RSS

Category Archives: Autism: Jobs and Careers

Autism: Future Blindness

I dreamt my son and I were doing some type of concrete forming on top of a highrise. We had to climb ladders in precarious positions to reach our work, yet even standing on the roof terrified me. I felt all the time as if I were sliding off, so I was lying down holding onto anything secure within my reach (so of course not doing my job.)

My son, on the other hand, was climbing on the ladder, and walking on the ledges 20 stories in the air as if they were nothing.

True to me I was panicking for the safety (or lack of) for both of us. I am sure the dream was the result of seeing a contractor climbing off a roof onto a ladder while my son and I were out for our walk the day before. I couldn’t watch, it scared me so much.

Now I know my son is not fearless – not like in the dream. He would never be found willingly climbing such heights, walking on ledges, or even doing that type of work. For a while however, I thought I could do… maybe not work on highrises, but construction of a sort anyway.

I had myself so convinced that I could do it, and would even like to do it, that I took two trades courses at our local college: A 12 week gateway program, and a 6 month Residential Construction foundation course.

ResCon

Yet I was so afraid of heights that I would cringe when other people in the course were climbing ladders, or walking floor joists or walls. I was afraid of the heights. I was afraid of the tools. I was generally afraid of the entire construction process.

I don’t know how I could ever have convinced myself that it would be a good career for me except that… I can’t see forward.

The older I get, the more I realize this.

I have a great imagination, and I am very good at dreaming things up, or picturing what situations might look like. I am also very good at seeing all that could possibly go wrong. The trouble seems to be that my imagination doesn’t take into account how I might experience these things.

Also, when I convince myself that something might be good for me, I have to block out thoughts of any fears that might come with it. I am always afraid. I am afraid of everything. So in order to convince myself that I can do anything, I also have to block out all thoughts of what could go wrong – which I am able to do so long as I am not actually in the situation I am dreaming up.

It is like any other fantasy that I dream up – like something impossible. As if I am as likely to be able to create a portal to another part of the country, or learn to fly (without the use of tools) or to alter reality with my mind as I am to get a job in construction, or adopt a sibling group of children, or…

So long as it is just an idea and not part of my reality, I am fine – but once I am actually a part of it, all of my fears, and failures, and limitations stop me from actually being able to continue on.

This makes it very difficult (if not impossible) to consider what I could do with my future as a job, or any other part of my life. Without the physical experience, I have no clue what would ‘suit me’ even enough that I could be successful in it – and now, after all of my failures, I am too afraid and exhausted to try.

After this I went on to dream that my son and I were in a cave with several other people sorting and categorizing turtles, and even naming them. This dream was definitely also connected to our walk the day before in which my son told me that the German word for turtle translates to ‘shielded frog.’ (My son has been studying German through the site Duolingo for several years now.)

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Autism: Poor Time Management

While I was working I fully believed that I was good at time management. I would arrive at worked 15-30 minutes before my shift… one time I was only 10 minutes early, and my coworkers were worried that something happened to me as I was never that ‘late’ (even though pretty much everyone I worked with would get there the minute they started, and one was nearly always 5 minutes late.)

I would panic before work, and that panic would grow as the time drew near, so I would go early. Besides, I needed that time to calm down before I had to start. I needed that time to transition.

I would get to work with a list in my head of things that I would like to accomplish on my shift. When I got there, I would add in anything extra that still might have to be done (like if there were rooms that hadn’t yet been cleaned, or a lot of laundry still to be done – I worked at a motel; front desk, but we did it all.)

001

Unless there was something unusual – like a snowstorm or an accident that closed the highway in both directions thereby requiring me to be at the front desk helping guests the entire shift – I would get my work done. I knew just when the wash would be done and needed to be switched over, and the exact time I should check the hot tub, add chemicals… I knew how long everything took, and most of the time would be exact in getting it done. That was unusual among my coworkers.

In my life I only ever forgot one appointment – a speech therapy appointment that I had made for my middle ‘foster’ daughter that occurred within days of getting back from a week long trip to the children’s hospital in Vancouver BC for assessments on my youngest ‘foster’ daughter (a week where I was alone with my four children, taking buses in a city I didn’t know well, and wasn’t sleeping as my middle two couldn’t sleep in strange environments…) I felt horrible. I was sleep deprived, and not thinking well, and not functioning well, and…

It wasn’t at all like me.

