Photo by Amy McTigue
This post is going to be significantly more personal than many of my posts have been.
I am not employed. This is not something I am happy with, but it is something that is challenging to change. I do not have a college degree, as my undiagnosed aspergers made college extremely challenging, and in the end the college I was going to kicked me out. Not for grades, as my grades were very good until the administration started threatening me, but because of just how difficult I found it to cope with the environment and the methods I used to handle it. I have never recovered from that.
In my early 20’s I spent a couple of years working retail. I don’t know of anyone who likes to work retail, and everyone I worked with described it as it’s own brand of hell. That’s just the way it is. But for me, it was so much worse. At the time I still did not know that I was an aspie, and only had the vaguest of inklings that I might be. I did not have a way to conceptualize or verbalize how it was challenging and what it was doing to me. In retrospect – I lived in a constant, and I mean CONSTANT, state of burnout. My nerves were always fried, my emotions always on edge, my ability to handle myself always dangerously near a breaking point. I am not willing to do that to myself again.
I have a much better handle on why things were like that at this point. In general, for every day that I spend interacting with people (beyond brief, two-minute interactions with sales clerks or something) I require two days to recover. This is not a hard and fast rule and it does vary, but it works as a generalization. If I don’t get that I burn out, and I burn out fast. Not every aspie is like me as autism is different for everyone, but it’s how I work.
So, once in a while I peruse job postings to see if there’s anything that fits me, that I can get to, that maybe I could do. This time I decided to look for jobs assembling furniture, since I am quite good at that. I was rather pleased to see that they exist. Until, that is, I looked at the requirements. Right there, in all it’s textual glory, was the phrase “good relationship building skills.” Not as a preferred thing (they had those too) but as a requirement.
I do not have good relationship building skills. I’d like to, but I don’t. Without significant help it takes me a very long time to build even the simplest of relationships with people (1.5 years before I felt friendly and comfortable with my retail co-workers, over two years to begin to achieve that with many of the people I ride with in my horseback riding lessons). So while it maybe was not entirely fair of me, when I read that all I saw was a big, glaring sign saying “Aspies Not Welcome Here.” I’m sure whoever posted the job wasn’t thinking that. There’s a good chance it was just BS they put in just to have something to put in. Nonetheless, it was hurtful to me.
Here’s where it gets personal. Reading that wound up starting a chain reaction; it was the one snowball that starts the avalanche that was just waiting to happen. It cascaded into the utter hopelessness I so often feel at living in a world that feels like it doesn’t want me. I imagine all introverts know the frustration of living in an extroverted world; I have the frustration of living in a neurotypical world. A world that thinks it’s better to get rid of me (“cure” autism) than to make room for me. A world where my strengths just don’t matter, because it’s my weaknesses that keep getting hammered at, and it seems my weaknesses are all that the world at large cares about.
So I sat in my living room and cried at just how hopeless I felt. At how hard it is to feel like I’m worth anything, to keep from internalizing the messages that I am Less Than, to feel strength in who I am.
I want to change the world. I want people to stop thinking autism needs to be fought or cured, and start thinking that people on the autism spectrum have their own special strengths. Yeah, sometimes we do need some accommodation, but I think I should get to expect accessibility, rather than viewing it as a special favor when it happens. If I were to work, I would need to be able to spend the vast majority of my time entirely alone, or at least, not interacting at all. It would be nice if, instead of viewing that as some sort of fault, it could be viewed as “self motivation” or “independent work” or something.
Instead I’m told that if I want to assemble furniture, I have to be good at building relationships too. Thanks, world. I feel really welcome now.