Planning Your Career Through Intense Interests


Yenn Purkis is an author and autism advocate and also works as a policy adviser in the Australian Public Service. They are a much sought after presenter who speaks about topics related to autism at various conferences and events, including for TEDx Canberra in 2013.

Barb Cook and I recently wrote a book for autistic young adults called Planning Your Career Through Intense Interests. We are both autistic advocates and authors and have a wealth of experience in employment and small business.

In this article, I want to share some thoughts on using your passion to drive a career. For an autistic person, our passionate interest is frequently what drives us. My parents said that when I was a kid and had a new passion, I would pick up information on it as if by osmosis.

This was in the days before the internet but I would find out what I wanted to know through a variety of means. This was because thinking about it, talking about it and learning about it filled me with that wonderful thing that is autistic joy. 

As a middle-aged autistic person I still have passions. My current passions are autism advocacy and my paid job. To have not one but two careers that relate closely to my passions is an absolute gift. So it was a bit of a given that I should coauthor a book like this. 

The book sets out a range of useful tips and strategies for autistic young people. Often autistic people get told that we can’t do this or that job due to our autism. But there are loads of jobs and autistic people can do any one of them. Being educated about what jobs exist and what they entail is a good way to start thinking about what jobs align with your passion.

When I applied for my public service job in 2006 my autistic mentor said I shouldn’t do that job because ‘it isn’t autism friendly’. Another autistic friend related his own unsuccessful experience in the public service and assumed that meant I would also struggle. What actually happened was that I joined the public service and absolutely loved it.

It turned out that I had the capability to make it autism friendly through educating managers and colleagues and the actual job itself was suited to my skills and interests and my passion for politics. Despite being told autistics could not do this job, I am still in the service after almost 17 years and I love it now almost as much as I did when I joined in 2007. 

Another important thing when thinking about work is your skills. Skills do not need to have come from having another job, they can simply be things you are good at. Some skills might include writing, art, coding, gaming, research, specific knowledge on a topic, categorising and making lists, using particular programs, developing apps and websites or speaking another language.

Autistic people often have great skills related to our passions. The knowledge and expertise we bring to our passion can translate really well into the world of work. 

Autistic employees also bring a wealth of positive attributes to the workplace, including:

  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to spot errors and low tolerance for errors and mistakes
  • Dedication 
  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Good work ethic 
  • Seeing patterns in things
  • Passions - especially if work relates to your passion
  • Empathy and kindness
  • Focus 

Despite these attributes, there are a number of challenges that autistic staff can experience. Sometimes our employers don’t ‘get’ us and expect things from us that we are not easily able to do. Sometimes managers or colleagues will be hostile and ableist. Sometimes this is intentional but sometimes it is due to ignorance.  

Autistic staff can also feel excluded socially at work and can have our motivation and meaning misinterpreted. Sometimes autistic staff are not ‘out’ so they are seen as being a strange neurotypical person rather than a perfectly functional autistic person.

Unfortunately, due to these issues it is very common for autistic staff to churn through one unsuitable job after another. And even if the content of the work is engaging and related to a passion, sometimes the colleagues or mangers can make even the nicest of jobs a nightmare.

Addressing these challenges often relates to education and increasing autism knowledge for employers - at all levels of the business. If an autistic employee and their manager work well together it can result in some amazing work performance and a happy autistic employee.

Work should not be a negative experience for autistic people - or anyone else - and with goodwill and respect these issues can be resolved or avoided. Everyone is responsible for making work a safe and enjoyable place where all staff feel that they belong. 

I just want to finish saying our passions are a great driver for work. You can find a dream job and you can find work that you love. Being aware of your passion, your skills and interests, what you love, your personality traits and what sorts of things make you excited and engaged can help in your career journey.