Category Archives: Autism at Work

Autism’s Not So Bad – Why I Focus on The Positive

On this blog I share my difficulties so that others who have similar troubles will know they are not alone.

In life I try to focus more on the positives. It is better for me to focus on the things I can do versus worry over the areas I’m lacking.

I could beat myself up over my flaws until my self-esteem is in the toilet and I slip into a deep darkness. Trust me I’ve been there before and getting down like that is not helpful. Sure, I have limitations and disabilities but we all have troubles and obstacles to overcome.

When I was younger adults pointed out my flaws. Teachers and school highlighted all the ways I was a failure. I felt completely inadequate and was physically ill from anxiety.

My skills and artistic abilities were always discouraged. Nobody pushed me to peruse my talents. People assumed I would grow up and never make anything of myself.

It has taken years to recover from this trauma. The past few years have been the best years of my life – especially since discovering my Autism. The amount of self compassion needed to accept this truth helped me shift my thinking.

My Autism has given me quite a few gifts that I would like to highlight. These are the things I think about during my day. Reflecting on the positives keeps me going, making sure I don’t fall into a pit of self-pity. I have to keep moving.

I am extremely detail oriented (almost to a fault sometimes) but when doing the right types of tasks I am better than most at catching certain things.

My personality – these traits I believe come from my Autism. I am very loyal, honest, and self motivated. Above all things I value the truth.

I am a very dedicated employee and am great at following a list of tasks. I don’t socialize when I should be working and generally try to do work I love. I work hard and follow the rules.

Peer pressure does not get me. I am able to see when others are being illogical. I am a VERY logical person. I can also be calm when others panic (depending on the situation).

I have a bond with animals and nature. A walk in nature cures anything in my soul.

I’m not afraid to go against popular opinions – and will often comment when I disagree with them.

My perspective is different. Autism affects the way I intemperate the world so I have a unique perspective. This can be very helpful in a group when looking for new solutions.

I see music videos when I close my eyes and recall songs in my head like a jukebox. The movies come alive in full color. This is just magical. I also memorize songs and know all the words to just about every song I enjoy.

I can write in a way that comes from my Autistic experience. I’ve read so many books. As a child I read fiction, Stephen King, Dracula, and many more adult books. I remember the beautiful patterns in the words. I’ve read all the classics and now I read non-fiction. These things have rubbed off on me.

Patterns are everywhere and I see them. I see pasterns in everything – people, objects, concepts. Sometimes I get lost in them but I’ve learned to use these things as a guide for my life. It makes things more predictable – which most Aspies can appreciate.

Synesthesia – I enjoy mine but am not ready to put the experience into words. Sometimes it is distracting and even distressing. It made driving very difficult. Until about a year ago I didn’t even know there was a word for my experience. Still – I actually love this part of myself and would NEVER give it up.

So despite the days where I am sharing a painful experience, these are the things in my mind on a day to day basis. I remind myself every day of the ways I am blessed so that I am not overcome by darkness.

Basic Accommodations – I’m Not Disabled By My Autism, I’m Disabled By Unaccommodating People

In an earlier post titled Autism is Not My Disability I said

“Autism is not the disability, although symptoms of my sensory processing difficulties can leave me crippled and unable to function. The disability is society’s misunderstanding of Autistic people.”

Although I still agree with my previous statement, I’ve been rethinking this title laity and feel a strong urge to elaborate.

First I want to clarify that there are parts of Autism that are disabling.

We can have mental disabilities, epilepsy, IBS, Anxiety attacks, chronic insomnia, extreme sensory sensitivities, and more. In my mind these things are not Autism – because they differ so widely in all of us. I consider these commodities are unfortunate side effects that Autistic people encounter (too often).

These things ARE true disabilities and are often invisible – so when I say Autism is not a disability, I mean Autism as a way of thinking in itself is not a disability. This does not mean many Autistic people are not disabled.

I wish it weren’t true, but many of us are.

Personally, I am not sure if chronic illness will eventually leave me unemployed and unemployable. It is a constant fear as I scramble to get my health under control. Doctors are apathetic and if you’ve learned to act “normal” people doubt your diagnosis every time you mention it.

