A script for my #Autistic Monday morning

three abstract people figures talking to each otherI am not looking forward to going to work today. I worked from home all week, last week, and it was wonderful. I didn’t move as much as I should have, and I ate more than was healthy, but I got to rest when I needed to, and I wasn’t subjected to inane interactions, like I’m about to be, in a little over an hour.

I detest vacuous social interactions that serve no purpose other than to make other people feel less lonely. It’s a distraction. But I’ll do it.

The good part is, I’ve figured out how to do it without investing a whole lot of energy. If I just follow this script, I’m all set.

This is how it goes:

First, I see someone approaching me. It’s always best if I acknowledge them first, because other people are very reactive. They like having someone else set the tone of the interaction so they can just follow along.

Me (smiling and looking in their general direction): Hi! How are you today?

Them: I’m good, thanks! And you?

Me: I’m great! How was your weekend? Did you have a good one?

Them:  Something – something – something – something – something – something

Me (depending on their response): Oh, wow – that sounds great / frustrating / exciting (sarcasm used, if they had a terrible weekend)

Them: Yeah. Something – something – something – something – something – something

Me (whatever they happen to say): Oh, I know… Right?

Them: Laugh / meaningful look / some comment

Me: Tell me about it…

Them: Okay, well, have a great day!

Me: You too! Happy Monday!

 

And we’re done. That’s roughly how it goes.

Generally, I can get away with a few exaggerated expressions of “Oh, I know!” or “Right?!” that indicate I’m listening (maybe I am, maybe I’m not), and that I care. I do care. I actually do. But it’s a lot of energy, which I often don’t have, to get all invested in other people’s lives.

Especially when I fundamentally disagree with what they do with their free time and money.

I try not to belabor my interactions with judgment. Non-autistic people don’t understand, and it’s not a good use of time.

So, anyway, Monday awaits. I have to go in to the office today — Big Day for a project I’m working on, plus there’s some staff meeting I have to attend. Whatever happens, it won’t be boring. That’s for sure.

Although sometimes, boring would be fantastic.

Okay, off I go…

Refresh connection with Facebook? Hmmm…. maybe…

Message from WordPress to refresh connection with Facebook
This message comes up, every now and then, when I’m on WordPress.

Before you hit Publish, please refresh the following connection(s) to make sure we can Publicize your post:

And again, I need to consider whether I actually want to reconnect with Facebook.

I’ll admit, I’m reluctant. For all they’ve done (and not done) in the area of privacy and protecting their users, part of me just wants to drop them permanently and walk away.

Then again, I don’t really spend much time on FB, and it lets me get some of my writing out to a broader audience. So, it serves a purpose. It certainly does that. And I have so little actual personal information on there — nothing that I don’t already put on WordPress and Twitter — that whatever they may want to do with my info… good luck to them.

I think I may be Facebook-inoculated, because I’ve been in the high tech / online scene for so long. I worked in financial services for years, building websites to let people manage their money online, and I still, to this day, don’t think it’s a bright idea to do any of that stuff online. The fact that more people aren’t robbed… well, that surprises me daily. I’ve worked in online marketing, have built websites intended to be super-secure, and I know how the stuff is put together behind the scenes.

It’s never been nearly as secure as they say it is, and it’s always been a bit of a fools’ paradise (note the s-apostrophe, meaning all of us fools), so I’m not overly rocked by all this. Plus, it’s not like anyone didn’t already know Facebook’s “default mode is sharing”.

D’oh.

As in D’ohn’t come crying to me, when you finally realize that we weren’t just whistling in the wind about your life being up for grabs on social media.

Oh, is that mean-spirited? Non-compassionate? Maybe so. But seriously, it’s time to put the big-kids pants on and take responsibility for all this. Not just wail and gnash our teeth over crap we’ve been warned about, but chose to ignore.

Sigh.

Well, anyway, I’m having a lovely Sunday inside, looking out at the crows trying to unhook the suet cage from my bird feeder. They figured out how to get it off before, so I used a carabiner to hold that sucker in place. And since then, they haven’t been able to do more than perch on the top and peck at the suet. Frustrating for them, I know, but the woodpeckers thank me.

Yes, a lovely Sunday… I’ve got my fuzzy blanket thrown over my shoulders, and I’ve got my music on. Cozy, warm, and relaxing with some really wonderful reading I’ve been doing. An old, long-lasting interest of mine has cropped up again — iconoclastic Zen practitioners of the 16th and 17th centuries in Japan — and I’m digging into old Samurai stories with a gusto I haven’t felt in quite some time.

How pleasant. How incredibly pleasant.

And then, because I did so much yesterday and got a lot of errands out of the way, I can lie down and take a long nap this afternoon without needing to set an alarm. My favorite kind of nap — also good, because if I don’t set my alarm, then my mobile won’t be beside my bed, so I won’t spend an hour scrolling through Twitter, when I’m supposed to be resting.

I’m spending less and less time on social media, these days, including Twitter. It’s all turned into a cultural battleground, which is tiring. Seriously, they need better filters. I support the changes taking place, and I support the people standing up for their lives, but sometimes I just need a break, and social media has provided me with that in the past. Breaks are coming fewer and farther between, though, which is unfortunate.

Or is it? I need to unplug more, these days, anyway. I’ll just treat it as a great opportunity to chill and give all the fight-flight a rest.

Oh, you know what?

That got me to thinking… Maybe my decreasing ardor for Activist Twitter is due to my decreasing hormonal inclination to give a damn about stuff that used to drive me. Menopause seems to be cutting me a break.

That could explain a lot, actually.

But now it’s time to retire again to my cave-y little corner of the world, ensconce myself in a heady enclave of histories, myths, legends, and conjecture about what was going through people’s minds, on the other side of the world, 400 years ago.

