Being social in the work place has never been easy.

As someone who has only recently discovered that she was on the Autistic Spectrum, looking for jobs has never come easily or naturally. The thought of applying for jobs and interviewing has almost always been overwhelming. I have a tendency of rejecting myself before others get a chance to, thus minimizing myself to the lowest paying jobs around. As I’ve gotten older, my mindset had changed due to my surroundings changing. I’ve had to learn how not to take rejection personally and that I need to preoccupy myself to prevent depression to kick in.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s (or Aspie for short), I was 35 at the time of the diagnosis. Growing up in a somewhat protected household (my family is extremely strong in our Christian faith), both my of sisters and I went to public school. I knew something wasn’t right when both sisters made friends easily and I didn’t. I didn’t go to many parties, though I did enjoy going to the football games on Friday nights. All the friends I did have stayed at school. I got my first job when I was 15 – at a local Christian bookstore down the street from our church. I was there for almost two years and I loved it. I liked the job because I would deal with others who believed what I did and I didn’t have to question anything out of my comfort zone.

It wasn’t until I hit my early 20’s that the traits often associated with Autism began to become more noticeable. I couldn’t answer where my money had gone when my paycheck came in. I couldn’t defend why I made specific decisions in life or why I didn’t do what was required of me. The easiest response was “I don’t know.” For the life of me, I could not get the words in my head to come out of my lips. Trying to find out who I was and where my happiness was seemed to be just out of reach. Even in most jobs, I was just “existing.”

In her article Autism, employment, and the role of occupational therapy by Leisa C. Capo (Department of Occupational Therapy, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, KY, USA), she writes “According to Howlin and Goode, approximately 18% of adults with autism were employed in some type of work setting. Even when adults with autism are employed, the employment levels for them are significantly lower than levels for the average individual without disabilities, and often lower than their potential. Their jobs tend to end prematurely due to difficulties at the workplace, either with coworkers, supervisors, or job tasks.”

She continues “Work offers a sense of contribution to one’s daily needs, an outlet for socialization, and a sense of accomplishment and competence leading to improved self-concept.” Those who know me know I am more social than most on the Spectrum, though not as social as I’d like to be. They also know I prefer to be at home than out socializing. Work plays the role of being social. Being at work allows me to interact with others who are different than myself for a specific amount of time, while meeting the financial needs that comes with being an adult. I have had many different types of jobs, and worked with many different types of personalities (some have been the greatest, others have cause me to withdraw inward even more so than I already was). My issue isn’t the physical work, it’s the social aspect I have a hard time with.

Further down her article, Ms. Capo describes how hard it is for those on the Autistic Spectrum (including individuals like me who have Asperger’s) have some incredible strengths (i.e. math, computer skills and memory retrieval), but lack the necessary communication skills needed. Most of the jobs I’ve had I’ve done to the best of my ability (sometimes referred to as higher standards than others), but I did not last long because of how I interacted with others, or how I came across (being rude vs not knowing how to process what I was thinking and just wanting to be done with a specific situation). Most of my social abnormalities is my inabilities to process the situation in a clear way as to others could understand what I was convey.

In the article School-to-work transition and Asperger Syndrome by Kristin K. Higgins, Lynn C. Koch, Erica M. Boughfman and Courtney Vierstra (University of Arkansas, Department of Rehabilitation, Human Resources, and Communication Disorders, Fayetteville, AR, USA; Kent State University, Department of Educational Foundations and Special Services, Kent, OH, USA) “ Although people with [Autistic Syndrome] typically have average to above average intellectual functioning, this neurological disorder is characterized by extreme interpersonal deficits resulting from underdeveloped adaptive behaviors, social competencies, and communication skills. . . The greatest difficulties faced by individuals with AS in the workplace seem to emerge from the deficits in social skills and communication. These social communication impairments can interfere with both job attainment and job retention.” This happens to me all the time, even at home. I’d face an uncomfortable situation and instead of trying to talk it out, I’d get aggravated because I didn’t have the right words and leave abruptly. Many times the people around me wouldn’t know why.

As I’ve gotten older, especially recently, I’m seeing that life isn’t always about me. The more I do me – the more I find myself in this crazy world – the more I am able to see that in those who have the issue with me, it’s their issues, not mine. The more I am able to open up about my struggles in who I am, the more I find that there are people who are willing to accept me as I am (social dysfunction and all) and do more than just tolerate me. Recently, in a health class during this past winter term, I open up about my being an Aspie. Why, I did that, I don’t know. Throughout the class, I would make references to my personal life on what we were discussing. On the last night, we had to give a group presentation. (I have a tendency of talking fast when I’m nervous,) During my part of the presentation, I apologized for talking so quickly and being nervous. The respect I received was so unbelievable, it even impressed the professor.

There are a few I open discuss my trials to. I was just talking to a co-worker turned friend about a situation that had happened. I apologized for almost constantly talking about this particular instance, and she reassured that this wasn’t me who was having the issue, it was this other person. Because of friends like her and my husband, I am able to process difficult situations better and see that I’m better than what people have made me out to be.

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