Aaron Tanner, this week’s guest on Horkey HandBook, thinks that people with Asperger Syndrome may want to consider working online. Aaron shares his own story of how he started freelancing as a writer and virtual assistant alongside his day job, and why the low pressure, low social interaction environment of online work is a good fit for him.
Thank you for sharing, Aaron!
I have a form of Autism called Asperger Syndrome.
Asperger Syndrome is characterized by having average to above average intelligence but deficiencies in social and communication skills – such as not recognizing a person’s tone of voice or body language – along with sensory processing issues.
Because Asperger’s falls on a spectrum of Autism disorders, not every person with the condition will exhibit the same traits. For example, I can recognize sarcasm, but have sensory issues, while the reverse may be true for someone else with the same condition.
The Struggles of Employment When You Have Asperger’s
Like many other people who have this condition, I have experienced triumphs and setbacks with holding a job.
Just to give you an idea of how common this is, it’s estimated that the unemployment rate for an adult with Asperger’s is around 85 percent.
In college, I wrote for the student newspaper. I’ve always wanted to write, not only as a means towards an income, but also to keep my mind engaged during difficult periods of my life.
I found Gina’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success in January this year. Before finishing the course, I had my first clients – a magazine based in Alabama where I live, and a lifestyle blog for people with Asperger’s.
A few months later, I enrolled in Gina’s course for virtual assistants. Thanks to her classes, I am now making money creating a newsletter for the dental lab where I am employed after showing them the newsletter I created for an Asperger related non-profit.
Not Letting My Disability Stop Me
Elizabeth Neumann wrote a guest post last year about her experience with starting an online business while dealing with chronic health issues. Many of the things she mentioned, such as having to manage weakness and fatigue, I experience myself due to Asperger’s and social anxiety.
She did not want to let her health get in the way of earning a living, and I felt the same way.
Here are the reasons why I think that someone with Asperger Syndrome should consider being a freelance writer or virtual assistant.
This list is by no means exhaustive:
1. The person with Asperger’s is in control of the interview process.
One of the reasons why people with Asperger’s have issues landing a job is because they cannot make it past a typical job interview in an office setting.
The reasons why include being unable to read non-verbal body language, having trouble looking the interviewer in the eye, or not answering questions quick enough.
With the interviewing process for freelance writing and virtual assistant work being mostly online, someone with Asperger’s can avoid the typical pitfalls of a normal interview process by having more control of trying to land a job.
For example, say you want to write for a magazine or a blog. Instead of going into the company headquarters for a typical interview, the person with Asperger’s can pitch online by sending carefully crafted queries to the publication they are interested in.
This way, they can communicate the same message without the pressure of sitting in a typical office or going through a typical interview process.
Before sending out my first query, I picked up a copy of the 2017 Writer’s Market book and searched for magazines to pitch ideas.
Since I live in Alabama, I found a regional magazine that caters to rural residents of the state. Instead of going to the magazine’s office and having an awkward interview in which I might have trouble with answering questions on the spot, I pitched a story idea by describing my past writing experience.
By writing a query and showing the editor the different examples of articles I wrote in the past, I sold my work to the company rather than my personality.
I found that disclosing or not disclosing whether one has Asperger’s during a typical workplace interview remains a controversial subject in this particular community. Because I work freelance, I do not have to disclose my disability to my employer because the amount of work I complete is up to me. I control my work environment.
2. Networking online is easier than networking in person.
When it comes to Virtual Assistant work, sometimes networking has to be done in person, which can be a weakness for those with Asperger’s. As Seb Duper points out in his blog post about what he learned about networking while being new to freelancing, the process does not have to involve talking to complete strangers, as one’s network can also include friends and family who might need some extra help at their place of business.
This can help take the pressure off someone with Asperger’s to discuss business with an unfamiliar person.