Fun!

Catch you later.

Maybe on Facebook 😉

Social Incompatibility: Yet another thing that’s not true about this #Autistic individual

crowd of cheering people at an outdoor concertSupposedly, because I’m Autistic, I’m incapable of interacting with non-autistic people the way they want me to.

Untrue. I wish it were true, some days. ‘Cause all the interacting with neurotypical people just gets so exhausting. I’m bone tired, starting around 10:30 a.m., every single day I have to go out into the NT world. And I just get more tired, throughout the course of each day. The nonsensical decision making and priorities are just so wearing

But what’s an Autie to do? I’ve gotta make a living, and that means I have to get out in the thick of things, figure out how to navigate it all, and just get on with my life.

I also need to interact with other people on a regular basis. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I don’t get out and interact with the world every few days or so, my thought process starts to get pretty “out there”. I get a little suspicious and paranoid, actually. And my mind starts telling me all sorts of things that aren’t entirely true. I need people around (in person, not just online) to provide details I’m overlooking in my very rigid thinking. I need them to keep me grounded.

It helps me.

But it’s not easy. Oh, no. It’s not easy at all. I mean, I’ve figured out some tips and tricks and whole lotta hacks that will get me through social interactions without offending everyone in sight and pissing off people who misunderstand me. But it doesn’t come naturally to me.

And therein lies the “rub”, as they say.

Because my hacks work. My clandestine stimming, concentrating on a place on someone’s face that isn’t their eyes, nodding periodically, using a finely tuned prosody and cadence to my speech… it’s all very effective. It’s attractive, even. Which means people want to interact with me. They love to interact with me. They seek me out. They come looking for me at work. They look me up online. They ping me on social media. They hang out with me at the 2 parties I go to, each year. They say they want to see more of me. They invite me to their homes. They invite me to events. They want me around, and they love my company, because I can offer them something they can’t get anywhere else — compassion, empathy, focus on them as the center of my world when I’m with them, interesting trivia (yep, got lots of that), laughter, relaxation, acceptance.

People love me. They can’t get enough of me.

In the words of the Talking Heads, “My god. What have I done?

It seemed like a good idea, to develop all these coping mechanisms over the years. And they have all helped me to get good jobs and keep them and provide for my household at a level that most Autism researchers would probably declare impossible for someone “with my impairments”. But it comes at a cost. It all comes at a cost.

And that cost is exhaustion.

Well, fortunately, I’ve figured out some ways to get through, even if I am worn down to the bone. I keep going. I focus on the task at hand. I amuse myself periodically throughout the course of each day. And I have my early mornings to myself, as well as part of my evenings. I manage to wedge in things I really love, here and there, punctuating the interminable slog that is my life in the non-autistic world with moments of sheer bliss.

So, that’s something.

And it makes the rest of my life possible. Which is good. Because nothing truly worthwhile comes easy, I believe. And I can’t expect the rest of the world to accommodate me. Other people have their own problems, and my challenges are not even on their radar. If I want to keep a job, stay out of jail, keep a roof over my head, keep the cars in the garage, save money for emergencies… basically, have an adult life, I have to make choices and sacrifices. That’s how the whole adulting things goes, and our current climate of hyper-customization and convenience and being catered to and accommodated at every turn is not helping people cope with the inevitable challenges of just living a responsible and rewarding life.

Life as I experience it is a series of challenges which involve to varying degrees a regular influx of frustration, pain, anguish, sadness, disappointment, disillusionment, betrayal… you name it. But that’s how it goes. And if I want to have the life I need to have, I’ve got to figure out how to manage it all.

Which I do. Including the social stuff.

That being said, I have to get myself ready for work. I’m going in to the office today, after being home yesterday (I had nonstop meetings on the phone from 8:30 – 4:30, which is its own particular brand of misery for me). I’m going to be around people who are unrealistic, insecure, demanding, politically devious, clueless, and socially needy. That’s the deal. And I voluntarily engage with these people, learning tons about myself in the process, and making a living at it, too.

I’m not a fan of it all. But they love me.

So, that’s something.

Employable Me looking for #autistic folks to profile about #employment

This showed up in my comments section the other day. Check it out, it might be a good opportunity.

Hi there!
I am the casting director for the American version of the award-winning BBC television series “Employable Me.”

The TV series I cast, “Employable Me,” follows people with Autism, Aspergers and other neurological conditions like Tourette Syndrome as they look for meaningful, long-term employment. The job-seekers selected to appear on our documentary series will be encouraged to unlock their hidden talents with the help of experts, doctors and neurological specialists so they can at long last find the job that best suits their unique skill sets and strengths and creates a sense of purpose in their life.

I am reaching out to you both with the hope that our current search for people who have neurological conditions and that manifest incredible intelligence that has not been appreciated properly by potential employers, might be shared with people in your social networks that might be interested in our series?

We’d love for our search for jobseekers to be mentioned there in the off-chance that people in a situation where their condition has been employment-prohibitive to date, but who have talent to offer and who could benefit from being a part of our series, will learn about it and apply to be considered.

A summary of what we are hoping you might be able to circulate for us in an email blast is below my signature in this email.

I highly encourage you to view some highlights of our courageous series as first launched in the UK: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09hlpl8
Liz Alderman
Casting Director, Optomen Productions
Liz.Alderman@OptomenUSA.com
http://www.OptomenProductions.com

JOB-SEEKERS WITH NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS SOUGHT FOR AWARD-WINNING DOCUMENTARY SERIES, “Employable Me”

Documentary producers at Optomen USA are looking for people with neuro-divergent conditions such as ASD & Tourettes who would like our assistance finding employment on the documentary TV series EMPLOYABLE ME.

A diverse workforce can be great for a business and EMPLOYABLE ME wants to dramatically shake up the system to prove it.

