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I suffer from mild-moderate autism. Due to late intervention, it will never be totally controlled. So, I was wondering if I can handle the workplace environment? Should I even try for on-site opportunities? Are there careers left for afflicted people like me? I'm planning to work in one of IT fields.

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    There are almost certainly more opportunities than you think. Personally, I think you should try to find an environment that you feel more comfortable working in. That may involve working off-site. Nov 2, 2022 at 11:37
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    In what sector are you trying to get a job? R&D? IT? Science and technology? Childcare? ...
    – Dominique
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:42
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    How severe is your eye contact avoidance? Are you worried about anything else or just the eye contact thing? Nov 2, 2022 at 16:46
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    autism is NEVER controlled, no matter at what age it was diagnosed (I should know, I am autistic).
    – jwenting
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:37
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    I wouldn't use the word "afflicted", because that is typically used for diseases: things that are objectively bad, whereas autism is just being different, and the difficulty there is generally not inherent to being on the spectrum, but rather because of how other people act, and finding a way to fit in with that.
    – NotThatGuy
    Nov 3, 2022 at 9:03

11 Answers 11

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Yes.

Source: I work in IT and being on one of the spectrums is practically a job requirement.

Okay, so, jokes aside - I'm being semi-serious. There are a lot of fields where attributes like hyper-attention to detail are incredibly useful.

You might struggle with work relationships, and that's fine - you aren't at your job to socialize; you're at your job to work.

With the whole COVID-19 thing, working remotely gives even greater leeway for people who struggle with interpersonal relationships - which means you can minimize the degree to which your particular quirks might become apparent to your colleagues.

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    "you're at your job to work" -- many jobs require collaboration, which is a social process.
    – Barmar
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:32
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    collaboration isn't socialising, @Barmar
    – jwenting
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:38
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    True, but it still requires social engagement. If you're working together in person, not looking at your colleague is going to be off-putting.
    – Barmar
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:48
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    @Barmar Remember "Silicon Valley" show? Two superb engineers sit back to back in a tiny room for days, but communicate only online - it is more comfortable and productive this way. There is very little exaggeration in this scene.
    – jhnlmn
    Nov 2, 2022 at 21:35
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    @jhnlmn I'm sure it varies a lot depending on the specific job and specific culture, but I've worked at 4 different places, and each one involved walking around to colleagues' desks on a daily to hourly basis. Nov 2, 2022 at 21:52
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I'm probably autistic based on the symptoms I've read but I've never been officially tested. I'm a programmer. I do well but I did have to improve my social interactions from a professional standpoint. I went from being painfully shy to going to parties and doing some public speaking and I do fine giving presentations. It's taken me 40+ years to get to this point. It was very challenging for me to interpret subtle social cues, for one thing.

One aspect of being a professional means you are able to grow as a person.

Just because you have been given a label doesn't mean that label should limit you. You will simply have to work on yourself, and you do that by going out of your comfort zone to meet your own challenges. You can do this more than you think you can! I believe in you.

Since I was forced to take a speech class, that actually helped me a lot. And in my job I was forced to do more speeches, which also helped.

You can improve yourself, but it's all up to you. Until then, fake it until you make it. Don't let a label limit you. Go for any job you want, on site or not. Be open to growth and improvement.

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    This is by far the best answer. The OP's question is phrased in an extremely pessimistic way, as if everything was set in stone by a diagnostic. But it's not.
    – Stef
    Nov 2, 2022 at 15:52
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    Also, keep in mind that no solution is a one size fits all either. Doing speeches worked for this person but may not work for everyone.
    – Clockwork
    Nov 4, 2022 at 8:09
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    Correct. Doing speeches helped me realize we have much more in common that we think, and that I had stinking thinking which I had to change. The people in the first speech class were a wide variety of people (I think done on purpose) and were very supportive of all.
    – user77853
    Nov 4, 2022 at 12:05
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"The Workplace" is incredibly broad. If you cannot make eye contact, you will never be a good fit for a customer facing job. Customers expect eye contact and they do not care enough about the explanation.

