Thoughts and illustrations on living with Asperger's Syndrome.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jobs for People with Asperger’s: Grant Writer

You don’t often see Grant Writer listed among the best jobs for Aspies. As a successful grant writer myself, I’m here to tell you why Asperger’s helps me excel, and why it might be the career for you.

I didn’t plan on becoming a grant writer. Most of us probably didn’t. One day, someone asked me if I could write a grant. So I took a look at one, and I did. Sounds too simple to be true, right? Last week, we looked at some of the key advantages of Asperger’s in the workplace. As I look back now, many of those traits have been directly responsible for my success:

Seeing patterns: Whenever possible, I will use an old grant as a model when starting a new one. Even if it’s an unrelated topic. I’m looking for paragraphs or whole sections I can repurpose, keeping the structure, but changing the details. I find it easier than reinventing the wheel.

Focus: Perhaps the most challenging part of a grant is taking on an unfamiliar topic, especially at the very beginning. It can often be difficult, as an Aspie, to shift focus from one subject to another, and sometimes I lag behind my co-workers in picking up on a new topic. However, I make up this ground quickly. My familiarity comes from gradual and repeated exposure to the topic, more likely alone at my computer screen than in a team brainstorming session, and from asking questions as needed. I fill in my knowledge gaps one at a time: What is the need? Why will our idea work? How are we measuring success?

Logic: Everyone hates to do logic models. A logic model is the one page table that lists in columns your community need, inputs, outputs, and outcomes, short and long term. Basically it summarizes your plan in excruciating detail, connecting the dots for the reader. I used to hate to do logic models too. But I’ve changed my mind, because I realized something: If my logic model makes sense, the entire narrative will fall into place, simply by filling in the details. So now, it’s one of the first things I do when I write.

Outsider perspective: Aspies are used to viewing things as an outsider. When I write, I’m often taking direction from people more experienced in the field. I must understand the subject matter for myself, so I can write knowledgably about it. Therefore, I'm careful to articulate concepts so they make sense to me, eliminating industry jargon when possible. The advantage of this is that the grant reviewer has likely never heard of our company or our idea before. Yes, grant reviewers are human beings, too! They need a clear explanation so they can make a decision to fund or not. So in writing for my own understanding, I’m writing for the reviewer as well.

Puzzle solving: Sometimes grants have a strict page limit. Even 30 pages, which sounds like a lot, is not. So it becomes a puzzle, because I can't simply cram in as much information as possible; I must make it fit within the parameters given. I’ve learned many tricks to do this, such as trimming down a data table from a full page to a half, or fitting in more paragraphs by adjusting my spacing, while still complying with the 12 point font and 1-inch margins. I think of it as giving more bang for your buck, by putting the same amount of information in the smallest possible space.

Unconventional thinking: I imagine I work very differently from NT grant writers. I like to have my structure in place first, even with the wrong information, before I go to work on the content. For instance, if I have 42 pages and a 30 page limit, nothing else matters to me until I can trim it down, before I add anything new. Then, through repeated editing, I’ll read through and see what’s missing, and fill it in, then repeat until nothing is missing. I may take a different path to get there, but it’s the final product that matters.

Attention to detail: By the time a proposal is done, I know every inch of it. If someone comes along at the last minute and says, change the title of this position, or change this goal from 75% to 80%, I know exactly where the updates need to be made. Usually, it's more than one place.

I never took a class on grant writing. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a training. Even so, I’ve brought in about $16 million for my company in a little under ten years. I’ve helped open new buildings, and make it possible for people to stay healthy, find homes, and keep custody of their children. Grant writing is often tedious and thankless work, but it makes many good things possible. It takes the right person to do it well. And just maybe, it takes an Aspie.


  1. Love it! This is almost exactly how I work, too!

  2. Jeepers....

    I've always thought it would be fun...and you get feedback, too, if somebody likes the way you "talk". You are a saleman with words.

    I wrote a couple, got $10,700. Two out of three that I wrote were funded. I'd like to do more...

    Just shows how sick I am...Nothing personal!!!! They are a lot of work, but fascinating!

  3. Thanks Laura!

    Usethebrains: Not bad for two out of three! Nothing sick about it.

  4. Well, I was just thinking that maybe MY OWN aspergers was showing because I really liked the challenge of it, but I didn't want you to think I was talking about you...

    Uhm...maybe I should quit explaining myself...

    I just NEVER learn...Anyhoo...Y'all got a very creative mind. I love your character!

    I am thankful to find OWL again from you blog, too.

  5. Awesome post Matt. I just wanted to your co worker I rely on you to do every item bulleted above. Your ability transcends my skills and I have no idea what I am going to do without you. The last paragraph almost brought tears to my eyes. The work we do saves lives, but without you we would not have been able to do it. Your method has provided us with therapists, buildings, playgrounds, bus tickets, diapers, GED trainers, HIV medications, shelter, condoms, sterile syringes, transportation and so much more. Your work and your skills are priceless! I am going to miss your companionship at work very much. There were several projects that we worked on where I felt like we were a great team. We both brought something to the other did not and held great respect, and still do, for each other. You are irreplaceable!

  6. Thank you so much for your comment, B. We have been a great team for almost ten years, and I will miss working with you as well. I know we will both go on to do amazing things and look forward to keeping in touch.