As part of our series of blogs on neurodiversity in the actuarial profession, we are pleased to share the experience of an actuary who prefers not to disclose their autism.
I am an early career actuary with autism. Its impact on me is hard to assess; depending on the perspective taken, it can be seen as deeply material to who I am (both in general, and to my career), or entirely immaterial.
I was diagnosed fairly young. In school, I did well academically, but struggled behaviorally. A large part of schooling revolved around training and enforcement of implicit social norms, and these came slowly to me. Support tended to be messy, but well intentioned. Given the circumstances, I believe I've made it to adulthood as comfortably as anyone could have done.
In adulthood, the impact of autism has been subtler, but is nevertheless intrinsic to who I am.
It has strongly guided my preferences, strengths and weaknesses, which in turn has shaped the direction I've taken my life in. Pattern recognition came naturally to me, and doing things that you are good at feels rewarding, so I studied maths at university. Complicated stakeholder management was harder to parse when I was younger and less experienced with it, so at the time I shied away from it. This pushed me away from areas like management consulting. So on and so forth, in ways that can be as overt as, or substantially subtler than these examples, until you aggregate all of these preferences into a personality.
But with that personality in hand, my day-to-day life is essentially autism agnostic. At work, I'm just another guy in the office and another guy who's getting on with their life outside of it.
Undoubtedly, I've made choices over the years to allow this to be the case. I've studied where I'm skilled, avoided jobs which show up my weaknesses and have made efforts to put myself in places where the difficulty of masking is not too high.
To that end, I've found actuarial work accommodating for autism, given my interests in finance, mortality/disaster prediction and maths. The work is suited to my strengths: there's value in my pattern recognition skills and a good deal of scope for looking deeply at data/into problems.
Moreover, the career progression seems to be fairly open-ended, allowing me to explore the work that I'm more and less comfortable with over time.
Of course, this has all been dependent on the companies and, in particular, the teams I have found myself in – nothing has been more helpful in my career thus far than having had empathetic line managers and co-workers!
My remaining anonymous is out of this day-to-day comfort with life as it is. Labels come with bundled preconceptions. I would rather be assessed on my own personality and my own actions, as anyone else would be. I wouldn't expect to run into difficulties if I were out in the open, but I'd rather be identified more personally.
IFoA has worked with the National Autistic Society to produce online guidance for actuaries, prospective actuaries and the employers of actuaries around autism and the actuarial profession.