Your colleagues should care. And be able to work with you. What is important for that is that you work in a tight group of a few people that know you. A huge faceless corporation and a job where you meet many of the corporate drones over the course of a day without getting to know them better is just as bad a fit as customer service.

And it always helps if you are good at your actual job. If you can pull your own weight and maybe even be helpful to others, people will not care about quirks that do not actually influence your ability to do your job. However, if you are not actually good at the job, people will find anything to make you look bad. That is just people. They don't magically change from being in highschool to being in the workforce. They are just a little bit more afraid of the "headmaster" now. But underneath, they are the same.

So, what are really bad fits for you? Anything with walk-in people you have to meet face to face: Like retail. Or being a junior systems administrator at a big corporate behemoth, where you run around and fix random coworker's computer problems all day.

What would be a good fit? Software developer for example. Perhaps even remote. Due to COVID, I have not actually "faced" any of my colleagues for weeks. I'm not sure if two people looking at their screens instead of into their slightly off-angle camera would even count as "eye contact" for you, even with the camera on. Maybe something like working for the IRS (tax authority). I doubt one of those people ever sees more than mountains of paper and the same colleagues every day at the coffee machine. Fisherman? They sure don't have walk in customers that care for eye contact. Scientist in a lab? There are so many jobs out there that do not need first glance approval from random strangers.

There are tons of different jobs out there. Some will be a good fit for you because they mitigate your weakness, some will be a really bad fit because they require something you cannot give.

Look around and find a job that you would like to do. There is so many different one's out there, I'm sure there are plenty to pick from.

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    Note that "customer facing" doesn't looking at someone's face. It just means someone that communicates directly with a customer. Nov 2, 2022 at 11:35
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    @GregoryCurrie But except for online/phone support, customer-facing people do usually work with customers in person and need to make eye contact.
    – Barmar
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:24
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    I disagree that jr. sysadmin is a bad fit. While you do have to interact with users, you're primarily dealing with the equipment. And the stereotype of computer geeks being socially awkward can work in your favor, the users may confuse ASD with this.
    – Barmar
    Nov 2, 2022 at 17:35
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    @Barmar There are a non-trivial amount of jobs where customer interaction is via phones or other electronic means. Nov 2, 2022 at 18:35
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    ASD = autism spectrum disorder Nov 3, 2022 at 0:12
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This'll get a bit anecdotal; sorry about that.

I'm on the spectrum too, including the eye contact problem. I work in IT in Germany and never had any problems on a primarily technical career path. The only part I really take care of is making sure that I am always introduced as (some kind of) technical counselor in customer meetings, just to level expectations on the customers side. Among my colleagues on the technical team I am seen as "having some quirks, being a bit eccentric", but also as the database of random and obscure technical details. So I definitely do have my place in the company. (Okay, it may help that my company does not exclusively have career paths that end in management, but it also has paths that stay on the technical side.)

To answer the question: Yes, there are many great opportunities and career paths that you can thrive on. I just recommend to look for a field that primarily involves your special interests (mine would be math and programming). And when choosing a company, ask in the job interview about the possible career paths inside the company. If they offer a path that keeps focused on your special interests without adding too many social responsibilities: Great, you found the company you want to work for!

Because you mentioned eye contact explicitly: When listening, try to watch the mouth of the speaker. Most people won't notice that you're not making true eye contact and you may even learn a bit of lip-reading along the way (I did). When speaking, lean back a bit and lift your gaze to any point to the top-right of the listener, which signals "I'm thinking deeply" to most neurotypicals.

Another thing that bothers me in the office is noise, due to my sensory processing issues. I'm lucky that I did find noise cancelling over-ear headphones that are big enough to not exert pressure on my earlobes, so I can wear them for ten hours straight. When I tried them first, I suddenly had the feeling of having found something I needed all my life without realizing it. Bonus: fewer colleagues trying to distract you.