The job-seekers selected to appear on our documentary series will be encouraged to unlock their hidden talents with the help of experts and specialists so they can at long last find the job that best suits their unique skill sets and strengths.

Contact Liz.Alderman@OptomenUSA.com for more information on how to be considered for this opportunity.

Optomen Productions produces hundreds of hours of television each year for many of the major cable and broadcast networks including Food Network, Travel Channel, Nat Geo Wild, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery and Bravo. Our most successful series include Worst Cooks in America and Mysteries at the Museum.

Visit http://www.optomenproductions.com/ for more information about our company.

Employable Me Episode 1: https://vimeo.com/165440168/eeef45ba00

Employable Me Episode 2: https://vimeo.com/194704968/f29ee23b44

Employable Me Episode 3: https://vimeo.com/165440167/911b02b210

#WomenInSTEM – #POC in High Tech – July, 2018 is the time to find a new job in Massachusetts

red glass and metal skyscraperIf you’re like me (not a white, heterosexual male, but still working in high tech in Massachusetts), you’ve probably been on the receiving end of a subtle form of discrimination that’s systemically ensured that a lot of us can’t get paid the same as white men with the same amount of experience and qualifications.

That discrimination is the standard-issue question, “So, what are you earning in your current position?”

It might not seem so horrible, but if you consider that a lot of minority folks start out at lower rates of earning, then over all the years of moving on, if we’ve been compensated at roughly the same rate we were before, we’ll inevitably end up making less than our majority counterparts — some of us significantly less. I know that Salary.com shows I’m making 15-20% less than my market value, and that burns. But up till now, I haven’t been able to do anything about it, because employers have always copped out by using my prior earnings as a reference point.

But that’s about to change — well, in another 7 months.

AN ACT TO ESTABLISH PAY EQUITY goes into effect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 1, 2018.

This law is supposed to even the playing field, in terms of compensation. The part(s) of it I like the most are:

   (c)  It shall be an unlawful practice for an employer to:
     (1)  require, as a condition of employment, that an employee refrain from inquiring about, discussing or disclosing information about either the employee’s own wages, or about any other employee’s wages.  Nothing in this subsection shall obligate an employer to disclose an employee’s wages to another employee or a third party;
     (2)   seek the wage or salary history of a prospective employee from the prospective employee or a current or former employer or to require that a prospective employee’s prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria; provided, however, that:  (i) if a prospective employee has voluntarily disclosed such information, a prospective employer may confirm prior wages or salary or permit a prospective employee to confirm prior wages or salary; and (ii) a prospective employer may seek or confirm a prospective employee’s wage or salary history after an offer of employment with compensation has been negotiated and made to the prospective employee;

That means, I can ask what potential employers are paying others who do my same job. And they aren’t allowed to ask me what I was making before.

So, that means I’ll be free to change jobs next year, without worrying that I’ll be blocked in by my past. It’s been a rigged game against me and others like me for far too long, and now that’s changing.

Who knows how much it will fix, but in any case, at least that’s one less thing I need to contend with. Being a 50-something high tech veteran is challenging enough in this youth-loving world. I can use all the help I can get. Plus, it will be nice to get paid the market rate.

For once.

#AutismAwareness Month – What others think of me, is none of my business

Herakles and the Hydra Water Jar (Etruscan, c. 525 BC) - Herakles clubs the Hydra, while a crab assists it by attacking Herakles
It’s much easier to not even engage. Or is it?

It’s April. There’s a ton of mixed information about Autism churning through the aethers.

Lord help us.

I was getting all spun up about it, over the weeks leading up to April. Bracing for the onslaught. Girding my loins for war. Bristling at the thought of how often I’ve been told I can’t be autistic, frustrated at the lack of information — and the disinformation that’s being spread by ve$ted intere$t$ out to make a buck. Getting tweaked about what others think of me, or would think of me, or how they’d respond to me.

I have to say, I would love to rectify a lot of this, myself — inject some elightenment and enhanced autism awareness in the general populace. Even in my own family.

The thing is, a lot of what I think other people think / feel / assume about me, is inaccurate. Let’s face it — autism, in my case, is accompanied by social cluelessness and a really compromised ability to interpret what others are saying / thinking / feeling on the surface. Plus, I’ve got a supremely heightened awareness of what people are saying / thinking / feeling beneath the surface.  So, in some cases, I know more about them than they do. And that just leads to more confusion and “crossed wires”, when I try to engage with them.

People generally aren’t in touch with whats’ really going on inside of them, and when you interact with them on a deeper, more authentic level, it scares them. Because they can invest a whole lot of time in overlooking, denying, avoiding what’s really going on inside of them.

And it occurs to me, maybe this is really the crux of “social disconnects” between autistics and non-autistics — we autistics relate to how people really are, on the inside, while non-autistics expend huge amounts of energy avoiding how and what they truly are, deep down inside. And autistically authentic interactions scare the crap outa them.

Hmmm… maybe I’m onto something here… Well (shrug)… whatever.

Anyway, here’s the thing — I’m not getting spun up over all the ignorance and discrimination towards me, this month. Yes, it bothers me tremendously that there is still so much ignorance and lack of acceptance. Yes, I know it causes pain. The thing is, I’m not going to let it cause me more pain than it really does.

As in, I’m not going to fret over the rest of the world not “getting” me, not accepting me, not recognizing me for who I am. The rest of the non-autistic world frankly has no clue, and they have no reason to get a clue. They’re wrapped up in their own self-centered worlds, their own limited visions, their own officially sanctioned versions of reality. I have no control over that. And I’m not going to make myself miserable, living in constant reaction to that.

I have to advocate for myself.

I have to make it plain what I need from life.

I have to take responsibility for caring for myself, managing my environment and situations so that they don’t make me miserable.