There are certain things I need help with, some simple accommodations that make my life easier. In work and in my personal life I tend to ask for the following (although people accuse me of being difficult) :

Sit somewhere quiet. At work I may wear headphones with music or ear plugs. Working from home is also a great option. My ears are so sensitive they pick up everything. I can’t focus on one conversation or catch all the words in a loud busy room. I like calm restaurants or off peak times.

Sit somewhere with the gentle lighting. Natural light without glares and certain soft artificial light is something I need. Modern office light is the worst. The wrong lighting or lots of glares makes me feel sick and hurts my eyes and brain. If I can’t escape I may put shades on or wear a hat indoors.

Ask for or make a plan. I like to know what’s happening and am honest about not enjoying surprises. I also need to know when things will end. Sometimes I may stay choose to late, if not, having an end time helps me to relax.

Say no to people. I am not a social person and can’t take a lot of going out. Socializing drains me like nothing else. Now that I work full time I have a hard time going out more than a few times a month. I say no to people more than they are used to but my health is important to me.

Try to get everything in writing. I have a hard time following verbal directions. Autism does impair some of my face to face communication skills. I also have impaired sort term memory and executive functioning.

When I ask for someone to put something in writing for me, it is one of the most important accommodation that I ask for. My reading level is FAR above what I can take in though speech. This helps ensure I don’t skip any important details.

Special treatment. It’s not fair for you to get special treatment.

If I am lucky people oblige me, however I get a lot of push back sometimes.

I feel like these accommodations are reasonable. When I have these things I am able to function at an optimal level. Without them I end up struggling to keep up with the basics. If you give me just a little I can go far.

I think differently and go about things in a different way. On my own this has never been a problem. My problems only appear when other people insist upon me doing things their way, insisting that I do things like everybody else.

They can’t see my disability and think I am asking for an easy way out.

They can’t understand how badly I need to do things my way and don’t see how much I struggle without accommodations. They are hard to get especially in the work place.

All I want is to do my best.

My Autism is not my disability – unaccommodating people are.

 

 

 

Misunderstandings

So many misunderstandings.

People read too much into meaningless things.

If I don’t look at you when you speak

you assume I’m not listening.

When my body language

doesn’t do what you’d expect

or when I laugh in the wrong moment.

If I say something using the wrong tone

you may think I’m rude.

If I cannot speak

I must be hiding something.

Over and over,

we confuse each other.

When I take something you say literally,

or my brain skips hearing words as you say them.

Sometimes I need time to process.

If I don’t get it

we’ll both stay confused.

Sometimes I can’t explain myself.

Please trust me.

Sometimes I process things on a delay.

Maybe we can talk about it another day – maybe not.

I’m not ignoring you or trying to

leave you hanging.

If I look confused, I probably am.

Give me time to figure things out on my own.

Don’t treat me like a child.

It’s only

a misunderstanding.

A poem about Autism and misunderstandings. Being Autistic sometimes feels like nobody understands you. Other times you know instantly that some misunderstanding has occurred.

I Want to Encourage Everyone to Write

Writing is therapy and can be a key to better self understanding. We all have stories to tell and lessons learned. When we share we give others the opportunity to learn.

Write – even if you never share your world with anyone.

Pour your soul out onto the pages (digital or hand written). Let your thoughts come to life. Often I am surprised at what comes out when I am behind a keyboard. There is a flow when I am comfortable and relaxed.

In face to face interactions I am not nearly as eloquent. Sometimes I am just struggling to keep pace with a conversation – my brain tends to save information to process later. This is inefficient when speaking to people. By the time I am ready to contribute often the topic has already been changed.

My social differences are often misunderstood by my peers. I don’t need to look at people when they are talking to me – and listen best if I don’t try to. People often think I am rude, daydreaming, or not paying attention. They don’t understand that my brain works differently.

I started this blog out of frustration. When everywhere I go everyone misunderstands or underestimates me. If I tell people I am Autistic they say things like “you seem to have grown out of it” or “you don’t seem autistic”.

The picture they have of Autism is one that was sold in movies and on the internet.

It is a boy who cannot speak, an adult who may never live on their own, or someone who bangs their head against walls (I do this but not hard enough to hurt much).

An attractive woman who appears to have it all together is NOT what they imagine when you say “Autism” and they can’t easily adjust the pictures in their minds.

Neurotypicals tend to have more of a “hive mind” than Aspies do. They tend to follow popular opinions and are often hesitant to stray from what is considered “common knowledge”.

I can only see one fix for this problem – change what is “common knowledge”.