On a personal note, because some of the language used in the question raised a few hints at red flags to me: Stop suffering (in your mind). Let the neurotypicals suffer a bit, too ;-)

What I want to say with this: Don't see autism as a bad thing. Don't deprecate yourself because of that! Yes, you will not be able to "control your condition" to the full extent society wants you to, even if that "intervention" started in your childhood. It's just not in your nature. Yes, you'll always have friction between you and the rest of society, but don't let them make you think that it's your fault! It's almost always a mutual protocol issue ("double empathy problem" in psychological papers), and you are good at observing, extracting, learning, testing, failing and refining neurotypical social protocols, because that's what you've been doing all your life -- while the neurotypical folks never wasted a thought on how to communicate with neurodiverse people. (Also, if this "intervention" involved ABA, I suspect you've been indoctrinated with "autism is bad!!!" -- in which case I really wish for you to find an autist community that helps you drive this notion out of your system. Autists are just different, not wrong! I found such a community for myself on Mastodon, but your mileage may vary.)

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    Strongly seconding the last couple of paragraphs. Autistic people get stereotyped as "inflexible", and yet on things like eye contact most of us have grown up expecting to do 100% of the flexing. Nov 4, 2022 at 3:43
  • Since this answer claims to be anecdotical and focuses on eye contact, here’re my 2 cents : I once add this issue and I can’t remember why, but although its content should be taken with a grain of salt, an NLP book from Richard Bandler and John Grinder (either "The Structure of Magic" or "Frogs into Princes", I’m not sure) had an incredible effect — to the point I now have to think about looking elsewhere sometimes to avoid appearing creepy… Nov 4, 2022 at 15:21
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Should I even try for on-site opportunities?

Yes. You can try all the remote, hybrid, and onsite jobs.

I know some people at my previous companies who are "on the spectrum - mildly". But, they focus on their work, do a great job, and earn the respect of the coworkers and the bosses.

There are quite a few people on this site who are also "on the spectrum" like you, and they have very good careers in the IT industry. Usually, they have to try to adjust to the workplace environments, but in the end, everything works out well for them. I hope that they will answer your questions in more details pretty soon here on this site.

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The symptoms and severity of autism is quite varied, and so are workplaces and roles, so it's difficult to give a clear and decisive answer to this, but I'll do my best.

Eye contact generally doesn't matter that much in the workplace (since you mention that specifically). This mostly just helps "connect" with coworkers and to make people more comfortable around you, but there are other ways to connect with people and/or make them comfortable, and in many companies you can be successful without being all that close to your coworkers (if you don't care much for that).

Autism in general may include a few things that could make it more difficult to survive or thrive in the workplace, but these are mostly solvable problems. For example, some given workplace may expect you to proactively ask others for feedback on your performance, whereas in other places this feedback would be formalised and/or pushed from management's side. If you know that it's good/expected to get somewhat regular feedback (even if that's "everything's fine"), this may not happen automatically, and that people may not tell you about problems with your performance unless you ask, that's already most of the problem solved.

There are a few unwritten social/workplace rules like the above that you might need to figure out, but those can be figured out.

There may also be some workplaces where you can't fit in or jobs that you can't be successful in, depending on what you struggle with and like/dislike. For example, there are roles and companies where a lot of communication with others is required. While being on the autism spectrum doesn't necessarily mean you have struggle with communicating with others, those things are correlated, and it may also be that you just don't want to communicate with others a lot. You should to a large degree be able to figure out how much communication is required in a role by asking the right questions during the interview process.

Interviews are another thing someone on the autism spectrum might struggle with. For this, I'd mostly recommend getting more experienced friends or family (even if they don't know much about autism) to help you prepare for interviews and have mock interviews with, and researching interview tips and common interview questions, so you know what interviewers expect from you in general and what they expect when they ask specific questions.


There is also the question of whether to tell coworkers (or interviewers) you're on the autism spectrum.

