Autism Employment Forum

I have been thinking recently about the job experiences I have had as a person with autism in the workplace. There were a lot of things I didn’t understand that would have been helpful to know back then.

So I started researching support for working adults with autism. There isn’t really anything online. There are links to sites that will set you up with a job coach or employment specialist, and there are a lot of links about hiring someone with autism. But what if you have a stable job as a person on the autism spectrum? Or what if you are fully capable of finding your own job, but this is your first job and you have no idea what your rights are or what to do in certain situations? Where do you learn the things that no one really tells you about working and having/ keeping a job?

I am contemplating making a forum for working adults with autism, or for someone between jobs, or just entering the job field. I’ll answer questions I’ve had and initiate discussions about general employment practices or questions.

It will be a place where we can address topics such as: how do I know if I need accommodations? If I do need accommodations, how do I access them? Where can I go to get help? What are my rights? What do I do when I need a break but management isn’t readily available? Should I tell people I have autism? How do I quit my job? How do I ask for a raise? How do I ask for time off? How do I learn the rules and policies so I don’t get in trouble for breaking them? What can I do if I get in trouble with my supervisor or manager?

But before I go through the trouble of making this forum or discussion group, I need to know if there is interest in such a group, and if there is interest, I need help spreading the word.

That’s where you come in. If you would be interested, like or comment on this post. If you know someone that may be interested, share this post. If you have any input or suggestions, let me know.

If there is sufficient interest, I’ll get started on making a group like this. Thank you for your help!

Thoughts on Bathrooms

I don’t talk about transgender legislation. I don’t talk about my feelings about gender or sexual orientation mostly because it’s controversial. I avoid conflict or even the very thought of conflict. And in general, I avoid conversations with people.

But today I’m going to talk about a specific topic that I cannot get out of my head. Bathrooms. I have always hated public restrooms. Not because of cleanliness or noise or lack of privacy, but because they are almost always gender specific.

There is a boys bathroom and a girls bathroom, and you have to choose which one to go into. For most people, it’s a pretty obvious choice. You simply go into the one that fits you without even thinking twice. But for someone who doesn’t fit, it’s like choosing between depression and anxiety, you don’t want either one but life might just push you into one anyway.

The worst is locker rooms. There is no privacy in locker rooms. And even though you go into the locker room that correlates to your body parts, you can never feel comfortable changing where you don’t belong. Even though I was threatened with detention every day I changed in the bathroom of the girl’s locker room, I still did it. I would rather be punished every day than be exposed every day.

For as long as I can remember, I have wished that there was another option. I wished that there was a middle ground where you didn’t have to choose between boy and girl, but could just be you.

I classify as gender neutral or genderless. I don’t associate myself with either gender or consider myself to fit into the categories of either boy or girl. I also classify as asexual, which means I feel no sexual attraction to either men or women. In a world of men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, being a gender neutral asexual person feels like being a rock in someone’s shoe. You just don’t belong, and you feel like you have no purpose and just get in the way.

I don’t expect you to understand. How could anyone understand if they have never felt like this? But I want you to know that I’m here, that I see the arguments. I see both sides fighting for what they believe to be right. I see my friends, most of whom have no idea how I feel, post about how wrong it is to choose to be something other than what you are.

I promise that I didn’t choose this. In fact, I choose to conform to what I am not every day. I choose to go into the women’s restroom despite the stares I get. I choose to go on the right side of the room when the teacher decides to divide everyone up by gender. I choose to wear a skirt even though it makes me feel gross inside.

I am not a man, but I don’t feel like a woman either. And I’m not sure I ever will. But I try. I try to fit into your world. I try to play along. I try to squeeze into the boxes I am expected to fit into. But please, before you post how wrong this is, before you tell the world to stop making things difficult, please, please know that for some people this has always been difficult. Please know that for some people, we would rather wet our pants every day at school than have to go into a restroom where we don’t fit in. And please, just please try to understand how hard it is to go through every day hating everything you are because no one seems to want you if you can’t be what they expect you to be.

Suicide

People who are thinking clearly do not want to die. Even those who consistently think about dying do not really want to die; they just want the pain to be over.

I think about suicide a lot- nearly every day, usually multiple times a day. However, it is just a thought. It comes and goes like a wave on the shore. And as long as I have moments of peace in between, I’m okay and I won’t hurt myself. But every once in a while, the tides are high and the waves don’t really leave and you drown in it.

Last night was one of those times. I had done everything to feel okay. I had read scriptures and prayed and read positive notes from friends and colored and ate chocolate. I did everything I could think of to save myself, but at the end of the night, it was not enough. I looked up the suicide hotline and wrestled with the thought of calling for half an hour. But when you can’t call the suicide prevention line because you’re crying too much before you even dial the number, you know things are bad.

I kept telling myself I don’t normally feel like this. It’s just a night. It’s just a moment. Maybe I should call to get me through… But once I finally pushed the button and saw the call going through, I panicked.
“I can’t really be calling the suicide hotline… That means these thoughts are real. That means I’m actually considering acting on how I feel.” That means that I’m not as well as I think I should be.
These were the thoughts going through my head.

