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!

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.

Trusting Someone with Your Anxiety

There are some people that you can just trust, that you know won’t hurt you, that you know won’t make you feel bad about yourself. My best friend is one of those people for me. It has taken me a long time to trust her, but she has patiently been there through it all.

The other day I was hanging out with her and realized that I was getting to the point of anxiety where I would either freak out or shut down. So I did what I always do and tried to escape as soon as possible. Of course, you can’t just leave without an explanation and because she’s my best friend, I told her the truth. Instead of just letting me go, she asked what would help. By the time I tried explaining everything, I couldn’t handle things anymore. I shut down and then freaked out and then shut down again, but it helped. I got it out of my system and could hang out again.

And she was totally understanding and didn’t make me feel bad about what happened or make me explain why I felt that way. She just hugged me and listened and let me still spend time with her afterwards.

I’m not sure what my point to this is, other than to just trust someone. Let someone know what you’re going through. Let someone know all of you, even the parts you don’t like. Maybe they will be more understanding than you would think. Maybe you will find someone who loves you anyway. And maybe then, you can heal from all the hurt and brokenness, from all the voices in your head that say you are not good enough and you are a freak and no one will ever love you. Maybe then, you can be whole.

I hope you find that someday. I hope you find someone that loves you and would do everything to not hurt you. I hope you find someone to trust with the hard things. I’m still working on becoming whole. I’m still working on the healing and recovery process, but with someone I can trust, with someone that loves me and doesn’t hurt me, I have hope that I will get there someday. I will get better. I can be whole. And maybe, just maybe, I deserve that.

Extrovert with Social Anxiety

I have come to a point in my life where I can start trying to understand my thoughts and why I have some of those thoughts. I am starting to come to terms with different mental models and philosophies that I hold. I know that a lot of my thoughts come from past experiences, and I know that a lot of those thoughts are not really true. The problem is that though I understand these things on an intellectual level, they have not been fully processed mentally and emotionally yet.

One of the most eye opening realizations that I have had in this process has been that I am an extrovert with social anxiety. I absolutely love people. I need people. I need to be around people, lots of people, tons of people. If I am not around someone or talking to someone or messaging someone, the majority of the time I go crazy. I just really need people. On the other hand, I hate people. I hate crowds. I hate noise. I hate people being everywhere all the time and not being able to breathe because there are so many people. I love spending time with people and being invited to hang out or go to an event or have dinner with someone, but I also totally freak out. Sometimes I don’t go, or I go and sit outside and then leave without going in, or I go and stay for a couple minutes and then sneak out, or I go and stay for longer than I am comfortable until I get to the point where I can’t hold in all of the anxiety and I rush out as fast as I can before I can’t hold it together anymore.

My best friend is getting married tomorrow. I have been excited to go to her wedding for months. I have been ecstatic to see her, but I knew it would be hard for me. I know that crowds and noise and people are hard, but I forget about that sometimes. I forget just how hard it is to stay sane with all of my anxiety in social situations. Tonight was hard. The last week has been hard. The last few months have been hard. But tonight, I didn’t want to go anymore. I don’t want to go to my best friend’s wedding reception because the anxiety has gotten to the point where I feel like I’m going to break all the time. She gets it because she’s my best friend, but other people don’t understand or even try to understand sometimes. Of course, I’ll go. I just don’t know when or for how long or how I’ll react or what I will do.

But having social anxiety means that there’s always a tension when you are around people. It’s like having a spring inside of you that gets squeezed the longer you are with people until it finally pops out. And being an extrovert means that once you finally are alone and don’t have to worry about everyone around you, you fall into a bitter loneliness that you just can’t get rid of. So you do this over and over again. You get squeezed until you’re about to snap because you desperately want to be around people and then you retreat until the loneliness is so thick that you can’t bear to be alone. So you go back to the anxiety and then back to the loneliness and back to the anxiety and back to the loneliness.

And you wonder if you’re just killing yourself slowly or if you should just consign yourself to loneliness because trying to be around people is so ridiculously hard. And maybe it is, and maybe you should just stop trying, but… there’s that other voice that says, “maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time it won’t be so bad. Maybe this time you’ll be okay.” And maybe you will be okay; maybe this will all end. And if not, maybe it will be worth it anyway.

If I Had Died

At the beginning of 2009, I tried to take my life. Something happened that made me stay.

I was thinking today about all the things I would have missed out on if I had died that day.

I never would have made my current best friend or my best friend before her.

I never would have met any of my nieces or my nephew, or had the chance to play with any of them or love them.

I never would have graduated from college.

I never would have gone to work at the humanitarian center, where I influenced hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people.

I never would have seen my siblings and friends get married.

I never would have done so many things and taught so many people and made so many friends. I never would have been able to be such an influence for good.

For some of us, it doesn’t get better.

Some of us have had depression for as long as we can remember and it may never go away.

But… just because it doesn’t get easier, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth it.

Sometimes life is hell. It feels like torture and every breath is agony and you desperately long for relief. But… between the agonizing moments, between the gasping for air, between the uncontrollable crying bouts, there are beautiful, amazing, remarkable moments of pure bliss. There are moments that take your breath away and make you cry or leap for joy.

No, it may not get easier, but… it is worth it.