I have to do my part to minimize my misery, to tell others what I need from them on a case-by-case basis, to not expect them to read my mind and anticipate what I need — because that’s so very different from what they expect and assume.

I have to put my “big girl pants” on , and deal with it. Because no one else will do it for me. Sorry. No government agency, no charity, no organization, no support group, no team of helpers is going to come to my rescue. They’re just not.

And that’s not necessarily a terrible thing.

When it comes to the whole autism awareness / acceptance thing, it seems to me that people assume certain things are going to result from an up-tick in both those things. That people will be more considerate. That they’ll understand more. That they’ll be more accommodating. That they’ll be more open and receptive.

I must be living in a very different world, because I expect none of those things to happen. People are self-centered — especially non-autistic people. They feel overwhelmed and put-upon in general, and they (from what I’ve observed) make every effort to surround themselves with like-minded people with similar characteristics and personality profiles.

And that doesn’t include autistic people, for the most part. Unless they have no clue that you’re autistic. Then you can be their friend.

Maybe that’s a Terrible Thing. Maybe it’s not.

Anyway, where that leaves me is with a divine indifference to the opinions of the general populace, when it comes to me and people like me. That also extends to opinions of the autistic “community” (such as it is), who may or may not agree with my point of view. I’ve been attacked. I’ve been blocked. I’ve been criticized and called “irritating”. Okay, fine. People are free to believe what they like. In then end, we all find out if what we think actually works. If others want to devote their lives to anger and outrage, that’s their lot. Not mine. I’m certainly not devoting my life to their anger and outrage.

It’s quite freeing, really, to let it go — to not get spun up over what others thing (good or ill). Not worrying about the drastic dip in my blog stats (“Augh! Nobody’s reading my stuff! Boo hoo!”) or the lack of follow and likes on Twitter and Facebook (“Oh no! Nobody’s noticing me! I’m so alone!”) … letting go of those standards lets me really, truly concentrate on the work itself, the writing in and of itself, the projects I’ve got going that add so much to my life and help me live the best way possible — for me.

I’m considering going for a whole week without checking my stats… not sure I can do it, but my stoic practice my require it. We’ll see how that shakes out.

Anyway, when it comes down to it, getting twisted up over what others think of me, is a recipe for despair. I have no control over it. I have no influence over strangers’ opinions. Everybody believes what they believe for very, very good reasons, very few of which I can discern. So, it’s best to let that go. Live my life. Write my words. Put them out there for others to read (and hopefully benefit from)… without getting too invested in a specific outcome.

It sounds a bit zen-like, and maybe it is.

At the core, however, it’s logic. Just reasonable logic. And I like that. Logic works for me.

When all else fails — including my estimation of others’ states of mind.

25+-Year #Autistic tech veteran – completely left out of the #WomenInSTEM movement

three human figures in the background with one solitary figure in frontHa – that title sounds like a personal profile… maybe on a bulletin board or forum… Funny. It sounds a little sad. A little upset. Too much? Whatever. At least, it’s true.

So, there’s all this amazing new movement on fostering the inclusion and career growth of #WomenInSTEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine. It’s so encouraging. And it’s great for the soul, to see it taking shape and maturing.

Back in 1992, when I got into high tech, women were few and far between, and when I went into web development full-time, there were even fewer in that space. Of course, there have always been women in computing (women were “computers” before the machines came along). And there have always been at least some women in science and engineering. But not nearly as many as men.

Once upon a time, it didn’t actually bother me. I’ve always been gender-non-conforming, and it was a relief to be able to work in an environment where my gender wasn’t made much of. If anything, it was downplayed. And that was partly my doing. Because the whole highly gendered “woman” thing has always been… well, problematic for me. And I just didn’t want to be bothered with classically gendered man-and-woman stuff.

I just wanted to code. I just wanted to build cool stuff and launch it and see the world change as a result.

These days, there’s increasing focus on including more women in the STEM space, and that’s great. I’m in the tech space, so I’ll talk about that portion of the whole STEM thing. There are meetups, hackathons, trainings, networking events, code-and-coffee sessions, and so forth. There’s a lot of activity going on, getting young women connected with each other and with the tech world. It’s awesome.

And I would love to participate. I would love to go to these events, network, connect with other women — especially younger women who may be waffling about whether or not to bother with tech… or who are grappling with a particularly sticky algorithmic conundrum and the could use an “old salt” to bounce ideas off.

The thing is, that’s just not gonna happen. Not in person, anyway. Not even online, really. ‘Cause I’m tired. I wrote earlier about how I’m fully employed, and I’ve been that way for about 30 years. Yeah, it’s been good. But I’m also exhausted. And in pain. All the time. To the point of disability, really. To the point of desperation, some days. The fatigue never really goes away, it just subsides and lurks in the background, till I either collapse or get a good night’s rest and manage to put it out of my mind.

All of my effectiveness and advancement has come at a steep price for me, as well as my family. I basically “leave it all on the field” each day. And when I’m done for the workday, I’m done.  Over and out. I’ve also got a handful of personal projects I’ve got going, and they get the majority of my “extra” energy (first thing in the morning before things “heat up” for me, and then on weekends and any parts of vacation days I may have).

The idea of dragging myself into a nearby city (or even town) to go to an evening meetup or coding session, let alone networking with total strangers, whom I have to make an extra effort to relate to… yeah, I just don’t have the discretionary time and energy for that. Even if something happens on the weekends, it’s rare that I have the discretionary energy to do that. I need my downtime — very much so. If I don’t rest enough on weekends, I suffer for it the following week. And so does everyone around me.