However, the older I get the more I realize how much that level of time management is bad for my mental health. It causes extreme anxiety to focus for such long periods of time. It causes exhaustion and burnout to live at such a pace (even though I was only working part time.) I can’t hold on for very long.

And perhaps that is a lot of the reason I have not been able to hold on to a job, or continue with school, or do anything lasting any real length of time without it ending in failure.

Time moves too fast for me.

One short activity in a day takes all of my energy and focus and leaves me exhausted for days after. I require a LOT of breaks (which is not something freely offered, or which I would feel comfortable asking for at a job – they are paying me for that time after all.)

Without a lot of breaks and time for thinking, my mental health and functioning declines very quickly.

On a good day an hour or two of work or activity is about all I can handle. That is a full day for me, and even then I need days (DAYS!) off in between to rest. If I do more than that and I crash – often for months after. And that is when I am doing well – which in itself is a rare thing.

Looking at these facts I would then have to admit either that I am not in fact good at time management or that at the very least being good at time management is too hard on me.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Autism: On Taking the Initiative

“Just get in there and try,” he told us. “It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake (though you are sure to hear about it) so long as you are actively participating.”

But I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to do it. I had never seen it done before – and even if I had, I needed to ensure I understood it completely before I tried to do it in front of a group of people… or even just one if he was prone to yelling or criticizing.

So I held back. Again and again I held back and let everyone else try first. I learn first by observing. It isn’t until, through that observation, I understand it that I will try to do it on my own.

Such was always the case.

The most common comment on my report cards growing up was, “Does not participate.”

fireplace me

Of course I didn’t participate. First of all, I get paralyzed when other people are watching me – so a classroom of kids was not the place for me to try anything. Maybe if they showed me how, then left me to work on it alone, but that isn’t often how things are done.

So I was seen as incapable; maybe I was. I sure came to believe over time that their assessments were correct.

Or maybe I just couldn’t learn the way they were teaching – or maybe I just couldn’t demonstrate that I understood what they were teaching because, well… I get paralyzed when people are watching. That hasn’t improved in time.

So I can’t learn well in groups, and I can’t just ‘jump in and take the initiative.’

There is the word: initiative.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit over the past few years – especially since I was in my Residential Construction course at the local college; for ‘taking the initiative’ was strongly… not even encouraged, but expected.

This is something I am not at all good at. I need to know exactly what my job is, what is expected of me, how I am supposed to do it, where things belong, how things are supposed to be, what the rules are… I have to know.

If initiative is what is expected, I am overcome with anxiety, and can’t move – or think – or act – or…

I have also come to the realization that although I know ‘initiative’ is valued throughout society, it is not something I value in other people. I mean…

While I am thankful if people try to do things that are helpful to me, just… mostly when people do things ‘for me’ it really seems to be based on who they are, not who I am. So it comes out… wrong. All wrong for me. And I get… thrown off… and they get upset because they were trying to help, but it didn’t help. So I think, “why didn’t you just ask?”

Just ask.

I think that a lot of the reason I struggle in ‘taking the initiative’ is because I am sure that what I chose to do, or get, or… whatever, would not be what they had in mind – just as when others jump in without asking me how I would like it, it isn’t what I had in mind; and therefore I then have to find some tactful way to tell them (without offending them) that what I needed was different than what they did; and I struggle to communicate good things, and feel completely incompetent in communicating harder things like this.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Autism: What Could I Be?

It was early in the visit, I think, and it took me a long time to try to figure out which words I should use. The words are always important, for I have found that if I choose wrong, or say it in the wrong way, or… people seem to think I am attacking them.

Not that my mom responds in that way, but enough people do that it has become a major concern every time I want to ask or say anything of any importance to me.

Was I good at anything as a child?

What was I good at when I was young?

Was there ever anything I was especially good at?

Who was I as a child?

Was there anything you thought I could be when I was a child?

Was I always this broken?

If I had the experience, do you think there is anything I could do?

Did you think I had potential to be anything when I was young? Or something? Or more than this?

Did you see anything I might have missed?

I don’t even know how it came out when I did ask her, for all the time I spent thinking about it. I do know that I was really anxious, and my heart was pounding, and my mind was trying to build walls and block things out, and my hands were shaking.