But I have made promises to stay safe. I have made promises that if I am ever in danger or think I might be in danger, I will let someone know. So I did. I didn’t know if they could help or how they could help, but I knew that if something happened and I didn’t at least tell them, they would be hurt.

It took another half hour of talking with them before I felt okay again. I kept hearing in my head that I had a friend and that things were going to be okay until the darkness dispersed. I felt the thickness and weight of a dark fog lift off me. I still hurt beyond belief, but I no longer felt like I was drowning.

I know you can’t completely understand unless you’ve been through this, but I want you to know that we try. Anyone who has depression and attempts to end their life or contemplates suicide tries to be okay. We try to find ways out of the darkness. We try to get help. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work, or we don’t know what resources to turn to, or we can’t seem to find the capacity to use the resources.

They say that suicide is selfish, and maybe it is, but I want you to know that getting to that point doesn’t just come. It’s a struggle. It’s a fight for your life. And if you know someone that loses that fight, I hope you also know that they probably tried everything to be okay. They just didn’t know what else they could do.

Chocolate

They say that people who eat chocolate every day are happier. I am starting to believe it. I have never been a chocoholic. In fact, I have never really liked eating a ton of junk food or sugary food. I splurge every once in a while, but then I get sick of it and just want to eat fruits and vegetables for a few weeks. But I have discovered that a little bit of chocolate can really help offset a depressed mood.

There are times when I just feel heavy. Nothing bad happened that day. There are no reasons for me to feel down, but I do. I feel so heavy that I don’t want to go on. I don’t want to do anything or try anything. I don’t want to go outside or go to work or eat food or read a book or draw a picture or anything. I just want to curl up on the floor and forget about everything and pretend like the world doesn’t exist for a while.

Recently when I had an anxiety attack, I ate some chocolate and it seemed to help calm me down a bit. I remembered that today when the heaviness returned and life seemed almost unbearable. So I had a piece of chocolate, and it helped. I mean, I wasn’t jumping up and down or smiling or laughing or anything, but the heaviness eased up. I felt a little lighter, a little more able to bear the weight of life, a little less isolated from the world.

Depression is such a difficult illness. There are things that help, and you get better, and you have hope, but sometimes it just doesn’t go away. I have chronic depression. I don’t ever remember a time when I wasn’t depressed. The longest I went without long periods of depression was one year, and I still had moments of depression within that year. I described depression to a friend once as pain that grips you, and some days it grips you so tightly that you can barely breathe, and you feel so weak and heavy for no describable reason.

So, no, chocolate won’t cure your depression. But maybe it will help. And when every day is a battle for your life and you feel like you don’t want to fight anymore, anything that relieves the burden in the slightest is a blessing. So eat chocolate, eat ice cream, eat pizza, do whatever makes you happy, because life is too short to not feel better.

When Someone Understands

My entire life I have dealt with not being okay. There are different reasons why I might not be okay- maybe it is too loud or too bright or too hot or there are too many people or there is too much going on or I am hungry or tired or anxious or just not okay for some other reason. Sometimes I do a pretty good job of getting myself to become okay again; other times not so much. I have learned over the years that there are times I simply cannot handle a situation in a positive way because of how I feel. I have also learned to find a way to escape when I feel this way so that I won’t do something I would regret. But, until recently, I was generally alone in figuring out how to deal with all this.

A few days ago I was at a family event that was overwhelming for me. I felt crowded and hungry and the noises around me seemed extra loud. I went to a chair in the corner of the room and tried to pretend like I was okay. I didn’t really expect anyone to notice or do anything. I was just trying to disappear into my head. But, my sister did notice. She asked if I was okay and if I needed to go to a quiet place to be alone for a while. She and her husband hugged me and told me that it was okay that I was having a hard time. They showed me where I could go to get away from everything for a bit, and while I was away trying to calm myself, my sister made me food and brought it to me.

It felt so amazing that I cried. I cried because people are starting to understand. They are starting to realize when I’m overwhelmed and need a break, and they are helping me. When someone understands it changes everything. It is easier to become okay again when others don’t expect you to be okay in the moment. If they get upset with you or frustrated or scared or react in a way that makes you feel abnormal, it invalidates your feelings. You get upset with yourself because you should not react in that way, you should be able to control yourself, you should not be overwhelmed by the situation.

I feel like I have pretty good self control. I can generally hold in a meltdown until I get to a place where I am alone. I can generally calm myself down enough to get to another room before I get overly upset about a situation. It is hard though. It is hard once you are not okay to do everything on your own to become okay. It is hard to be alone, yet that is often how we believe we must deal with how we feel.

Over the past few weeks, I have had a lot of times when I was not okay. But I have been amazed at the positive, helpful responses I have received in these times. Not everyone has responded positively, but a few people have let me be not okay with them for a few minutes so that I could get to a point of being okay again. It has helped me to become okay so much faster and be able to still participate because I didn’t have to leave before I really wanted to go. Maybe it is not always that easy. Maybe sometimes other people can’t really do anything to help, but if someone can understand, if they can let you know that it is okay to not be okay, that can change everything.