This is how I approached networking. I went to the head of the marketing department at my company and showed them a copy Gina’s 150+ Services you can offer as a VA. I asked them if they would consider hiring me for one of these positions. The marketing department head and I have known each other since I started at the company over two and a half years ago, so I was comfortable with approaching her.
After the marketing director discussed my ideas with the Vice President of the company, they agreed to put me in charge of restarting the company newsletter. They had discontinued the newsletter due to a lack of time.
So now, in addition to my job running work in the mornings, I have flexible hours to work on the newsletter either at the company or at home. I received a lot of positive feedback from co-workers on the relaunch of the newsletter.
3. Your results are more important than being a social butterfly when you work online.
In a typical work setting, the person with Asperger’s faces a range of specific issues. For example, sensory related things that most people take for granted, such as fluorescent lights or someone wearing perfume, can be excruciating for someone with Asperger’s. Also, their social awkwardness often makes others uncomfortable.
The typical person with Asperger’s is a no-nonsense, get-down-to-business worker as results are more important than trying to be everybody’s friend.
Freelance writing and virtual assistant work are often done from home, and the results of the end product are more important than trying to respond positively to office gossip. Plus, the job involves working alone instead of in a team environment where those with Asperger’s often struggle.
4. Freelance writing or VA work is great for someone with an eye for detail.
One of the strengths of someone with Asperger’s is their eye for detail. According to Autism/Asperger’s advocate Dr. Temple Grandin, some of the best jobs for those with Asperger’s, are journalism, commercial art, and accounting. That’s because people with Asperger’s have a high degree of accuracy with facts, figures, and designs.
You need these strengths to be a good freelance writer. Even better, someone with Aspergers could thrive in different virtual assistant jobs. From freelance bookkeeping, website design or providing tech service during webinars, the possibilities are endless.
Going back to the example of the newsletter, I can see different patterns of where everything should go and how it will look visually to the reader. When it comes to writing stories for magazines, I can picture in my head where different pieces of the story should go to improve readability. The wiring in my brain allows me to see ideas and scenarios that others often overlook, almost as if I am thinking outside the box.
The disadvantage of talking or having an extreme interest in a subject may be off-putting to people who do not have Asperger’s. However, that same trait can be a strength in niches where you need specialist knowledge.
I would strongly encourage those who have Asperger’s to consider online classes to see if being a virtual assistant or a freelance writer is the right path for them. Gina has been super helpful to me in answering my questions, and her courses are way cheaper than spending thousands of dollars on a college degree, which many of these freelance jobs do not require.
If you decide that freelancing online is for you, here are a few other things to keep in mind.
Do not start off with too many clients.
People with Asperger’s tend to get overwhelmed to the point of shutting down. Instead, aim for one client as a way to earn a little extra spending money. After a while, add another customer.
The key is for the person with Asperger’s to feel like they are contributing to society, even if it is just a few hours a week from the comfort of their own home. You get to decide how many hours you can work with a particular client.
Volunteer if you’re not ready for a paid gig.
I think that if you’re not ready for paid work (or haven’t found any yet), you should start a blog on a topic of interest or volunteer to put together a newsletter or manage email for a non-profit.
This way, the experience can be put on a resume. And there is more room to make mistakes and learn from them while volunteering.
Put together an online portfolio.
I recommend that anyone with a disability start an online portfolio of their work to send to potential clients. My published work is available on Contently for everyone to see.
The world of freelance writing and virtual assistant work has opened up a whole new world for me, and I hope the same opportunities will open up for someone else with Asperger’s. I hope more people with the condition will choose this line of work as a way to lower the unemployment rate among this particular segment of the population.
Do you have a freelance full-time job or side hustle due to a disability or in spite of your disability?
Aaron Tanner splits his time between a regular job at a nationally-known dental lab (where he also runs the company newsletter), and freelance writing in his spare time for Alabama Living magazine. His blog about living with Asperger Syndrome can be found at www.launchaspergers.org under the Rocket City Notebook.