University and work experiences
Despite what you may hear in the media, many people who are autistic go to university and go on to have successful careers. I aim to highlight the wide range of careers that we can pursue by showcasing examples of autistic people who are working in a broad range of fields.
James Sinclair - Fashion Marketing student AND blogger
James describes himself as a part-time student, full-time autist on a one-man journey to change our understanding of what it means to have autism... so long as he can tear himself away from the latest Pokémon game.
James is the founder of an awesome autism awareness site called Autistic & Unapologetic. His website is one of my favourite sites. Click here to check it out.
Below, James talks about his decision to study fashion marketing and shares his university experience.
Although I can’t deny that I had lots of support from my family and friends when I said that fashion marketing was the profession I wanted to pursue, it’s fair to say that many of them had their doubts. Questions were aplenty, with many testing me about what I believed the next big trend would be and, whilst I always had an answer, many remained unconvinced.
Understandably they had a right to question why the autistic boy who insisted on wearing only PJ’s until the age of 8 wanted a career in fashion. However, what they didn’t realise is that, although I was late to finding an interest in clothing trends, I had one lifelong skill and interest which made me perfect for this career path: an interest in analytical trends.
It probably comes as a surprise and goes against the whole cosmopolitan image which most people have come to associate with fashion, but the reality is, fashion marketing is a nerd’s game. Spotting patterns in behaviour, making associations between worldwide activities and spending habits are all daily activities for a marketer and there are few people who spot patterns and crunch numbers quite as well as us autists. It was this genuine interest, along with a natural gift for all things maths, which drew me to marketing - and when you consider just how big the Fashion industry is, I knew that this was the right path for me. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing….
At university, I realised quite quickly that many of the other students had a different perspective of the ‘Fashion’ industry than me and this often left me feeling fairly distant from my class mates. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice people, but they would often complain when we did anything which didn’t involve design or celebrity endorsements; ignoring the lessons taught during law and coding, and critiquing the lecturers for what they were wearing instead.
Thankfully this all changed when I started my first group assignment, as I realised that my differences from my class mates weren’t a sign that I was in the wrong industry - but that I was right where I needed to be. I became aware that many of the skills which made me feel different actually put me in high demand and, whilst I did originally lack knowledge of industry culture (e,g. models names and brand histories), I could easily find someone who could support me in this area.
As such, many of my best marks came from team assignments at university, something which, along with my more current roles of interning at a major fashion retailer and providing part-time consultancy at local businesses, has demonstrated just how rewarding it can be to work with a diverse pool of personalities (and what group of people are more diverse than those on the autistic spectrum?).
These lessons are something which I wish all businesses understood, as it would not only help the truly shocking autistic employment figures, but it would also remind autistic people themselves just how transferable our skills are.
I feel lucky to be in the position I am - however, luck has nothing to do with it. Autistic people offer industries a unique perspective which, if harnessed, provides unparalleled benefits. This is something which I have learnt during my time in industry and, if anything, it’s what I hope readers take away today.