In general, it shouldn't be necessary, and you'll find that many people will simply accept you the way you are by default, without needing a label stuck on you. But in some cases it may be necessary or useful to tell others (especially to explain why one struggles with unwritten rules or why one comes across as anti-social, if applicable).

In other cases, you may find that people treat you worse if they know you're on the autism spectrum. This rarely comes from people having negative prejudices about autism, and more commonly comes people just not understanding it all that well, or being too careful about how they treat you.

I'll leave that for you to figure out.


Note: it can make it a lot easier to be successful in the workplace (and in social situations outside of work) if you have someone who you can talk to and get tips from about how to handle specific situations and how to deal with autism, whether that's a friend, a therapist or random people or resources on the internet.

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It's easy to focus on the weaknesses of autism, but there are also strengths. Not to overgeneralize, but some of my favorite coworkers have been on the spectrum, because they tend to be direct, thorough, and fastidious. That can make you a great fit for roles like quality assurance that other people struggle with.

I would recommend you pick one or two coworkers who you can trust to help you navigate difficult situations. Do the same to help you prepare and practice for interviews.

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I am medically diagnosed autistic and I work in FAANG remotely, don't give up! it takes time.

  • Communication: I have difficulty talking in person and in meetings so I use text chatting as a way to compensate for it.
  • Focusing: it's very difficult to focus on one thing so I try to work on many things all at once.

Best of luck. FAANG is full of autistic people like us.

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This depends very much on the workplace, and whether you have adults working there or children. I worked at one place where one employee sometimes would hide under his desk for half an hour. No problem at all. We just all ignored it. Why should I worry about this? But with different people, that could be very much a problem. If you have someone who reacts badly to this, there goes your peaceful environment. (But in any workplace where I have been, I would have been sure that several people would have stepped in).

So what if you have problems making eye contact? I don't care. Many people don't care. I'd say "that's OP, that's just what he is like, I can live with it". If you have insecure people (children) around who need to dump on someone to feel better about themselves, that's a problem. And either management or colleagues step in, or the problem becomes your problem.

Summary: I worked in many places where you would be just fine.

PS. I worked at one place where a software developer suddenly turned out to be a transgender woman. Almost everyone, except one person, had no problem with it at all. Guess who left the company in the end. (My rule: I don't mind working with someone who wears a dress or a skirt.)

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It's a little hard to do a yes/no decision based on knowing nothing about you. Also there are so many kinds or expressions auf autism.

That said, having experience in the IT business for decades, all I can say is "welcome to the club". I suspect a healthy amount of people I work with regularly are somewhere on the spectrum and are doing just fine, or even great. Some aspects of IT actually profit greatly from some forms of "specialization".

Aside from that, no characteristic should keep you from trying anything. Going beyond your comfort zone - all of the usual social media memes aside - will probably benefit anyone in the long run.

Source: I started out quite introvert, certainly having a very hard time meeting eyes and all of that. I don't know about autism, but I certainly do have some quite specific character traits (e.g. a very strong perfectionism) and am certainly able to work for very long time on very small (to others) issues with extreme focus. Never hurt me in any kind; at some point in your business life you will come across issues, but then you sit down and figure out where you have to work on drawing borders for yourself.

The IT world has come up with plenty of mechanisms for that (i.e., agile development methods where everything is quite time-boxed and well described with little open-ended tasks; or Kanban-style ticket-based work where it is quite easy to get in an undistracted flow state, and so on and forth).

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"The workplace" is infinitely diverse. Yes, there are spots where you fit, that is sure; and you'll probably find one of them because you are in the lucky position that you possess a sought-after skill, so you will have many opportunities.

Maybe this consideration will make you feel more confident: The workplace differs from real life in that it has an inherent purpose, a goal for which it exists: To get stuff done so that your boss can buy another Ferrari. Most interaction serves this goal. Socializing for the sake of socializing is optional, if it happens at all. If you get things done (I'm confident you will) and communicate what's technically necessary you'll be fine in many positions in tech.

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