Alternative Income Opportunities for Autistic Adults

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Before you ask, no this isn’t an MLM, or any type of scam. Though, those are a huge danger to aspies looking for online income opportunities as persons on the spectrum are unusually trusting & as such are soft targets for MLM recruiters. I’ve written an article on how to identify such scams here.

Rather, this is an article I felt obligated to write as an autistic adult who has enjoyed some degree of success building various online income sources over many years, upon realizing that I did so for lack of conventional employment opportunities and that many other autistic adults are in the same boat.

I’ve worked a couple regular jobs. Two tech support call center jobs, a temp job bug testing new hardware for Sharp Electronics over a Summer, fast food when I was 17. But I experienced the usual problems persons on the spectrum typically do in these situations.

My metrics were good. On paper, I was a model employee. But I put people off, made them feel uneasy. Besides that, although I was regularly the top ranked call center worker for the level 2 tier, when I was put on the spot and subjected to a listen-in test, I felt overwhelmed, choked, and failed the test.

This, and various other lesser issues such as sensory problems, being easily overwhelmed, meltdowns, etc. resulted in a spotty work history which makes it very difficult to get hired in this day and age. I resorted to delivering food with Postmates for 6 months to make rent but found that similarly harrowing.

People become very irate when hungry, are very particular about receiving everything exactly as they requested (not my job, I just delivered what the restaurant gave me) and are not shy about taking out their frustrations on the driver if anything is unsatisfactory. Dealing with erratically behaved people like this every evening was something I only did out of financial desperation.

Thank goodness, then, that other options exist. Gig economy stuff remains a decent last resort, but I do mean an absolute last resort. They will generally take anybody regardless of work history, but for the reasons I’ve detailed earlier, it’s far from an ideal way for autistic adults to earn income.

Most of the other aspies I talk to are borderline agoraphobic homebodies who don’t like to venture outside unless they have to. Even if they have advanced to the point where regular trips outside aren’t a big deal for them, it remains a struggle and something they dislike having to do. Their comfort zone, or mine at least, is indoors in front of a computer.

So ideally, they should be able to find ways to earn money from within their homes, in front of their computers. There have long been options for earning money online, like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or compensated online surveys like Swagbucks or Survey Junkie. But they pay pennies initially, the money doesn’t get reasonably good until you’ve been at it for years, building up your rating.

Not a very economical use of time/energy. Still potentially a good back pocket option though if nothing else works out. I knew someone who paid rent, utilities & food bills with mturk, but just barely, and only after several years of working her way up the pay scale. Even a minimum wage fast food job would’ve been a better deal for her, except she was bedridden.

So, what else is out there? Medium is a good place to start, being one of a handful of paid blogging platforms. I don’t do awesome on Medium but I pull in $20-$30 monthly of passive income just by having my oeuvre of short stories & novellas available on here. I do have to pay $50/yr to be a Medium partner in order to qualify to earn money on my articles, but I make that back many times over.

I could probably increase my Medium earnings if I published articles regularly. For a few months I was making around $150 a month from Medium, but I was also publishing content daily, and submitting articles to on-site publications which greatly increased viewership. Platforms like these rely heavily on your ability to cultivate a following. That is not necessarily a strong suit of aspies, who aren’t famous for charisma.

However, we are very good at doing things we enjoy relentlessly, consistently, and over very long timescales. Which is an absolutely essential skill if you want to be an internet content creator, which is what Medium writers are. We normally associate that phrase with Youtubers, but Medium is a very similar platform, just for writing rather than video.

I also cross-post my content on Hive.blog which is another paid blogging platform, but this time it pays you in cryptocurrency. Prior to publishing on Hive.blog I published on Steemit instead, which I don’t recommend as ownership changed hands some months ago and many changes for the worse were made which have effectively doomed the site.

These sites require a working understanding of how to make a crypto wallet on sites such as Coinbase or Bittrex, which may seem intimidating but infact is about as simple as making a new Gmail account. This is necessary to receive crypto payments, and to cash them out as USD to your bank account.

However, like Medium or Youtube, your earnings depend very heavily on your popularity. This is not a get rich quick scheme, nor a regular job which starts paying you an agreed upon amount right away that you can rely on. This is a multi-year investment. If this is the route you choose, the sooner you get started, the better. Mix is a site you can use to promote your articles for free, which has been a big help pulling in new readers.

I am bullish about paid blogging platforms because they represent a lucrative application of/outlet for special interests. My special interest is undersea habitats, vehicles, diving equipment and other marine technologies. Accordingly I’ve written a great many articles available on both Medium & Hive.blog about how these technologies work, how they are similar to space habitat life support technologies and so on.

This is what makes paid blogging platforms, in my opinion, a promising path for autistic adults. But it really depends not just on your special interest but whether you’re a talented writer. Can you write large volumes of text without feeling exhausted? If not, this might not be the right fit for you.

What about video content? Youtube is always an option, although it’s such a saturated platform now that your odds of blowing up on Youtube are about the same as becoming an astronaut or rock star. The utility of Youtube, then, is not making money but free exposure to potential followers who may then subscribe to you on other platforms where earning money is easier.

Twitch is one such platform, though you can of course stream to Youtube as well now using software like Streamlabs OBS. Which you prefer will depend whether you’re able to build up a large Youtube audience. Twitch has been unexpectedly lucrative for me however since even streamers who don’t have that many followers can still earn good money from subscriptions (subs).

Everybody who has Amazon Prime also has a free Twitch sub that comes with it, whether they know this or not. Each sub nets $5 per month, $2.50 of which the streamer gets to keep. But this assumes your followers remember to renew it (subs do not auto-renew unfortunately).

