I'm Autistic and I Work with Kids in a Museum [ND@Work]

Brendan Raymond  |  18/11/2020

Brendan Raymond shares his career journey and his tips for other autistic people to pursue their creative side.

My name is Brendan Raymond, I’m a Pro Member of the Neurodiversity Media Resource Library, and I work as a Visitor Experience Host (Audience Engagement) in the Prehistoric Playground at the Australian Museum.

"The biggest thing is figuring out what fits for you."

Do you have an autism diagnosis?

I don’t actually have an official diagnosis. But back in 2013, when I was 20, the question of being on the autism spectrum (though at the time it was called Asperger’s) was brought up for my brother, and then my Dad, and then for me. Initially, I didn’t really pay much attention to it, and sort of laughed it off.

But after I went to a presentation from Tony Attwood and a couple of others (interestingly enough, specifically focussing on autism in girls), it ticked a lot of boxes for me. Suddenly, plenty of things that had been just “me” things became “autism” things. And I had a community of people around me that were like me, that I could immediately recognise and empathise with in deeper ways. And that was incredible.

The strange part was that when I went to the psychologist to get an official diagnosis, they said that I’d likely had it in the past, but grown out of it. Perhaps I’m remembering the phrasing wrong. Regardless, these days I know that autism isn’t something you can just “grow out of” - it’s something that you can learn to mask, or even thrive in, but your brain doesn’t just turn back to being “normal” again (whatever that is!).

What did you want to be when you grew up?

So many different things. Let’s see how many I can remember; a writer, a farmer, a palaeontologist, an archaeologist, a detective, a musician, a forensic scientist, and many more. I was passionate about so many different things, and that’s still true. It can be difficult sometimes being able to do all the different things that I enjoy, but it’s nice being able to enjoy a variety of things rather than just a few.

How easy or hard was it to find work as an autistic person?

I’ve always found the process of finding work extremely challenging - but more on a psychological and emotional level than anything else. You go to a jobs website, and you’re presented with a wall of jobs that are up for grabs. You click on a job, and you’re presented with a wall of text that you’re supposed to measure up to. It’s easy to feel small compared to that, and to feel like you don’t measure up.

Often, I’d look through hundreds of jobs, but only apply for a couple; because they were the only ones that I felt somewhat confident in being able to do, based on what was being asked. Interviews I was usually more okay with, because I’m decent at reading people, and connecting with people quickly; so I can present well most of the time. If a question comes that I don’t know the answer to, though, I can find it very difficult to come up with an example on the spot, particularly from my own history and experience - my brain just freezes up.

How did you find your current job?

Funnily enough, it was while I was doing my previous job! In my previous role, one of the tasks I had was searching for open roles that we could fill with our partner companies. This job popped up in one of those searches, and I immediately saved it to the side to look at later, because it looked like a perfect role for me! And in many ways, it has been.

What challenges did you face during the job seeking process?

The biggest challenge was just the time that it took. There was a long time in between submitting the application and getting any response (beyond a confirmation of the submission); and though that was somewhat expected, being a government role, it also made me stress and worry a bit. When I was contacted and I got an interview, there was a solid chunk of time after that as well before I heard that I got the job. And at the same time as this was happening, I was looking at other roles and wondering if I should apply for those, not sure whether this would go through or not, all that sort of thing. So that was challenging, but we got through it in the end.

Did you disclose that you were autistic when applying for the job? If so, what was the reaction? 

Yes, I disclosed as part of my application. I’m quite public about being on the spectrum - it’s something that I mention fairly frequently on social media, and interact with neurodiverse groups quite a bit here and there. So to me it was something I’d always do - particularly because I see it as a strength and a good thing, not a disability or a weakness. I also disclosed to the team in general during my training after I got the role.

The reaction was good - people appreciated me telling them about being on the spectrum, and I’ve had a couple of good conversations with people about what that means and looks like for me, and for others. I’ve also been able to be part of the first Early Birds event at the museum, which was an event catered for kids with autism and the like, when the museum opened up early and only let a small number of people in, had sounds down lower and less bright lights and dark spaces, and other accommodations for people with sensory issues. That was awesome to be a part of.

How does your current workplace support you at work?

For me, this isn’t something that I need too much of. For the most part, I’m able to just do the work without any specific supports in place for me. But my manager has been great at taking care of us as a team, and checking in with me every now and then to see how I’m doing. I’ve also really appreciated how much he encourages me and the team in what we do - particularly in times when I’ve felt like I don’t have as much to offer in the role (I don’t have a museum or science background), and can get that impostor syndrome creeping up - he’s good at swatting it down again, and reminding me of the great work that I’m doing. So that’s been awesome.

Looking back, what kind of careers did you feel you were suited to?

My understanding of this has changed so much over the years. My skills and interests and personality can all take me in different directions in terms of what works, so it makes it really challenging to find something that fits really well; though I can fit reasonably into most places. Many of my passions are in creative areas, like music and writing and acting and performing, which are difficult to find work in. I also have some decent admin skills, which I’ve used for jobs before - but then also realised that my personality wants to be interacting and connecting with people really frequently, which admin often doesn’t match well with. In my current work I’m able to connect with a lot of people, be creative, use presentation, public speaking, and performing skills, and learn more about science and history too. I really enjoy it.

What's your top three tips for autistic people in getting a job?

The biggest thing is figuring out what fits for you. That’s something that has taken me quite a while to figure out, and chances are it will still be changing in the future as I’m changing. But figuring out what sort of job you fit in, or what sort of work environment, or the amount of work you’re able to do, or the sort of people that you work well with (or don’t work well with), is really helpful.

Another big thing is being more open. I know there have been a bunch of times when there are places that I didn’t even think of looking before, but as soon as I did, opened up a bunch more options and opportunities.

Also, sometimes you need to start small. Even though what you might want is going straight into full-time work, it’s sometimes better to start off with a little bit of guaranteed work than no work. And it can often help you get some momentum towards getting more work too.