The Spectrum – Part 4 – Opportunities

Please note: the terminology used in this article is to show the type of language often used around autism, for example `mild autism`, or `low functioning`, and is not the author`s preferred choice of words, but used to illustrate a point.  

There has always been a debate about how much, or how little opportunity people with autism are given when it comes to things such as getting a job. But are their more opportunities open to certain groups of people on the spectrum than to others? If so, why is this, and how can it be changed?

One thing that is apparent is that there is more of an expectation on people who have so-called `milder` autism to conform and fit in to neuro-typical society. If the issues people face are not as obvious, and actually exist below the surface of their mind, then there is often more pressure on them to overcome these issues, and live a more neuro-typical lifestyle. The problem with this is that it is ridiculous. In fact to the autistic person they may not seem like an issue, but an advantage. Autistic people shouldn’t have to act any less autistic to get the opportunities that are open to others. But putting this to one side, a person with supposedly `mild` autism might be perfectly able to go and take on mainstream education or work, and then again they might not. Their struggle might go completely unnoticed by those around them, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a struggle. But what is the other side of this for people with what might be called `severe` autism? It could be that some autistic people may struggle to do anything other than surviving their day to day life. This doesn’t mean that their day to day life is terrible, but it does mean that certain opportunities aren’t open to them. But this is not all autistic people, in fact it is not even most. A large number of supposedly `low-functioning` people would work, and would take up higher education if the right opportunities were presented to them. It is possible that they might need a lot more help and support to get to this point, but just because one autistic person is described as `mild` and the other `severe` doesn’t mean that the first should be presented with opportunities that the other is not.

So what can be done about this? Fundamentally there needs to be more of an understanding of what autism is. Some aspects of autism are a lot more obvious than others, and the reality is that saying somebody is `mildly autistic` doesn’t make them any more neuro-typical – they are still autistic, and if they go out in to the world and get a job and a family, and everything that comes along with this, it will be as an autistic person, and not as somebody who is a `little bit autistic` or doesn’t really have any of the challenges that autism can bring. Also, saying somebody is `mildly autistic` doesn’t suddenly give them a magic ability to do things that were previously impossible for them. Somebody might not be able to stand the amount of social contact needed to attend college. And this is ok. Sometimes people described as `mildly autistic` can feel as if there is an incredible pressure on them to go out and do the things that their neuro-typical contempories are doing. This can create serious problems. And at the same time there needs to be a lot more respect for what people who are described as being at the more severe end of the spectrum can achieve. There are authors and bloggers who write very eloquently on the subject of autism, or painters who paint wonderful works of art, and yet need support with personal care, and are completely non-verbal.

What people need to understand is that life isn’t one single activity – people aren`t good or bad at life as a whole. There are thousands of things a person can do, and every person will be bad and good to varying degrees at each thing. Just because somebody is classically autistic doesn’t mean that they should be dismissed. And autistic individuals with Asperger`s for example, shouldn’t be expected to try to suppress their autism, and behave in a more neuro-typical way. With autism everything should be based on the individual. This is the only way to ensure that everybody on the spectrum gets the opportunities they deserve.

  • Jim Jacobson says:

    I agree with Paddy-Joe. There should be opportunity for autistic people. The needs, capabilities and opportunities all vary widely, so there is no one way to capture how to confront the challenge of providing autistic individuals with opportunity. Sometimes I am optimistic about it. I captured that in a piece I wrote called “Look to the Autistics” ( Other times the sheer challenge of it all overwhelms me and I can’t think of any single solution. But I don’t have to. We need to continue to discuss this. Thanks to Paddy-Joe, we are.

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