Thursday, October 4, 2007

What works for you?

I have the opportunity to write an information packet on autism for employers and Supported Employment service providers. I will also be making a presentation on autism in the workplace at the state Supported Employment conference. I’ll be discussing my own experiences as well as presenting a review of relevant literature.

I’m interested in hearing stories from other autistic people regarding employment, and any suggestions you would like potential employers to hear. What have you found helpful in work situations? What kinds of jobs haven’t worked out? Do your co-workers and boss know you are autistic? Have you experienced harassment or lost jobs due to discrimination or prejudice? Any stories or advice for employers you share will be treated confidentially. Names, locations, type of business, etc. will be changed or omitted if used in the presentation.

If you would like to share information for this project, you can comment here, email me or post at your own blog. Links to anything employment related you have written would also be much appreciated.


  1. Since I managed to come off as a high-strung neurotypical in my first few weeks on the job, I'm afraid that if I were to voluntarily "out" myself to my company, it'd be viewed as a sign of me losing my grasp on my competency. At other places, I've also been concerned that coming out would result in my coworkers presuming I'd fad-diagnosed myself. At this job, however, which is brand-spanking-new, I've already had a couple of incidents that have let on that there's definitely something up with me. If I were to tell my company that those incidents are likely to recur, they may worry that . . . y'know . . . that they'll recur.

  2. Hmm.

    Well, where I work, we're really a mixed bunch. Out of the 11 of us, I'm an autie, two are probably ADD (one hyper, one not so much), one is epileptic, two are from foreign countries, and my boss is borderline manic depressive. So 'normal' doesn't have much to do with anything here to begin with, and that's good.

    As far as specific things... having a niche is very important. I do all the department's computer work, typing, making fliers, making the monthly newsletter, all that stuff. I'm also the tech monkey for events... I set up the speakers or CD player or whatever and then retreat behind my camera to take pictures instead of having to work the crowd like my co-workers do. It's good to know ahead of time exactly what I'll be doing when there's a big stressful event like that. We also have a daily task form that the boss fills out every night for the next day, which is very, very helpful. I'd prefer to have a firm schedule each week, but where I work that isn't practical, so knowing a day ahead what I'm going to be expected to do is a good compromise. Working with the same people every day, instead of in a retail situation where you see hundreds of different people and then never see them again, also has its advantages - I often have to think for a day or so to come up with a good explanation of things, and this way I actually have an opportunity to do that.

    My boss and co-workers do know that I'm an autie; I don't keep that a secret in general anyway. Some people outside the department know, too, but I haven't actually told the supervisors above my boss. I'm careful to explain the advantages when I first tell someone about it, but I bring up the challenges, too... my first description is usually along the lines of "I have a very different set of strengths and weaknesses than most people - I'm great with computers and math and crafts and things, but that's at the expense of some weird things like recognizing faces or easily remembering to say 'hello' to people." I've had some people be slightly incredulous but other than that I haven't had any problems, and I've found out that two people in other departments that I see regularly have family members who are autistic, so that's pretty cool.

  3. Even if I were diagnosed, I wouldn't share, because it's simply not their biz.

    Freelance with a strong local connection is good. Part time is crucial. Relaxed atmosphere, lack of dress code, academic-assistant work (becoming tougher to find loose environments as the race to Looking Impressive heats up among universities). Government can be nice if you're working in political offices (not bureaucratic).

    Anyplace where understanding and caring about office politics is crucial -- very bad. Anyplace where dress codes are meaningful -- also bad.

    IT can be good.

  4. I must also add that I don't feel quite right about giving input on this topic, because I'm probably one of the VERY lucky ones in this regard. I happened to just recently find a job that's nearly perfect for me (sit in office mostly undisturbed and write/proofread all day long), but I *just* got it after many years of thinking I might never do so. I am extremely fortunate for having this job. I'm more concerned about hearing from the auties -- probably the vast, vast majority -- who haven't managed to score the ideal "autie" job, or any job, and who want a job, or another job, or who are worried about keeping/being treated fairly at the job they have.

  5. Thanks very much for these comments, and also to the people who have sent comments by email. All of this is very helpful. And about the dress code thing, yeah, definitely, me too. I think this is a really hard one for some people to understand and/or believe.

  6. I have a job like Evonne's where I can be mostly undisturbed at the computer all day, and yes, I'm lucky to have been able to find the job; but I also feel that my employer is lucky to have the benefit of my skills, which are a very good match for the job.

    I haven't told my co-workers or boss that I am autistic, but I'm sure they have noticed that my voice sounds unusual.

    If I had to go out and look for another job in these days of "autism awareness," I would be very concerned about prejudice and discrimination.

  7. bev, interesting, I thought I'd just run into a few freaks who were happy to let others dress them & wear whatever the code said to wear.

    My ex got really upset when I said I wouldn't take a job where I had to wear pantyhose, not out of ideological distaste (though there'd be that), but because I just wouldn't do it. I know this about myself. I'd last a few days & then go take 'em off, and the memos and "hm should we fire you over this, we don't like to be petty, and you're a valuable employee and hiring is expensive, but you're obviously smacking us in the face" circling would begin.

    Though if I did wear them I'd have to wear those really freaking hot ones with seams and patterns and rhinestones and all. For about half a day. And then oooh, the lack of stockings. Fancy that as I clicked by in my ridiculous heels. Must be something inside.

    1. I'm a guy and I wouldn't take a job where I'd have to wear pantyhose either. No, seriously, I know exactly what you mean. I wouldn't be caught in a wool sweater, for example. I can't imagine the skeevy feeling of wearing pantyhose! Yikes!!! Dx

    2. I personally keep it secret. Already being a person of brown complexion who was born in a foreign country I have issues with type-casting. No thank you.

      Instead, I've learned to navigate the work-force better and better each year. I am currently like a snorkel diver who can hold his breath for extended periods of time while hunting for clams or lobsters. Yes, eventually I have to return to the surface to catch a breath of air. But I don't want or like the H.R. Department or a boss deciding before hand that I can't perform those functions properly just because I don't have gills.

      I know I will never have gills, but I've slowly become more and more masterful of my strange environment performing in many cases functions highly unbecoming of anyone on the spectrum. I prefer it that way. Because these are some of the tradeoffs so that I may do what I truly love, and at the level that I love.

      H.R. Departments are usually script-based, cookie-cutter and legalistic with a primary focus on protecting the corporation, not the individual.

      The occasional H.R. Person who might claim to "know all about autism" tend to be brainwashed by the likes of puzzle-piece pushers, and as such are not to be trusted with one's career trajectory.

    3. Two of my former bosses were definitely in the spectrum. One is a lovely lady with a son and hubby on the spectrum. She's the only one I ever shared with. She never limited me and had faith in my capabilities despite the hurdles I needed to overcome. She never made eye-contact and would always doodle endless angular interconnecting grids on her log book at every meeting, yet she was the most just people-person manager I ever had and a true advocate.

      The other was a self-hating aspie in denial and he hated anyone else who was like him. I tried to stay clear of him. He would leave a trail of roadkill in his path every time he met someone on the spectrum. I only showed my hand when I played the autism card when I went through a union to open a formal investigation that proved I was being targeted by purposefully and knowingly challenging my weaknesses and singled me out unjustly. Although I won the case he still used it against me in the following performance review and I was out the door in the next wave of layoffs. He even smiled as he gave me the link slip.

      So, there you have two bosses, both in the spectrum, both diametrically different.

      The woman may have had a motherly instinct tho.


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