This may sound like chump change but it adds up quickly. I have 3,479 followers on Twitch and my sub count currently stands at 71, which gets me $177.50 some time around the 17th of each month. That’s not possible to live on of course but it’s also not bad considering I was going to play computer games anyways.

These platforms can be used together as well. For example you can download recordings of streams from Twitch, edit them down to just the funny parts, then upload them to a Youtube account which will then help to popularize your stream, attracting new followers, which means more subs.

I’ve also worked my writing into it, sometimes narrating my short horror stories on stream for “story time”, which is thematically consistent given that I stream almost exclusively horror games. On top of this, you should have a twitter account based on your streaming persona & interact with fans there to further build your brand. It’s also where you can post a list of links to your presence on other platforms, to help new fans find all your stuff!

Once you have a sufficiently sizable following, selling merchandise becomes lucrative. The easiest way to do this is either using the built-in merch tool Twitch offers, or sites like Teespring which handle just about everything for you (taking a sizable cut of sales in return). Merch hasn’t been a huge cash cow for me but I have made a couple thousand bucks from it I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This brings me to Patreon. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have one right away but it won’t do you much good until you have at least a modest following who like what you create & what you’re like as a person. Then Patreon and other similar sites like Subscribestar are a great way to give your fans a means of supporting you financially so you can continue creating the content they love.

Probably the solution for you will look different from what the solution was for me. It will depend on what your interests and skills are. Maybe you animate? Maybe you draw, maybe you play an instrument or sing? That will determine which platforms are best suited to the type of content you produce.

Likely no single platform will earn you enough to live on. Rather you’ll need to cultivate a “cluster” of followings on a couple different platforms related to the type of content you produce, and aggressively cross-promote.

Even if you make accounts on every applicable platform and pump out quality content, success is not guaranteed. Lots of people are out there trying to make it as internet content creators, I only made it because I had already exhausted other options, and got noticed by already famous, established content creators who shouted me out to their followers.

So, you can work hard and make great content but still get nowhere without luck. However, the reverse is not true; if you are lucky but don’t work hard or make quality content, you’ll still go nowhere. Being prolific and talented is a pre-requisite to success, but no guarantee of it, luck is still a major factor.

An uncertain path, by any account. Hence why those who are able to do so pursue conventional employment and the security that it offers. If I could’ve made that work, I would’ve. If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation is the mother of resourcefulness. I forced this all to work for me because what would become of me if I couldn’t?

Having said that, after working at all this since 2016, I make about $1,100/mo from all of these combined: Patreon, Twitch, Subscribestar, Medium, Teespring, Youtube, in order of how much each one contributes to that total. That’s about what I’d make working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job. Unfortunately it’s also just barely enough that I’m taxable.

For me, what it all amounts to in practice is just writing, streaming & making videos. The workload is very modest. I’ve “only” been at this for 4 years, and the amount continues to increase. In particular, streaming on Twitch has been an area of consistent growth for me as I continue to build a larger and larger audience.

I won’t say it’s easy to pull this off. If it was, everybody would do it. The reason only a few make it big is that everybody else got discouraged and quit when it wasn’t immediately lucrative. Autistic stubbornness is a powerful asset here. I should note that due to diminished awareness of how others see us, an autistic person exposing themselves to a global audience can result in disaster.

Christian Weston Chandler is the most infamous example of this, and to this day he remains an object of popular ridicule. But he has many bad qualities unrelated to his autistic behavioral eccentricity that contribute to the negative reception he has gotten from the public. Other aspies with good qualities have received strongly positive reactions, like Nick “Ulilillia” Smith.

It really depends what sort of reaction you normally get from NTs. Magnify that by millions, and that’s the reception you’re likely to get from an internet audience. In the case of sweet, friendly, interesting aspies like Nick Smith, the reaction is (if anything) especially positive because he exemplifies the aspects of high functioning autism that the public regards positively: Intelligence, honesty (often to a fault), sincerity & dedication.

So the internet can be a danger to persons on the spectrum, if they have a great deal of maturation left to do, but it can also be a powerful boon. We are, for better or worse, eccentric oddballs. There’s little else the internet likes to celebrate more than eccentric oddballs. For this and the other reasons outlined in this article, the internet presents potentially promising opportunities to adults on the spectrum.

If you’re a parent of a high functioning autistic son or daughter, looking for future opportunities in case they don’t turn out to be adaptable to the NT workplace, my main advice would be to ensure you socialize them into somebody considerate of NT feelings as empathy is a challenge for aspies.

This will be one of the primary determinants in how an internet audience reacts to and judges them. Of course no doubt you’re socializing them as best you can into a kind, gentle, patient, conscientious person anyhow, but in the end much of that is up to them.

It’s just something to consider before any autistic person comes into contact with the internet. It is powerful, but unpredictable and can greatly improve the lives of autistic persons, or ruin them, depending on what the internet mob decides.

If that sounds terrifying, you’re not wrong. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t have to. Luckily for me I “found my tribe”. There’s a niche market out there for my particular brand of eccentricity, and the Sphinx Gate of the internet has peered into my soul, mostly liking what it has seen.

I hope this information is useful to you, or someone you love. We face unique challenges integrating into society, to say the least. As someone who has discovered unorthodox income solutions well suited to aspies by exploring roads less traveled, I want you to have what I have.

I post text here, often accompanied by images and sometimes video. People then clap or don't depending on whether they enjoy what I posted.

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