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Category Archives: Autism: Jobs and Careers

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:

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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.)

 

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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.

 

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Autism: If Only

I watched a movie the other night.

It was an Adam Sandler movie, which was listed on Netflix. Typically, I don’t like Adam Sandler movies. I have nothing against him, it is just that comedy is not my thing. Mostly I don’t get it. I know it is supposed to be funny, but it just leaves me feeling nauseous. It isn’t him – it is comedy in general that I struggle with.

I do have a sense of humour. I do laugh when I find things funny. It is just… I don’t find most things funny that other people seem to. I have a different humour, I guess. Anyway, I tend to choose sad movies most of the time.

There were two movies of his that I liked though: One was ‘Bedtime Stories,’ and this one – “The Cobbler” was the other.

I enjoyed the movie very much, but… okay. My favourite movies I tend to like because I like the story, and the people, and the place, and they make me cry, and… basically I like everything about the movie. A lot of movies I like, however, it may be just one detail that I like about the show.

There are several shows I have liked because I liked the house it was shot in. Houses are a big one for me, and I love Victorians. In fact, I watch a lot of Paranormal shows because they are based in Victorian houses (apparently they are often thought to be haunted?!?) I love the houses, so while I may have some idea of what is going on in the movie, my focus is completely on the house.

“Did you like the movie?”

“Absolutely! I would love to live in that house!” (Forget the fact that it was haunted, or that someone was murdered there, or… I might not be able to sleep after, but… “What a great house!”)

A lot of things I watch are for ideas. Futuristic films, or Sci-Fi, or even post apocalyptic movies (those are some of my favourites!) Time travel, or fallout shelters, or sunflower farms… there is a lot of variety to what I watch because mostly I am in it for the details.

sunflower-garden

That was the case with this movie. The first few times I saw it advertised on Netflix, I ignored it. Adam Sandler = comedy = not something I would like. But then I was going through the recently added section, and without seeing the picture, I read the description of the movie: (something like: A cobbler is able to become his clients by wearing their shoes.) Perfect!

So I put the movie on, and for the idea I really enjoyed it. Fourth generation cobbler – what a thought! Imagine a world where we were raised knowing, and being trained, for the exact occupation we would spend our lives doing.

Maybe most people like the excitement of choosing their own careers, picking their own direction, being responsible for their own future… I don’t know. For me, however, I found a lot of peace in that idea. How wonderful it might have been to know exactly who I was, and where I was expected to go, and what I was expected to do, from childhood.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have succeeded there, either – but I imagine I would have been far less anxious about where I was supposed to be going, had I known at 5 what was expected of me. Now I am 40, and I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing… if only.

 

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Autism: When I Crash

When I am doing something, though I am filled with apprehension that I will ‘get it wrong again,’ frequently I enjoy myself. This is especially true when I am accomplishing something, learning something, or doing something that I feel is worthwhile.

It was true most of the time I was running my daycare – and bye the way, the children and parents were nearly always happy with the care that I provided. With the exception of the times when I was overwhelmed, and so tended to repeat what I was doing for days on end, without changing to something new (such as when I was still running the daycare during our adoption placement visits – too stressful!) I really liked what I did.

I especially liked circle time (stories and action songs,) craft/science/baking time, and the times when the children just wanted to sit with me – even though for the most part, I don’t like people in my space.

When I took my construction courses, my fellow students believed that I was ‘smart’ and would come to me for help. I would explain – especially the theory – in ways that they could understand, when what the instructor had told them confused them. I could do that.

While I learn Spanish, or write stories, or spend time knitting, or… While I am doing these things, I often feel good. It is when I stop that I quickly start to believe I could never do it in the first place.

When I am outside, spending hours working on my garden, with my pets weaving around me, I almost feel like I am in Heaven. It is such a wonderful feeling to be out there doing.

back garden

During the time I was working at the motel, I pretty much believed I was good at what I was doing – and this was confirmed by those I worked with and for.

Though the anxiety is extremely high, even while I am doing the activities, my hope, and even my confidence is such that “I can do this” – until I get overwhelmed, that is. And then no amount of ‘positive thinking’ or ‘pushing myself through’ is going to help.

I crash. And when I crash, the exhaustion is all encompassing. It fills my life, and creates a fog in my brain, and tells me “nothing is possible.”

Since in work, and school, and parenting, and… everything else in life we are expected to be consistent, and to keep going, and to “always do our best,” the longer I spend doing something, the more likely I will crash, and the more often I will be seen (and see myself) as a failure.

I might be able to hold it together for a week, a month, a year… and then it is lost. I crash, and everyone who was watching seems disappointed. I think… I think they want me to succeed, and they are watching with hope that I will be able to do this well – but they don’t understand how very exhausting it is for me to ‘hold it together’ for any length of time. And the crash – which always comes – lasts so much longer than any activity that I was trying in the first place.

That is just a fact. Not something I have ever been able to overcome – and in fact, the harder I try to ‘hold it together,’ the less time I actually can, and the longer the crash will be.