041

I do know it wasn’t easy for me to ask. What if she thought I thought that she didn’t do enough to encourage me when I was young? That certainly wasn’t what I was trying to express. I just… wanted to know if there was maybe something I had missed.

Something I could be. Something I could do. Anything I might be able to succeed at – for this string of failures that has been my life since at least my teens (though the feeling was there long before that) has devastated my confidence until I am blinded in fear from trying again.

I was glad to have my mom there. For years sometimes, between visits, she is not there – and some things are hard to ask on the phone, or even in emails. This was one of them.

Was there anything I was especially interested in?

“Writing,” she said. “You were always writing.”

“You never wanted to play sports, or work in teams, or do things with other people. You just always had paper and pens, and I don’t even know what you were writing most of the time. You just loved to write.”

Well… there you have it. What I am, I’ve always been. There is nothing I love to do more than write.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Autism: Employment Barriers

For six months I have been struggling with the words spoken to me by my psychiatrist during my last appointment, “So you can work, but you don’t want to,” she summarized after I was explaining that I had tried working and going to school so many times in the past twenty years, and failed all along. Her summary was completely off, but that is what happens with me: I feel like I am being completely clear – and when people summarize them for me, the meaning is all twisted and wrong. I don’t know what I am doing or saying to have my words interpreted so poorly – or what I can do to communicate better.

So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote again trying to express my struggles to her so that she would not misunderstand me the next time. However, as is true for me, even my most condensed versions were pages and pages long. So I tried again. And again. And again. Until finally I was able to cut it down to little more than a blog page in length. What was left was this:

001

Can’t work, or won’t work? These are the most pressing barriers standing between me and being able to succeed at employment.

  • Severe anxiety – I am told this has to be healed before I try to work again.
  • Easily overwhelmed – prone to ‘crashing’ that can last several weeks or months after just a few days of work, or meltdowns/shutdowns that I cannot avoid.
  • Multiple sensory issues – really, I need to be home, as I can’t avoid these in public.
  • Very low energy – can’t do active jobs (stocking shelves, housekeeping, construction, landscaping, etc.) as I struggle for weeks or months with very low energy, which gets worse the busier I am supposed to be.
  • Emotionally draining – being near people (even not talking to them) leaves me drained after a couple of hours, and lasts days to recuperate.
  • Arthritis – back pain, joint pain in fingers, hands, and toes that gets worse with use – cannot do physical or repetitive jobs, stand long periods of time, sit long periods of time, etc.
  • Physical issues – digestive issues, allergies, stomach upsets, etc that are all made unbearable when away from home. I can’t use public bathrooms (have nightmares) and this makes me sick when away, too. Any work I find would have to be at home.
  • ‘Exposure therapy’ doesn’t work for me. The more I have these experiences, the harder they are for me to bear.
  • Social anxiety – I am paralyzed trying to work with other people around, and must work alone (also no phones, no problem solving, no customer service, no criticism, no handling complaints… I can’t.)
  • Further education is out of the question. I went to college twice, and (through extreme stress, and only being able to get through due to a definite short term end date) did well, but the resulting jobs were overwhelming for me. I can’t seem to apply my knowledge out of the classroom. We can’t pay for more schooling for me – and again, leaving home to go to school includes all of the above issues.
  • Multiple sensitivities – from smells of people’s food in the lunch room, to the smell of smoke on a person, or chemicals that leave my nose bleeding, my hands sore, unable to function… There is much I cannot work around – and such are in each workplace.
  • Sleep issues – I get sick if I try to do things in the evening/overnight. It takes a long routine (8pm to 8am) for me to get the sleep I need. If this is interrupted, I cannot function. Also, there are many nights I struggle to sleep anyway, and then can’t function the next day. I am immediately affected by lack of sleep.
  • Daily Routine. I can’t do changing shifts. I can’t work outside of my routine without getting sick/not being able to function. I can’t just change rules, make exceptions, be flexible…
  • Physical routine. Not so much routine, but I have to eat meals on my schedule, and snacks as I need them, or I ‘crash’ and can’t function. Need to use the bathroom at a moment’s notice, too, so can’t be tied to anything I can’t move away from – and causes panic, sickness, frequent meltdowns when away from home.
  • Multiple triggers – especially when I am in public. These are caused by dates, attitudes, certain personalities, smells, sounds… any reminders of traumatic events and failures – and I have a lot!