I’ve found a fine balance between keeping up with the rigors of everyday life, the responsibilities of my full-time job, being the primary carer for my partner, as well as volunteering on a town government board, attending a couple of autism support groups a month, and keeping myself healthy. And yeah, I do feel left out and excluded by the whole #WomenInSTEM thing. Because it seems to be only for young-ish, able-bodied, luxuriously time-rich women, who have the resources (time, energy, money, interpersonal support) to network and do this stuff.

Me? I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go to monthly meetups — or even quarterly — or just pick up and go to a hackathon on a moment’s notice, if it sounds cool and fun to attend. A lot of things sound cool and fun to attend, but I haven’t got the ability to do so.

I need to plan ahead of time. I need to make arrangements for my responsibilities — both for myself (so I’m confident they’re met) and for those I’m serving. I’m not complaining, I’m just observing.

And it’s kind of a shame.

Of course, I could do something online, I suppose. I could start a blog about my coding experiences, talk about different approaches, talk about the most effective ways to work with tech guys, when you’re the only woman in the vicinity. I could talk about all kinds of harassment, all kinds of positive experiences, lessons learned, and so forth.

But again – Time. Energy. These things take both, and I’ve already got my hands full.

It’s not for myself, that I’m most concerned. It’s actually for the others I could benefit, but never will because I’ve wrung myself out for the cause in the past 8 hours. Me? I’ll be fine. I’m perfectly happy doing my thing. But I’ve been in the technical trenches since the early 1990s, and I’ve got a wealth of knowledge and an eagerness to share it. Others could definitely benefit from it, I’m convinced.

Except the #WomenInSTEM movement is not totally accessible for someone like me. If anything, it’s just a bit exclusionary, as it presumes the ability (physical, economic, time-based) to join in the movement, just like all those other smiling women I see on my Twitter feed. I’m happy for them.

Well, it’s not really my concern, if the movement doesn’t have room for someone like me. The thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m sure there are other autistic tech women — or older caregiving women who are bogged down with domestic responsibilities — who are in the same boat as I. And we’ve got a sh*t-ton of experience that others could benefit from.

If they could get to us.

If they even knew we existed.

But they can’t.

And they mostly don’t.

So… it’s their loss.

And for that, I’m sad. 😦

Ah, well. Back to work.

A little #AutisticAwareness about #autistic #employment

picture of two men on a handcar, riding down a railroad track
You have to do the work that will get you where you’re going – no matter how humble, no matter how less-than-ideal

Increasingly, I’m seeing articles and videos about hiring and retaining autistic employees… as though we’re an exotic species that needs to be courted, wooed, accommodated, enticed… and employers need to be “sold” on our capabilities.

Huh. That’s funny. In 30 years, nobody’s gone out of their way to accommodate my personal requirements, although plenty of people have seen fit to employ me — without needing to be “sold” on me, aside from the skills I bring to the job. I have really suffered in some jobs. And for years, I was in a daily state of stress and distress because of working conditions that were just about unbearable. But I had to bear it. Because I needed the job. And I needed to stay in the job long enough to not look like a “jumper” who flits wildly from one situation to another without any loyalty or long-term commitment. The perception that you’re flighty will really work against you in the competitive job market. Employers frankly don’t want to hire you, if they’re not going to recoup their investment. That’s basically it, from what I can tell.

So, I’ve stayed in some pretty miserable conditions, over the years. Some jobs were so grueling, I was melting down on a regular basis. But I had to keep working. Didn’t have a choice, that I could see. So, I stuck in there. And here I am, ~30 years later, with a record of continuous employment that gets people’s attention.

I’ve heard statistics bandied about, that autistic folks are vastly unemployed or at the very least underemployed. Per an 2015 article in Huffington Post:

In total, the combined unemployment and underemployment for young adults with autism is estimated at 90 percent nationwide. People with ASD were said to have a worse “no participation” rate of unemployment than any other disability group tracked in a separate 2012 study from Washington University in St. Louis.

So, that’s dismal. And it also seems … not entirely accurate. I’ve been working for money since I was 12 years old, when I had a paper route. I worked all during high school, working in greenhouses, doing yard work for neighbors, washing dishes at a local restaurant… and delivering newspapers. I worked my way through college (my family wasn’t poor enough to qualify for full aid, but not wealthy enough to pay my way), and I got a job as soon as I left school (I dropped out, because I ran out of money, and I had a host of other autism-related issues that snowballed into legal and interpersonal dramas). Aside from a 2-month meltdown/shutdown in the fall/winter of 1987-88, I’ve always supported myself (and my household) through full-time jobs.

I’ve made my way through life as an autistic person working in a neurotypical world. It has rarely been easy. It’s been pretty damn’ tough, much of the time. But I’ve toughed it out, I’ve put in my years, and it’s paid off in a very big way.

I need to say a number of things about living and working as a decidedly autistic individual who’s had to work for others to make a living. There seem to be a lot of dismal figures making headlines, along with a combination of wretched prognoses and somewhat “pie-in-the-sky” solutions for autistic folks who need to support themselves.