Aspies are wired to be individuals we don’t care about what others think – unless we are taught to care what others think (then we can become overly eager to please). We tend to be very analytical – sometime to the point of over analyzing.

Many of us thrive in solitude and are often accused of being “antisocial” and other negative terms.

People have a hard time accepting what they don’t understand. That is why it is so important that we all share our stories. Everyone has a story to tell.

Do something with yours – even if it is all you’ve got. Maybe you will change the world.

 

#SheCantBeAutistic #ActuallyAutistic #AnonymouslyAutistic #InvisibleAutism

Mental Health & Chronic Illness – Things People Don’t Understand

Toughen up – that phrase makes my arm hairs stand on end… my family members said it a lot, so did my teachers. Stop calling me weak – on one hand I hate being told that.  Regardless, coming from my mother it did me good and helped me become the person I am today.

The other one that REALLY gets me is “you’re not trying hard enough”. This is the worst thing you could ever say to someone who is doing there honest best. It’s soul crushing. It doesn’t matter your intentions – I hear “your best is not good enough“.

Certain simple things like timing in conversation trip me up. My brain is working overdrive but still I make simple mistakes. Because I can be extremely skilled at complex tasks people say things like – “you are too smart for this” & “you are not trying hard enough”.

On the inside I am dying because my best is perceived as laziness. I’m working so hard –Not trying? They can not comprehend how difficult this is for me.

People assume I am being rude and I rub them the wrong way. I’ve been told I can be perceived as standoffish and distant – not really what I’m going for. It keeps people away.

I am very isolated because of my limited social skills. My awareness of my social impairments has helped me to develope severe Social Anxiety.

I don’t go out, I don’t socialize – I get more than enough human interaction (the wrong, over stimulating, kind) at work. Other than going to the office, I never go anywhere without my husband.  He is my rock and is wonderful to me. He seems to pick up on the things that I miss. We compliment each other nicely.

I don’t bond with many people, but the people who I do bond with have my loyalty till the end. When you can’t read people and tend to be gullible you have to guard your inner circle. I don’t want to let a snake in the hen house.

My co-workers are all wonderful but unfortunately we are never on the same page. They go out, they dance, they drink (a LOT), they get loud and crazy. None of that appeals to me one bit. They care about brands and dinners at expensive restaurants – I feel like these things are a waste of money. I don’t know how to talk to them because we have nothing in common.

My thoughts are on my mortgage, family, my current obsession, and saving for days when I may no longer be able to work. I can’t throw money away like they do – I don’t have money to waste.

The risk of loosing work is high when you have a chronic illness. If you use too many sick days your boss will fire you. I am healthy enough to work right now but I don’t know if this will always be the case.

There was a time years ago when I was sick 3 days a week – the beast. I fear it’s return more than anything.

I am “disabled” but not on any disability. I don’t have supports other than my husband’s care. I’ve been disabled to the point where I really could not live a good life before – it was horrible and I never want to do it again.

If I get sick I will lose my job and my home. More than anything my home is my safe place. Living in apartments was hell with my sensory sensitivities. Maintenance men insisting they have to fix something are not something I can deal with on high sensory days – neither are loud neighbors.

Having my own place is essential to my mental health and having a job is essential to having a home.

I also spend more out of my own pocket for medical expenses than most people. Almost every doctor I need to see is always a specialist who is “out of network”. I don’t get all the recommended medical things done because the costs have gotten ridiculous.

I have to eat organic and gluten free because the chemicals and gluten make my stomach violently ill. I am chemically sensitive – something that is common in people with AS that I speak to.

Money is always tight but we are getting by. I am trying my hardest to keep everything in balance.

All I can do is take care of myself and hope for the best.

Meltdowns Suck, I Hate Crying In Public, & No I Can’t Turn it Off

My mental profile is SO spiky. I am extremely gifted at a few things but certain things I can’t handle.

Last minute schedule changes  stress me out. Meltdowns are the worst and  having one in public is embarrassing as hell. A woman in her mid-thirties crying like a child.  I hide and cry. This also happens anytime someone I trust misleads me (because I trust few people).

Sometimes if the schedule change is big enough I will go into a full blown panic. It is worse if I feel like I am trapped and can’t say no – I feel like I am drowning every time this happens. I know how to recover from them but they are not under my control.

