot of state labor laws and gets away with it). I am still in good standing with another district which I have been with a lot longer, and can probably get good references there.

I tried out for and got turned down for several media jobs, because of my age (46) and the editors admitted to me younger people are more appealing for their looks and willingness to accept low pay. I have reached out to all kinds of Autism and Asperger’s organizations and university programs and nobody will do anything for me unless I pay thousands of dollars I do not have. While friends encourage me to apply for disability, lawyers in the field tell me I will probably not be “disabled” enough to qualify.

My 86 year old father is pressuring me to go into a business though he cannot articulate what that business is.

There is shockingly very little information on good mid career options for journalists looking for more stable work. I was advised paralegal may be a good option, but am not sure if this is another inherently ageist field, and cannot get any help or direction.

If you can offer ideas or suggestions please let me know.


14 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    First of all, you’re not really looking for a career change. You’re looking for a career. You have not been able to make enough money as a freelance writer, and people do not want to hire you.

    People do not want to hire you because the job of a writer requires social skills. There is lots of back and forth conversations with the people who hire you, and there are tons of people who want freelance work, so editors do not have to put up with someone who has poor social skills.

    Additionally, it’s very difficult to make a living as a freelance writer. Most people pitch 80% of the time in order to get enough writing jobs to write 20% of the time. This means that successful freelance writers are marketing themselves about 6 hours a day. So unless you want to do that, writing probably is not for you, because today almost every writer is a freelance writer.

    Every industry discriminates against people who are older. That’s just how the world is — everyone in the workforce has to deal with that right now.

    Jobs that people with Aspergers succeed at are jobs where there are very clear rules, systems, and parameters. And those jobs are not particularly competitive to get because they are extremely difficult for most people who do not have Aspergers.

    So I would recommend that you look to something like a government job that is repetitive and well defined. Or you look at something like customer service call centers, which have very clear parameters and rules for how phone calls go.

    I know you will say the jobs I’m suggesting are boring, or low level or whatever. But you are not your job. The jobs ask very little of you socially, and that’s the type of job you need. If there are high level, interesting things you want to do with your life, you can do that after work. You have eight hours a day after work to do whatever you want with your life.

    Your job needs to be easy, predictable, and systematic. Your personal life can be interesting if you make it interesting.


  2. Anna
    Anna says:

    I recommend applying with the USPS. Go in November (I realize that is almost a year away, so if you can’t wait, apply in July) and apply for holiday work as a mail sorter. They have a huge demand at that time of year and hire more people, who are then called back for a year some time in the next six months.

    My husband is doing this job right now and it works for him. For easy-to-get jobs (rather than the kind that require more of a time investment to find where he would establish his niche and repore based on academic talent), he needs jobs with clear tasks and low social requirements. He has a lot of friends, but needs jobs that don’t depend on interacting with people’s feelings in a nuanced way. He is good in a job that requires some on-guard feature (which I would be horrible at), rather than a job that revolves around a tentative presumption of open trust (such as communications or customer service). This is because he gets linear-logical + confrontational in rocky situations This is BAD for human-dimension jobs.

    Writing this with my suddenly verye chatty, almost-2 year old to my left, so not sure if this is well-worded. Going to post rather than wait and rewrite, though!

  3. Anna
    Anna says:

    “…linear and logical and confrontational” would make that more clear. It looks like a minus and add equation as it was. But I’m saying all three – very linear and logical combined with confrontational.

  4. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Wouldn’t call center jobs require a high level of social skills even with their rules? I would think that anything that deals with people whether over the phone or in person requires social skills, especially customer service where you can get some unhappy people on the line. I’ve also found that government jobs are not that easy to get due to their stability (for better or worse, it’s hard to fire people) and their benefits. You have a master’s degree, is working for a college or university something you have an interest in? There are several areas in higher education that don’t require a high level of social interaction, such as research.

    • LisaP
      LisaP says:

      Yes, I wouldn’t recommend a call center job if the letter writer is introverted. I’m pretty sure if there is hell for introverts it’s a call center. A good summary of the job is: talking to people who hate you 8 hours a day. (no happy person calls customer service) I’m an introvert and I suffered through that type of job for about half a year and I’m not even someone who gets offended easily, but it takes a toll on you. The reason for the rules is due to how easily the conversations go downhill. The rules just keep the calls short, so you can talk to more crazy people in your shift. It doesn’t decrease the crazy.

      • LisaP
        LisaP says:

        Also based on how much the letter writer talks about being bullied in previous jobs, he/she probably wouldn’t last a day in a call center.

        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          Agreed. I know someone who has Asperger’s who worked in a call center briefly and it did not go well. You have to be able to read a person’s tone over the phone and try to diffuse an angry person’s mood. I don’t have Asperger’s and consider myself a people person able to talk to just about anyone and I would still view call center customer service as hell. I suggested academic research because you can focus on your research area and it’s social only as far as interacting with others in locating your research materials or if it’s a collaborative project.

  5. Jen McCormack
    Jen McCormack says:

    Have you thought about working in a library? Not at a service desk, that would be a disaster, but reshelving materials or processing new materials might be rewarding for you. That kind of work has very concrete rules and processes, and generally only minimal contact with the public. I’ve worked in libraries for over 25 years and every one I’ve worked in has had at least a few people that appeared to have Asperger’s, especially in technical services or working as pages (shelvers) . I believe you will find libraries a very accepting environment and a place where you can feel at least a little bit comfortable.

    I agree with Penelope that you probably aren’t really looking for a career change, you are looking for a job where you can feel comfortable and successful and have a steady reliable income. From the number of times in your letter that you refer to being bullied or people refusing to help you it sounds like your work experiences have left you feeling more like a victim than an employee, I hope that you find a more comfortable niche.

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      This posting might give you an idea of a technical services job for a public library system. It’s based in central Oklahoma.

      The downside is these positions often are not high paying. The position posted above has low hourly pay, but it’s also in a lower cost of living state. I’m not sure what an equivalent position in the Los Angeles area would pay.

  6. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Sounds a lot like me, even though I’ve never been diagnosed as having Aspergers (have a lot of aspie traits, though). But it’s very hard to separate your self-image and identity from what you do for a living. This is especially hard having grown up in (and currently living in) the Washington, DC area.

    Being about the same age as the letter writer (can pass for early to mid-30s), I’m looking for work and am daunted by the prospect of trying to compete with younger people. But I’ve also accepted that I will most likely not have a big career and am focusing on trying to find a job I like, improve my skill sets and continue to develop my talents and interests outside of work. But getting past that career/job = self-worth is very difficult.

  7. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Another thing the letter writer may want to consider is getting some kind of help for his social skills or some kind of counseling. Maybe the state he lives him has a workforce initiative program where they do aptitude testing, help with resumes and interviewing.

  8. Mike Skinner
    Mike Skinner says:

    I work in a call center. I am on a military pension and need to top up my wages. The kids I work with are a third my age but I go to work and put my headphones on and help people pay their electric bills. They are grateful when their payment gets accepted. It is good for me as it gets me out of the house and I have money in my bank account.
    I started scoring zeros for my performance but I am now scoring 95 to 100. It can get a bit boring. My people skills are improving but I find it difficult dealing with people who have been cut off and are telling me that they are dying without their life support mechanism. I used to tell them that they should have paid their bill earlier.

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