Guest Blog

Stereotypes and Assumptions about Jobs for Autistic People

28 Feb 2018 by autisticaplanet

I had my own assumption for my first job. My mom told me I didn't have to prove anything, but she would support my effort to get a job in the summer between my junior and senior year at Office Max. I chose Office Max because I enjoyed organizing things. I also loved the smell of office and school products so much so as to take a stroll down the school supply aisle at the supermarket or hardware store. I loved picking out my supplies from the list the school sent. I assumed there wouldn't be the hectic-ness of a grocery store due to the nature of the products sold. Those assumptions were proven wrong my first day. 

I started in July of 1996. Back to school shopping was already beginning. Office Max has the type of ceiling that amplifies sounds, so the screaming and crying of small children sounded like it was being played through speakers. There was a file I had to open with a combination lock that stuck. It worked for the impatient woman who was training me, but I could not get it to open and that wore her patience thin. Performing the feat of scanning bar codes and swiping credit cards (all while not being able to process the screaming and blinding white fluorescent lights) in a quick manner was not something I could pull off. I sobbed on my 10-minute break. I got a migraine. On my third day, I had a self-harming meltdown as my mom drove me to work. My mom had to call the manager and explain why I could no longer work there as I was too upset to speak. I had to go to bed for the rest of the day with a cold pack on my head.

Job suggestions were based on my characteristics rather than my capabilities.  It was clear they didn't know how to help me.

A few years later, I attended a workshop at the department of rehab. The job suggestions the instructors gave were based on my characteristics rather than my capabilities. I was creative. Hobby Lobby HAD to be the right job. When I relayed the Office Max story, I was met with a few stares and pregnant pauses. I stopped going to the weekly workshop, because it was clear they didn't know how to help me. The way the program was designed helped people with intellectual impairment and mental illness find retail jobs. That was all there was to offer other than the sheltered workshop. My sensory processing made that impossible, too.

There are other obstacles, too.

Now I am into making beaded stretch bracelets at home, and my aunt and sister (my mom died nearly four years ago and my dad nearly 24 before that) are helping me to find venues so I can sell them. This has proven tough. One person who owns a small boutique did accept my bracelets.  Another idea that has been tossed around is - more retail: Rent a table at a Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning and sit out hawking bracelets. My aunt and sister, frustrated by the lack of an outlet for financial opportunity, decided they would do this for me this summer, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes of it. I am very fortunate that I still have family that loves me.

Another well-meant but latest misconception that was offered was to create an Etsy account. I understand where folks are coming from. I know how to use a computer. I could work from the solitude of my own home and I would have greater exposure for my product. There are other obstacles. I would not have transportation back and forth to the post office. There is no public transportation and due to sensory issues I couldn't take it if it were offered. I have no family, friend or neighbor available to drive me. Just the thought of standing in line and having to flee, possibly in the middle of doing my business due to a child having a tantrum in another building with a ceiling that amplifies sounds makes my chest constrict.

Another thing is dealing with the "end user". What my body endures from verbal assault isn't normal or healthy. I have had to move my blog and leave social media due to cyberbullying. The shaking, dizziness, panic and rage that occurs within me isn't something I can control well enough to persevere. I have a cat in the house, and I don't want her to accidentally get harmed or scared because I threw something or screamed.

When trying to help an autistic person,

listen to them.

I am taking a break from all those "How to get a job with Asperger's" type of articles. They are helpful if one is going out into the work world or interviewing someone on the spectrum.  My advice when trying to help an autistic person find a job is to LISTEN to them. Don't stereotype or judge before the person has communicated a single paragraph. Take notes if necessary.

Our culture needs to get creative...and include autistic people in the conversation.

Know lastly that not all autistic people will be capable of working full or part time. Co-morbids like chronic migraines, mental illness, anxiety and socialization/communication barriers can be and are, for some, TOO MUCH.

Our culture needs to get creative not only with creating jobs and workspaces,  both remote and in-house, but also in educating and housing autistic individuals - AND INCLUDING THEM IN THE CONVERSATION.

To read more from autisticaplanet, visit the blog through1filter