 

Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

Struggling

“I’ve been struggling.”

This is not a common phrase you hear in most conversations. In general, people keep the fact that they’ve been struggling to themselves or maybe one or two close friends or family members. We just don’t like to admit that we’re having a hard time because we’re supposed to have it all together.

However, this phrase has become more common to hear in my conversations. I have reached a point in my life where I need to admit that I’ve been struggling. I need to tell someone because I realize that I can’t do this alone.

At work I have needed to admit I’ve been struggling quite a few times over the last year or so. In my previous job, I discussed with my boss how I had been struggling. I explained to him how I felt so that he could understand when I didn’t do everything 100% like I used to do and so that if a situation arose at work, he would know how to handle it. In my new job, I have needed to admit that I’m struggling to keep up because I don’t know how to do everything quite yet and I’m not as fast as someone else might be.

With my friends, I talk about my struggles fairly openly because I need them to know when I’m not okay. I need someone to be there when the struggling becomes too much to bear. I have been pleasantly surprised that some of my friends have also been open with me when they are struggling.

This life can be hard. It can be so difficult that I wonder what I’m doing here or if it’s even worth it. But I think these conversations are necessary. I think they are good steps towards an environment of open communication and trust. So I hope that we can all say we’ve been struggling to someone when we have a hard day or just don’t know what to do, because we all struggle at some point. We just have to decide if we want to do it alone or if we’re willing to let someone help us in the journey.

I’m Still Hurt

As a child, I was hurt a lot. Mostly emotionally, but sometimes physically. I remember being teased at school and church because I couldn’t say the letter R. I was also bullied by kids who would ask if I was a boy or a girl and then ignore what I said and label me whatever they wanted.

Home was better, but still not exactly a safe haven. I knew my parents and siblings loved me, but there was a lot of fighting growing up. There was a lot of conflict between my siblings, and my parents, and my siblings with my parents. I generally stayed out of a lot of the conflict, but that didn’t mean I was spared from it. I still witnessed it and participated in the aftermath of it.

Experiences with a certain person in my extended family probably was what affected me the most. The other things in my life just didn’t do much to combat the abuse I suffered.

It is still hard for me to use the word abuse. It feels like such a strong word- that you have to have suffered for so long and been treated so badly that you were hurt beyond repair. Unfortunately, that does describe my situation, but abuse can also be a one time event. It can be something small. It can be something seemingly insignificant to everyone else. Abuse is simply when you are not treated in a way that is consistent with respect for your wellbeing. In this sense of the word, I was abused by many people in a variety of ways over the years.

For a long time, I could not handle what I had been through. Now I am at a point in my life where I can process what I went through and the effects of it all. What I have learned is that I hate myself.

I have hated myself for a very long time because I didn’t feel like I could do anything right. I felt like a bad person. At this point in my life, I can honestly say and believe that these thoughts are incorrect. I can tell that they are lies my mind feeds me because of what I’ve been through. The problem is that I don’t yet know how to change these thoughts and their effects.

I’m still hurt. As much as I would like to say that I am fully healed because I realize the truth, it’s just not the case. You don’t just overcome years of hating yourself by realizing that the reasons you hate yourself are not true.

I am a good person. I realize this. But I have gotten angry at myself for doing good things over the years. I was upset that I could not stop the desires I had to help others. I was taught by my experiences that if you didn’t help the way someone wanted, you shouldn’t help at all. I was also taught that even if you helped perfectly and did everything asked of you, a mistake later erased every good thing you did previously. So I am constantly afraid of being hurt.

I am constantly afraid that when I do something good, I did it in the wrong way or I did too much or not enough. So it would be so much easier if I didn’t try to do good things. The problem is that it is in my nature to want to help others. I see needs or wants and I want to help, to do something to make things better. This dichotomy has caused such discord in my mind. I hate myself for wanting to do good things because I am a bad person that doesn’t do things right so wanting to do those things makes me even worse.

I realize that it doesn’t make sense. I realize that it is twisted logic. I realize that wanting to do good things is not a sin or a fault, and I should not hate myself for it. But I’m still hurt. I still have years of yelling at myself for trying. I still have deep, well worn pathways in my mind that tell me I’ll never be good enough and I am not worthy of love.

Last night, I had a mental breakdown. I wanted to erase everything that I ever did for anyone else because I was tired of living so long trying to make other people happy. The thing is… I love making people happy. It’s my favorite thing to do. I just have hated myself for it and I wanted to erase that hate. I wanted to erase reminders of that hate. I wanted to erase all the times I tried but didn’t feel like it was good enough.

I don’t really want to stop helping others. I don’t really want to forget the good things I did or try to do. I just want to forget the pain of hating myself for doing those things. I want to love myself. I want to live for myself. I want my reasons for living to be more than just not wanting to hurt people by dying. But most of all, I just want to be healed.

I want to be whole. I want to think, “hey, maybe that person could use some flowers” and not hate myself for the thought. I want to be able to say hi to someone or give someone a gift or do any of the other things I want to do and not be terrified of the consequences. And most of all, when I am healed, I don’t want to hurt myself again. I don’t want to hate myself again. I just want to be free.