Thursday, April 14, 2016

Autism, Asperger’s and Surviving in the Workplace

For many people with autism, getting a job is a pretty difficult prospect in itself but once they have one, the difficulties shift towards keeping the job.

Keeping a job when you are on the autism spectrum seems to be a matter of maintaining the delicate balance between being largely invisible and not being too quiet.

Hiding in Plain Sight 

For many people, the word “autism” conjures up bad images. At one end of the spectrum, people assume that they are hiring a person who will need babysitting rather than someone who will perform their allotted tasks independently. At the other end of the spectrum, people think of the high school shootings or computer hackers and sense danger in employees on the spectrum. 

Of course, we've just had “autism acceptance month”, so everyone is fine with it all now right? Wrong. What people say and what they do are very separate things. If it was that easy to conquer fear and discrimination, there would be no reason to discuss racial issues any more.

We can control, to some extent, what people say and do but we don't have any power over their thoughts - or the things that they say and do in secrecy.

For the time being, until you are an accepted and valued person on your own merits at your workplace, it's best not to disclose that you have autism - unless of course your traits are significant enough that most people will notice them without you having pointed them out.

It's not legal to get rid of employees simply because you discover that they have a medical condition but that won't stop a determined employer from finding or arranging another excuse.

Hostile Workplace Environments

When you start a new job, you generally start at the bottom of the corporate ladder doing the most menial jobs. This is true whether you're a school leaver or a university graduate.

Everybody has to start somewhere and unfortunately, the lower positions can be fairly competitive in terms of promotion prospects. They're also positions which are filled by less educated people or by other school leavers who are just getting their first taste of freedom and don't know how to behave in the workplace.

Consequently there is a lot of teasing, jostling and bullying happening in the lower levels of every workplace.

Bullying in the Workplace 

Different Jobs come with different levels of professionalism. For example, you have to expect that a job at a fast food outlet won't command the same professionalism from fellow employees as an office or bank job.

Your fellow workers at fast food outlets tend to be young and inexperienced. They're less likely to be understanding of people with differences - and of course due to the noisy, smelly and greasy environment, fast food outlets are more likely to trip autistic sensitivities than most jobs.

That's not to say that there's no bullying in office environments. Sometimes office bullies are worse because office bullying tends to be done by adults with a long history of manipulating people to achieve their intentions. Office environments in particular tend to attract sociopathic workers.

Hardening Yourself 

In the school yard, you can report bullies to the teachers and occasionally things don't go worse for you.

In the workplace, despite all of the laws and social commentary that says otherwise, it's almost impossible to report a bully and survive, particularly if you're a junior.

The answer is to harden yourself against the bullying and attempt to shine through. Note that hardening yourself means to refuse to allow the bullying to affect you, rather than to attempt to fight back. If you fight back in the workplace, you may spur the bully into further acts and if you come off as aggressive, you will be caught by management.

Harden yourself by trying to think positive. In particular, don't take all corrections as criticisms. Some people sound nasty in your own head when you read their emails - or even when you listened to them but they don't always mean to be that way. Some people simply have angry sounding voices or "angry-looking" faces.

You have to be mindful that much of what you get out of communication depends on what you bring to the conversation. 

Of course there are other people DO mean to be that way but there's not a lot you can do about them.

One of the best things to do is to try to only provide positive reactions. Remember, if you “lose it in a job”, you generally lose the job. Be nice and "presume" no matter how wrongly, that people mean the best. It will help you be happier and for the most part it will make people at work happier to interact
with you.

Being pleasant to work with will attract other pleasant colleagues and positive mentors. Eventually, these people will make it hard for workplace bullies to ruin your day. 

Find Happiness

You can't undervalue happiness. If you're sad or depressed at work, it will be noticed and your colleagues and supervisors will assume that you don't want to work there and get rid of you.

It sucks but it's true. No matter how much pain suffering and trauma you have in your life, the workplace is generally unforgiving. Your issues will be tolerated for a short period of time, depending upon your popularity, how long you have worked there and how valuable your contribution towards the workplace is.

You're not irreplaceable however and that means that you need to give the impression that you're happy -- even when you're not.

Practice fake smiling, avoiding overly emotional discussions and keeping "bounce" in your voice. 

You're going out into the world of “plastic people”. Sadly, this means that you have to appear to be a bit “plastic” like them in order to survive.


Emily Samantha said...

I waited until after I had been "accepted" by my peers to disclose that I'm autistic. It gets poked fun of every once in a while, but it's a very relaxed and open environment where I work and joking gets personal with everyone.

Xakir said...

That sounds like hell. :< When exactly does "It" get better?

Anonymous said...

"You're going out into the world of “plastic people”. Sadly, this means that you have to appear to be a bit “plastic” like them in order to survive."

Calling them "plastic" is considering them all inferior to oneself. Therefore, it's *not* a good way to prepare one to work with them and avoid being dangerous to them.

Anonymous said...

Xakir, if you think working with other people is hellish then it "gets better" when you own and control *land* of your own, enough land for you to feed yourself without needing other people to be willing to interact with you.

If you need to earn money to buy food, you need other people to be willing to be your managers, coworkers, clients and/or customers. At least one of these applies no matter if you're working for yourself or hired by someone else.

If you don't need money but do need to exchange something else (shoes or video games you made yourself, housekeeping services you do yourself if you and your spouse agreed that you'd stay at home and he or she would pay for rent and groceries, anything) to barter for food, at least one of these still applies too.

Now if you own the right *land* and have enough control of it, you can get the food yourself without any other people! You can plant seeds and eat what you grow! You can raise animals and slaughter them for meat! You can still hunt and gather wild animals and plants if you don't farm the land! If there's at least some of one bank of a waterway with enough wildlife in it, you can go fishing and eat the fish you catch! If your land is fully paved then you still need other people, though.