My meltdown is NOT a tantrum – it is a very true expression of inner feelings that I can no longer contain. The dam has broken and a flood is imminent. Everything I’ve been holding in has got to come out.

People think I am being dramatic or exaggerating things but I literally can’t stop a meltdown. In addition the thing that I am reacting to may seem very small to them. They don’t see things from my perspective or know all the other factors that went into building that meltdown.

Maybe someone I love just passed away, or I am feeling sick, maybe I am having horrible PMS, or trouble sleeping, sometimes my social anxiety gets out of control.

These are the disabling things I don’t talk about.

I tend to bottle everything up, which can’t be healthy, and eventually like a can of frozen soda – when the pressure becomes too great, I POP! I’ve done this all my life.

It’s too late once a meltdown has started, they have to run their course – sometimes if I get away fast enough I can help one pass more quickly.

While meltdowns are physically and mentally painful and I NEVER want to have one, sometimes the relief felt after one is amazing especially if you’ve been under extra stress.

I always feel worn out afterwards, like someone who has had a seizure, or an orgasm. Sometimes I feel naked and exposed meltdowns make you feel vulnerable and out of control.

Please be compassionate next time you see a thirty-something woman crying in public, you don’t know what she’s got going on.

She might be autistic, she might be stressed, she might even be me. 😉

 

Working Full Time (Is Killing Me) – Autism at Work

Now that I know the reason for my social impairments and shortcomings, I am more accepting of my own failures.

Before I knew I was Autistic, I remember crying alone wondering why I could not just figure out the nuances of conversation. Why even when I thought I was doing everything right to have a polite conversation, people told me I still spoke out of turn and repeated myself .

The way I relate to others is somehow of-putting. I tend to ramble and turn conversations back onto myself. People think I don’t care about what they have to say but really, I’m just trying to say – “I understand.”

In fact I am also much more aware of my own failures now – this was hard on my self esteem when I was first diagnosed. Suddenly all of my flaws were illuminated, in my face, and so official.

I realized that I could not read faces, realized how much I was struggling just for timing in conversations, realized that auditory processing delays make face to face interactions stressful and overstimulating.

I was pushing myself to the point of sickness trying to keep up with the social demands of my busy work place. The things that most people find rewarding, busy events and parties, are not fun to me. I don’t want to go out and drink and I don’t feel relaxed around my coworkers.

All that fun was not in the job description and it was taking a toll on me.

Happy hours, networking events, international travel, restaurant openings, celebrities, private screenings of movies that the public can’t see yet – my job is pretty amazing.

The truth is, I rather not have all the extra perks that my job “offers”. I’ve learned that the politics are complex and if you don’t attend certain things your boss feels like you are ungrateful. I try to attend the very minimum, but even that is pushing it for me.

I am surviving in energy conservation mode. I have no social life other than the one my office creates.

I’ve stopped hanging out with my real friends because at the end of the work week I am dead. I have no energy or desire to socialize, burnt up and spent, nothing left for the people who matter most to me.

But I am living the dream right? I have my dream job and it seems to be killing me.

I need more down time than most people, and the more social I am the more down time I need. It is hard for someone running on spoons to have a full time job, but quitting is never my option.

I have gratitude for my job, because TOO many Aspies are unemployed. I am thankful every day for my very difficult and exciting job – even on the worst days.

My Biggest Secret – I’m Smart!

Most people who meet me have no idea. I  am a fly on the wall or a clown making jokes, deflecting from my deepest darkest secret. Nobody would ever guess, because my verbal (spoke) vocabulary is nothing particularly remarkable.

People sometimes describe me as “funny, silly, and quirky”. My coworkers describe me as “positive, friendly, warm, and kind”. Apparently the word feels as if I am a bubbly personality – they have no idea of the deep dark secret hiding within me.

Nobody knows that I am smart. I don’t run around wearing my IQ (144 SD15) on my blouse. That number is subjective.

If a cat tell’s a fish he is stupid because he cannot climb a tree he will never appreciate that the fish can breath under water – the cat cannot breath under water. The fish and the cat are different not less (as Temple Grandin said).

Most day’s I don’t feel particularly smart. I am great at problem solving, writing, and other random things, but sometimes struggle  greatly with basic life skills.

It is a frustrating enigma. People often say things like “you’re too smart for this” – I remember my mother saying this to me repeatedly through my childhood. Whenever I make a mistake it is always “because I am not trying hard enough”.