It isn’t that I won’t work. If all of these could be addressed, and a suitable job could be found for me (which would pretty much have to be something I could do at home on my own schedule) I would do it – but I am told I am asking too much, and won’t be able to find work like that. Anything less is a setup to failure. I can’t go through that again.

Being told I should go to work when these things aren’t addressed (and some are such a part of me, they won’t be healed, but must be worked around) is like telling me I have to return to a severely abusive relationship – and it terrifies me. After my last appointment, it took me months to be able to get past the depression, and back to the activities that were adding value to my life (but seemed to be dismissed in favour of finding a job.)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Autism: Much As I Can Handle

For anyone who would have seen me the past few weeks, I believe the general opinion was that I was healthy enough to work. Day after day from early in the morning until later in the afternoon, I was out in the garden, with my girls. I was turning the soil, and pulling the weeds, grass, rocks, and lots of June bugs out of the ground, trying to get the gardens ready for planting.

The work was steady, and repetitive, and took a lot of work – though not a huge amount of focus.

At the end of each day, I was dirty, sore, and exhausted. Yet each morning, as long as the weather cooperated (and to a smaller degree when it didn’t) there I was. Working.

There was this time pressure to complete, as spring was coming fast. Well… it was spring, but… the last frost date, or whatever. We have a short growing season, and this year even shorter as it was a longer winter than normal. So things need to be planted ‘on time’, or so I have read.

Though I study the material, and try every year, I really don’t know what I am doing in the garden. But this task was pretty simple. Dig and flip the soil, crumble it in my hands, remove all weeds, grass, rocks, and bugs that look like they might eat my plants, throw the soil, worms, and ground beetles into the ‘good’ pile.

People walked by and commented, as they do. I tried to reply appropriately, and went back to work.

My ‘girls’ chased anyone passing, and ran through the garden, and very much enjoyed themselves. I gave them the attention they needed, watched for eagles (that live just down the road), fed them on their schedules, ate on mine, and went back to work.

July 13 008

Unusual to me, I was somewhat thankful for the rainy days, for then we had to stay inside. Perhaps I should have rested then, but there was so much to do inside in preparation for my mother’s arrival, that I was nearly as busy inside as out.

For three weeks I worked hard, and anyone who saw me would likely think I was well enough to get an actual job.

Though it was something I really wanted to do, however, I started to crash at about the 1.5 week mark. By 2.5 weeks, I was really pushing myself. Those last two days I almost didn’t make it through – and had it needed more work, I couldn’t have done it.

Three weeks for a job I liked, that I could do at home with my girls, and where I was mostly alone doing something for myself. Three weeks, and I crashed.

And there lies the problem of seeking another job at this point in my life. I would go into the interview having to prove to the manager that I was the best person for the job (and in the beginning, I just might be.) I would take the job with everyone hoping, and even expecting, that this would last. It would almost be like I was telling them they could count on me – for what else are we really saying when we agree to take on a job?

Yet I would know it was a lie. I would give that job everything, because I can’t give less (for I am always concerned about what people think of me) and I would try really hard to keep going. But, as has been true pretty much my entire life, and certainly from the start of high school at not quite 14 years old, the crash would come.

If it was a particularly good time in my life, and the job was one that suited me well, I might (if not asked for too much change, or too much time, or too much…) last 5 or 6 months before I fell apart. And then, if it was still something I was enjoying, and I was getting along with the people I worked with and for, I might be able to hide the fact that I was crashing from the people at work for a few months more.

At that point, no amount of effort on my part – or incentive from outside – would prevent me from falling apart even there. Meanwhile, the effort would have taken a strong toll on my marriage, my home, and my emotional state.

And that is for a good job, that I want to succeed at.

If it were any less, I would still give my all (for I can’t give less) but I would likely not last a week before I was really struggling, and in less than a month, everyone else would know it.

So here I am, doing the very best I can to take care of my home (which is of top importance for me) and after three weeks of working hard, I am crashing. Thankfully I am at home. This is my work right now. Thankfully, though I could lose the work, and have everything come crashing down around me (it happens) a few days, or even a few months of ‘crashing’ won’t be viewed as a public failure. And that is about as much as I can handle.

Yet I always feel pressure from outside that I should/could be doing more.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: