I am inspired today to write about working when you’re autistic. There is so much stigma attached to acknowledging the autism in the workplace that most Auties I know, including myself, simply won’t disclose their autistic status as it limits their ability to find work that challenges them and holds their interest.
Most autistics are under-employed, or unemployed. I know many very talented people, in every industry, who have managed to find their niche and they are accepted despite their “eccentricities.” Not one of them have ever told their employer or colleagues that they are autistic. They want to avoid, as I do, being the subject of office gossip, condescension and discrimination.
No matter what HR departments say, discrimination exists and it does affect out employability, our ability to stay employed, our potential for promotions and the perceptions of our boss and colleagues. I have managed to be relatively successful until recently, it’s exhausting to constantly mask and feign all of the appropriate responses every moment of every day. Poor self-esteem and imposter syndrome is common. The stress causes the mask to slip, it’s inevitable. Sometimes, it won’t be noticed. But when the mask drops, the result can be catastrophic.
For myself, I’ve spent the first 25 years of my working life being reasonably successful. The only time I left a job was to raise my family or to take advantage of an opportunity. I didn’t have any issues in staying employed. Then, two years ago, I hit full-blown autistic burnout. The mask didn’t just slip, it shattered. I shut down. I took three months off work, and then left it entirely. I couldn’t pretend anymore. I was exhausted, demoralized and depressed. It took me almost a year to fully recover, during which time I worked in a casual or part-time capacity while caring for a parent. Three out of four of those jobs were a bad fit from the start, but I couldn’t walk away. Early programming by my mother that insisted that the needs of others trump my own prevented me. I know now I went back to work before I had even begun to recover. Failure was the natural result.
The last job, however, I loved it. It was a perfect fit for me. I felt accepted by my team, enjoyed the work, it was creative and challenging, and I excelled with the clientele. They let me go because “I wasn’t the fit they were looking for,” six weeks into my probationary period. No other explanation. I was mystified, I still am.
So now I’m going to try something new…I’m going to disclose my autistic awesomeness ahead of time. I’m owning it, consequences be damned. I’m hoping that the enlightened HR parameters actually work, and accommodations help me find a spot where I not only fit, but I’m appreciated for my authentic self. That’s not too much to ask is it?