Growing up you learn that bragging does not bring you many friends and your parents beg you to stay humble so you hide your talents. Hidden under the dirt  and rocks your beauty can not shine.

My readers – you are my dear friends. Nobody knows my secret but you. Please do not spread this information around because nobody who meets me would ever believe it. 😉

Let your light glow. Do the things you love, be yourself, sing off key.

We are all smart in different ways. You cannot test a cat and a fish for the same skills.

Autistic Confessions – I Can’t Follow (Spoken) Directions

I can’t follow verbal instructions – unless you give me each item one step at a time.

Spoken words are often misheard due to sensory issues so it is easy for me to misunderstand verbal directions.

If you start to give me a list of things to do and I can’t find a notepad I may start to panic.

If we are out in public and you tell me I need to remember to do something later – it probably won’t happen.

My working memory is not great and I have to make checklists and keep a calendar to stay organized.

If I am trying to hold information in my brain (by saying the thing over and over again in my head) and someone interrupts me mid task the information is lost forever – even if it’s something simple like a first and last name.

Typed or written instructions are best for me, this allows me time to translate the task into my own way of thinking – which is primarily visual.

Also, because I tend to take things very literally, this allows me time to question if my assumptions about the instructions make since – preventing embarrassing mistakes.

Please don’t tell me what you need me to do – unless you know I’m ready to write things down. I hate letting people down but I REALLY can’t follow spoken directions

 

 

Autistic Confessions I Had a Meltdown at Work

The woman on the phone was not listening. I had called her for help and quickly realized that she would not be able to help me.

“I told her never-mind. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going to let you go.” She kept asking questions. Every question she asked I said – “I don’t know. I don’t have any more information. I am going to let you go.”

She kept asking. I told her again – “I need to let you go. You cannot help me.” Her overly helpful insistence that I not hang up the phone was about to make me blow up.

Finally, in a harsh tone I told her – “Look – I was trying to be nice but I am hanging up now because there is NOTHING you can do for me.”

I slammed down the phone and ran quickly out of our office in a panic. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing. Everything was a blur. I wanted to scream, cry, and hit someone. More than anything I wanted to get away and be alone.

Run. Run. Escape. Escape.

Bursting into the hallway I frantically looked both ways – I wanted to go someplace without people. The bathroom? Elevator? Emergency stairwell! 

Hyperventilating I burst into the stairwell. It was dark and quiet as most people take the elevator. I rand up and down the stairs until finally I collapsed exhausted on the bottom floor.

I sat for a moment, curled in a ball rocking. Grateful for the moment alone – I sat breathing in and listening to my breaths.

Coming back to reality, feeling much better after my tiny explosion (this was a very small meltdown), I realized that I had left my key-card in the desk as I ran out in a panic, so I exited the stairwell and took the elevator back to my floor.

Back at my desk I sat down like nothing ever happened – as if I hadn’t just had a meltdown at work.

When an Autistic person is having a meltdown they are unable to think clearly. The flight or fight response is triggered so forcing them to engage with you can actually cause more stress.

We are all unique individuals but I like to be alone during a meltdown. If I get up and run away don’t chase me – this is flight and if you corner me my brain can switch to fight. I’m on autopilot and running has become the way I protect myself (and those around me).

If I’m having a meltdown please do not touch me. My senses are whirling out of proportion and I am not thinking clearly. I may become unable to communicate other than one word answers and trying to communicate makes me feel worse – so don’t ask me explain what’s happening.

If you are in the room with an Autistic person having a meltdown – turn off the lights, get them a blanket or pillow and some space. A favorite stim toy might also be a good thing to offer.

You can stay in the room if the person you are with does not mind, but give some space and sit quietly.  Accept that they can’t control what is happening to them. Sometimes we feel the meltdown coming but other times it hits without warning.

Once started the meltdown has to run its course. Just wait, let me meltdown and don’t try to stop it. We may feel tired after a meltdown but sometimes we may feel a relief as the pressure may have been building for quite sometime.

Remember – as hard as watching a meltdown may be for you having a meltdown is horrible for an Autistic person. The pain is mental and physical. Autistic people having meltdowns are in crisis mode and our brains are lashing out at us. We don’t mean to freak out and are often embarrassed after having a meltdown.

#ActuallyAutistic