  1. Self-Employment Isn’t A Magic Elixir for Autistic Folks. I’ve heard a number of people singing the praises of going it on their own, and I applaud them. But not every one of us can do that. I’ve tried going freelance a number of times, but it never “took”. Executive function issues got in the way. The stress of not having the right insurance. The stress of having to put my own schedule in place and enforce it. Also, the need to constantly promote myself to drum up business… yeah, that didn’t work at all. I work much better in an “institutionalized” situation, where somebody else has created the structure and rules, and the rest of us follow along with those common agreements, and Big Things happen as a result. There’s no shame in working for a big corporation. In fact, for people like me, it’s actually one of the best solutions.
  2. Being Under-Employed Isn’t A Sin. Never — not once — have I ever held a job that used all my talents and abilities. Never. Ever. So, technically, I’ve been under-employed my entire life. And yet, I have made a good living (some years – or decades – better than others). And my resume has a continuous string of positions that aren’t glamorous, but they’re there. And even in the most demeaning, lowly positions, I’ve managed to parlay the situation into something better — doing work that suited me, in addition to my daily slog tasks. The idea that under-employment is a horrible thing that should never ever happen, is patently ridiculous. If you’re working, period, and you’re making ends meet, that’s something to be glad about and proud of. Screw anyone who says differently. Anyway, it’s all part of an ongoing process of change and (hopefully) improvement.  So, everybody needs to Get Over the dread specter of “under-employment”.
  3. Job Interviews For Permanent Positions Are A Useless Horror For Me. And sadly, I’ve always gotten the job. Not once. Not twice. But at least five times. And I regretted nearly every single time I got a job through interviewing. I can never for the life of me figure out if I should take a job from an interview. Every single time I went through the traditional interview process, each position seemed like a great opportunity(!) And they nearly all turned out to be huge mistakes that I couldn’t get myself out of easily or cleanly. Oh . My . God… when I think about how terribly I misjudged those situations, based on a handful of discussions with hiring managers and future peers. How awful. I still twitch, when I think back on them.
  4. Contract-To-Perm Positions Are The Magic Ticket For Me. That is to say, I do best in a “try before you buy” arrangement, where I get to check out an employer before committing to them, and vice-versa. Frankly, when I tell people what I can (and will) do in the position, should I get it, nobody believes me. The performance bar is set amazingly low for employees, apparently. Either that, or they just assume that — like so many NT applicants? — I’m lying through my teeth and making big claims I can’t back up. What they don’t know, is that I can back it up. I always do. They have to see it to believe it.
  5. Trading Up Is The Way To Go. Say you identify a company you want to work for, but (according to them) you don’t have the experience or qualifications to do what you want to do. You can get a lower-level job and do that for a while — a few months, maybe a year or two — then move up in the company. I did that at a little publishing company I worked at, after I left university. I got a job as a lowly administrative assistant (1 of 3 admins doing boring-ass paperwork all day). I showed initiative, jumped into some impromptu projects for the boss — one of the VPs — got her attention, and got a promotion after a few months to run part of their direct mail marketing program. I grew the program from 3 mailings in the US, to 4 mailings in the US and 2 additional ones in Canada. We made a lot of money in the process, and I got to be part of something pretty cool. It never would have happened, if I hadn’t taken that lowly job as someone at the very bottom of the food chain and given it my best.

Basically, I think people are incredibly rigid and narrow-minded, when it comes to getting and keeping jobs, as well as moving up in the world. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of work, focusing mostly on technology since the late 1990s. I’m still in it, and I’m earning enough to keep a roof over my head, put food on the table, and actually fix up some stuff around the house. We can take vacations, too. Not a lot, and nothing too extravagant (cruises are way over budget), but one or two a year — long weekends help, as do business trips that have extra “play days” added to the beginning or end.

So, all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about autistics not being properly employed… that’s worrying. And I fear that unrealistic expectations and pie-in-the-sky over-the-top standards for what constitutes “decent” employment are getting in the way.

No, my career trajectory hasn’t been perfect. But I’ve not been out of a job since 1988. And that’s something.

Why are non-verbal children so “problematic” for their parents and society?

I have no children, myself (I chose not to). That’s for a very good reason. I’ve never been convinced that I would be “up to the challenge” of having and raising kids (beginning with even being pregnant — the idea never, ever appealed to me, for some reason). I can’t even imagine how taxing it would be to bear a child, care for him/her, raise them through the years, and go through all the ups and downs of parenting. Plus, all my very fertile siblings have a bunch of kids, so the family name will continue without my involvement. Whew! That’s a relief.

Let me use a decidedly un-Autistic phrase — My hat’s off to them!

Becoming a new parent has got to be incredibly stressful and disorienting. Especially for new parents. They’re under considerable pressure, both internally and externally, to “get it right”… to produce proper human beings who integrate into society and become productive citizens. A million things can — and do — go wrong. Or so I hear from my parent co-workers, each and every day at work.

It’s profoundly stressful, from day one, when your usual sleep schedule is completely turned upside-down, and you have all these new responsibilities on you. You’re not just taking care of yourself. You’re caring for a completely dependent little creature who doesn’t yet make a lot of sense — because they haven’t learned how to do that. And you haven’t gotten to know them, yet. That’ll come. Maybe you’ll like your child, maybe you won’t really care for them (I hear that happens). But bottom line, you have a seemingly insurmountable pile of work ahead of you. And that’s stressful. To say the least.

Being a new parent apparently comes with all sorts of hidden land mines of social failure — you’re not doing this right, you’re not doing that right, is your child attractive? are they healthy? do they behave the way others would expect a child their age to behave? do they blend well with other kids their own age? do they have talents? are they … deficient in some way? will they embarrass you? will others make fun of you? will other parents reject you? will you get it right? will you get it wrong? what did you do wrong now?

Good grief. Personally, I think modern parenting is a set-up. Once upon a time (including in the rural area where I grew up), whole communities raised kids. It wasn’t just on the parents. Other adults, teachers, preachers, friends of the family, neighbors, even total strangers all pitched in to train kids how to be decent human beings and responsible adults. It wasn’t just about a small nuclear family with Mom and Dad and 2.x kids and a dog keeping their own company. Child-rearing was a community effort, and that guaranteed that the little urchins would eventually become respectable adults. In my the world where I was raised, kids were considered little packages of selfish, willful, sinful desires very much in need of proper training to get them/us on the straight-and-narrow. There was none of this isolation you see in mainstream, suburban life, where Mom and  Dad are solely responsible for Bringing Up Baby. Nope.

Nowadays, though, you get in trouble if you even say a word to another person’s kid without the parents’ request or approval. I’ll spare the projections of doom this conjures up for me, since those of us who are inheriting this batch of newbies is prevented from doing any “quality control” or even participating in helping make these noobs better able to participate in the world they’ve inherited. But all that nuclear family autonomy and isolation comes with a price — putting the full load of parenting an infant into productive adulthood onto the shoulders of the parents. And that’s gotta be stressful. All the drama that invariably comes with each kid concentrated on two individuals — either together or separately, if they split up and co-parent separately… It’s a recipe for a continuous state of fight-flight in your nervous system. That’s especially true at the start, when your freshly minted infant is still pretty much a stranger you have to both get to know and keep alive, and all the real and imagined pressures / expectations of the present and future are intruding on you. Anxiety. Stress. Fight-flight. And all the while, you’re not getting enough sleep. Fun! I just reminded myself why I chose not to have children.

Anyway, physiologically and cognitively speaking, being in a constant state of stressed-out fight-flight makes you brittle. It makes you jumpy. It makes you over-reactive. It limits your ability to perceive and process information. It limits your ability to learn. It primes you for yet more fight-flight, with a snowball effect that just builds over time, with all your stress hormones pumping you up, giving you the (illusory) impression of competence, even mastery, while limiting your ability to think through complex information, come up with inventive new solutions to sticky problems, or learn from your mistakes and mishaps.

Unless you take steps to actively reduce the stress and clear out the stress hormone “buildup” from your system (I’m flashing on that old gasoline commercial that had a commanding voiceover promising to “Get the gunk out!“)… your system will continue to marinate in your stress hormone cocktail, and it has a cumulative effect. Your brain literally can’t:

  • Process a wide variety of information
  • Detect nuances
  • Think critically
  • Make memories
  • Learn effectively
  • Let its guard down
  • Find new and different ways of doing things that will solve the underlying issues of the problem at hand

Fortunately, our systems are “wired” to do something about this. If we couldn’t (and sometimes our systems go haywire and we can’t), we’d short-circuit and either end up in wooden boxes six feet underground or … I dunno what else. Anyway, bottom line is, we do have ways of getting from fight-flight to the opposite rest-digest state. Our parasympathetic systems are always at the ready, waiting for us to give them the go-ahead to take the edge off our frazzled existence.

So, what can you do to tone down the stress and tone up the rest-digest response? Balanced breathing (in and out slowly, at an equal rate) will do it. You can relax in whatever way works for you. You can eat something. You can have sex. You can listen to music and sing along. Or you can just sing by yourself. You can meditate. You can focus on your body and stop your thoughts from racing wildly in your frantic mind. Getting “back in the body” and slowing everything down does wonders. I should know. I was a fight-flight mess for years, till I figured this stuff out.

Additionally, we talk. Talking (like singing) stimulates the vagus nerve, which kick-starts the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and takes the edge off your fight-flight impulse. It also fosters a sense of connectedness with others, which can make you feel more supported, less alone, and that can take the stress off, as well. Talking to another person and learning that you’re not the only one with certain problems can do wonders for your stress levels. And if you’re autistic, talking to people and learning tips and tricks and hacks for solving those problems (rather than just rehashing them) can be magical.

Verbalizing for its own sake can be very stress-reducing for neurotypical folks. If anything, it seems to be their predominant stim. I squeeze hard, pointy objects in my hand and it relaxes me. Neurotypicals talk with no apparent need to exchange useful information, or even hear what others are saying. It’s not a criticism, it’s simply an observation (though I will admit to a little annoyance at the idea of chatting without actually exchanging any useful information).

Talking… it does its stress-relief wonders in hidden ways, and nobody who’s off the autism spectrum seems to need anything more than basic PNS activation.

This highly reliable mode of stress relief — talking, interacting, chatting — seems like a basic requirement of neurotypical interaction. It’s not just something they like to do. It’s something they have to do, and others are required to do it along with them. After all, you can’t just stand there talking to yourself. At least, not if you’re non-autistic. Plenty of autistic folks I know (including me) have extended conversations with ourselves or no one in particular, which I imagine serves the same purpose as non-autistic people standing around talking at each other without listening to what others are saying in response.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the basic neurotypical requirement for regular life: Everybody Has to Talk to You. If they don’t, it means something terrible. It means you’re being rejected. It means you’re cast out, unwelcome, cut loose from the crowd… on your own. Nooooo!!!!! Not being talked to, is like a slap in the face. And being ignored triggers the same chemical reactions in the brain as physical pain.

So, if someone won’t talk to you, well, that’s a double-whammy.

First, they’re not giving you the chance to relieve the stress that comes with everyday living.

Second, you’re experiencing pain from feeling ignored.

Which isn’t fun for anyone, whether or not you’re autistic.

So. You’ve got parents who are under tremendous social and personal stress, raising kids they’re just now getting to know. Their primary hope (typically) is that their kids will follow the expected developmental trajectory. But there’s a lot of variation, and in today’s segmented, isolationist society, they don’t have a lot of direct contact with others who can vouch for how everything’s gonna be okay, even in the face of the grand diversity of human experience and expression. So, they’re left guessing an awful lot. Which is stressful.

And how do they relieve stress? By talking with their kids, interacting with them, getting to know them, learning how to best understand them and meet their needs and also steer them in the right directions. Kids need to be interactive, to give their parents important feedback on how they’re doing. And when they’re out in public, interacting with others, kids need to interact, as well — especially talking, preferably in full sentences that make sense to others — so that others can get to know them and see that they’re developing as expected into future members of society.

Children are expected (even required) to speak — both as a source of stress relief for the parents, and a sign that the parents are instilling in them one of the most critical communication / community building tools in the human repertoire.

Now, if kids don’t speak, and if parents don’t have any other techniques for relieving stress, they get even more stressed. They get hit from all sides — they’re not getting the feedback they need from their kids to see if they’re parenting properly, in society’s eyes they’re failing to be adequate parents with a speaking child, AND they’re missing out on a critical stress-relieving tactic (speaking interactively with their child) — all adding to their stress levels.

As I said, prolonged stress blocks learning, creative thinking and problem-solving. It heightens and distorts the issues at hand, intensifying the experience, and it puts parents on the defensive — which can morph into going on the offensive. Perpetual fight-flight state ensues. Plus, if autism is in the mix, that makes things even worse, because who the heck really understands it in the mainstream, anyway? And a whole lot of parents with autistic kids are in a state of perpetual fight-flight, themselves.

It’s no picnic for the autistic kids, either. Autistic children can be highly empathic and sensitive to negative, critical emotions, and the fight-flight drama environment around them can add to their own stress levels, thus dampening their desire to even try to speak… perhaps even develop along the lines they need to learn and develop. I’m not a developmental psychologist — I’m just drawing logical conclusions from the available information. You’re free to draw your own conclusions, of course.

The result? A downward spiral of ever-increasing stress and added difficulties for everybody involved. Parents of non-verbal kids can feel embattled, beleaguered, and completely misunderstood by the outside world that’s judging them based on their kids’ “performance”. They get pretty beaten up by the judgments of others, and it separates them from the support they need to deal effectively with their challenging situations and their own stress. Kids may not get the support or understanding they need, let alone the opportunity to develop along their own lines. And the larger community just stands there, exchanging uncomfortable glances and wondering if there’s a potential criminal in their midst.

This opens up the door for organizations like A$ to intervene with “solutions” for parents of non-verbal, autistic kids. They have handouts, YouTube videos, promotional campaigns, pamphlets, explanations for everything — including the chance to participate in finding a cure for this dreaded condition that seems to have stolen once-healthy child from their loving, confused parents. Organizations touting the “autism is an epidemic / disease” have a proverbial red carpet laid out for them (accompanied by millions of dollars of funding), in part due to the impaired reasoning of everyone involved: the overwhelmed, frightened parents, the kids who aren’t getting support, and society at large, which doesn’t do a great job of understanding or accepting non-verbal people at all.

So, that’s my little spiel about why non-verbal children can be problematic for their parents — and society at large. It makes sense to me, and I hope it sparks some new and different ideas in the minds of folks who never thought about things like this before. Because truly, being often non-verbal myself, it’s really tiring to be under constant pressure to talk-talk-talk, when I literally don’t have anything to say.

And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Okay, so it’s April… let the awareness onslaught begin

rear view mirror of a line of military vehicles driving through the snow
It’s hard to not feel like “they’re coming for us”.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Jennifer D. Atkinson/Released)

I’m starting my day out right – with exercise of two kinds: riding my exercise bike for 20 minutes, then following with 10 minutes of light weight training. I had my “fluffy egg” — a whipped egg I cook in a non-stick pan with a plate laid over the top, so the egg fluffs up and turns into a kind of souffle (till I remove it from the stove and it collapses). I sip my 1/2 cup of coffee while I eat my fluffy egg, I take my Vitamin D3 and B-Complex, then I sit down to write and read, with a banana, a big cup of water, and what remains of my coffee.

It’s April! I need to take care of myself, for sure. The whole turn-on-blue-light-bulbs thing is, well, a popular thing. It means different things to different people, and to autistic people, it doesn’t always mean something good.

At work, we’re encouraged to wear blue on certain days to “show support” for autistic people and their families. Because, well, they’re all apparently young boys who make their parents feel “blue”, and we want to be supportive of the poor suffering families. Bummer. I have to figure out which days those are, because I don’t want to wear blue on those days. I’ll wear #RedInstead. But blue clothes are a significant portion of my very limited work wardrobe (5 pairs of slacks, 5 tops, all of which I mix-and-match, so I don’t have to figure out fashion sh*t, first thing in the morning). So, that complicates things.

Augh! I hate complication. Especially when I’ve got a great thing going with my routine, planned execution, and anticipated outcomes.

In April, especially, I really have no idea what the outcomes will be, so that’s disorienting. Ah, well. It’s a good reason to brush off my stoicism and put it to good use.

The major part  / lion’s share of my activities this month will be self-preservation-oriented. Taking good care of myself and my home (spring cleaning to get my mind off things!) as well as stuff at work. Winter is now in the proverbial rear-view mirror, and it’s time to kick things into action again.

Kicking things into action is very much about setting the direction for my own life for the coming month — and beyond. I can’t be derailed by misinformation programs, propaganda, etc. I have no control over the people behind it. I can provide alternative views — and post videos and other information on the company intranet, when people start waxing eloquent about the trials and tribulations of autism.

There are things I can do.

But I can’t control the outcomes. So, I need to really focus on my own self, my own direction, my own priorities, and not let my life be derailed by the underhanded agenda$ of people who don’t want what’s best for me.

Yep, self-care is in order. As is stoicism.

And actually having fun with stuff. It’s been snowing for 24 hours, now, and there’s more snow coming down on top of the slush that built up overnight. A lovely snow day, for sure. And Saturday, on top of it!

April is showing up with its unique challenges — which I accept.

I accept my autism and all the intricacies of daily life that come with it. I accept my uniquely challenging situation, given my singular temperament and personality. I accept the difficulties that go along with being unrecognized and unsupported by the standards of mainstream society. I have no problem with being on the outside and being misunderstood. And as such, it’s incumbent up on me to “hold my sh*t” in the course of my daily life and live up to everything that crosses my path, for good or ill.

April is one of those “things”. So, here it is. I won’t say “Bring it on!” because it needs no encourage from me. It’s here, whether I like it or not. What I choose to do with it, is up to me.