And when I crash, I forget. I remember the anxiety, and I remember being overwhelmed, and I remember the crash – but I forget how good it felt to be doing something. I forget that I ever believed I could do anything. I forget that there was ever anything more to me than the crash that brought me to failure, and the disappointment that I see in the eyes of those who were watching; and I am so afraid to try again.

 

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Autism: Thoughtful Interactions

A few days ago I went shopping with my husband. As we approached the one mall, in the rain and sleet, I saw a sign that he had missed. “Event today,” at the pet store, it said. It didn’t stand out much, though, as their balloons weren’t floating due to the rain. “Event at the pet store!” I said to him as we walked towards the mall doors. “What?” he responded, and I pointed to the sign.

We walked through the doors, and I was in Heaven! Dogs everywhere! I guess people had brought their purebred dogs to the event to show about the different breeds. They were all in the center of the hallway in exercise pens (except the largest, who were just being held on their leashes.) Of course I had to visit them all (I am very social when it comes to dogs, though I ignored all but one person.)

Thankfully my husband understood this about me, and allowed me to go up and down the hallway saying hello to each individual dog. What a great event!

The one person I did talk to had been the interpreter for a deaf student in my Women in Trades program. Of course, I pet her dogs before, and during the time I talked to her. That made it much easier to talk. “I should have taken the RV Tech course,” I told her.

During our gateway program, the three of us had attended a ‘Shadow day’ together at the main college 1.5 hours drive from home. We spent half the day shadowing the RV Tech course, and all of us were impressed. Afterwards, the interpreter said that if I took that course, she would too – only it was in a different city, and I couldn’t get there every day. I couldn’t afford to commute, even if I could make myself drive it every day, and I couldn’t afford to live apart from my family for ten months. So I declined, much as I thought I would enjoy the course.

The interpreter told me that (the deaf student) said the same thing. She hadn’t done so well in the course she took (which completely surprised me as she was super smart – we thought she would excel at it – apparently the instructor didn’t believe in ‘women in trades,’ which I believe as she was really smart, as I mentioned.)

Too bad.

I ended up taking Residential Construction, and helped build a house as part of the course, since that was offered in my city. I did very well in the course, but… the yelling, and swearing, and weight of the material, and pace – all were far too exhausting for me, and I only worked in that field about 4 weeks total (in two different jobs) after finishing (with honours, no less.) It was too much, and I couldn’t do it any more. In fact, for all of those 4 weeks with the exception of the first day on each job, I was seriously praying to get into an accident, or fall of the truss table, or something to provide an excuse that I wouldn’t have to go back – it was that bad.

ResCon

The thing that impressed all of us about the RV tech course, was how calm everyone was. The pace was much slower, yet they learned so much more (plumbing, electrical, carpentry, even some welding.) Several of the people in the class were even being retrained after they had bad back injuries at their previous jobs in construction – so the weight, pace, and even back issues did not stop them from being able to do the job.

Plus I love small spaces. In my last job at the motel, my favourite place in the entire building was about the size of a small walk in closet. On one side it had a stacking washer and dryer, and the laundry tub. On the other side were all the clean, folded towels for the rooms, and cleaning rags for housekeeping. In the center were two doors – one leading to the guest laundry, and through to the back rooms; the other leading to the motel kitchenette (we provided continental breakfast) and the office.

On my breaks, I would bring in a chair, and sit in that closet with both doors closed – until they took out one door for the sake of ‘efficiency’ and I felt exposed in there.

My point is, had I been able to do it , I really believe I would have really enjoyed the RV Tech course, and I likely would have even very much enjoyed working in that field afterwards. At the very least, I would have learned all the skills I wanted for my home, though on a smaller scale. But I couldn’t get there. Plus my husband liked the idea that as a carpenter, I would have started at the pay scale that a typical journeyman RV Tech would have expected at the end of their apprenticeship.

Well, now I am unable to do either – and as I have said in the past, my dreams nearly always exceed my abilities, so I guess it is just as well. But it would have been nice to have a job I could do, and enjoyed doing.

 

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Autism: Real Desires of my Heart

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon taking multiple career quizzes on a job site. I do this a lot! Although the responses have never matched with who I am (I have no idea what I am doing wrong, as I always answer the questions with complete honesty) I still have hope that one day something will be listed that gives me an “aha!” moment.

True, that has not happened yet, despite the many years I have been taking these quizzes, but maybe someday I will find the quiz that does work for me.

The multiple quizzes I took yesterday were all on the same site – a work site for Alberta, Canada. I don’t live in Alberta (though not far away, either) but I will take anything I can get.

When I got my results, it came up with things like accountant, or statistician, or tax auditor, and other jobs that require strong attention to detail and a lot of time staring at a screen. It isn’t that I am bad with numbers or anything, but that level of detail and focus on a screen leaves me both severely anxious, and exhausted – which leads to depression. Above that, focusing on numbers that long leaves my eyes stinging, and my brain fuzzy – so the focus I enjoy much of the time would still not help me maintain the level of accuracy required for such jobs.

No good.

Just like other quizzes I have taken in the past, which tend to list things like physical therapist, acupuncturist, or such things (when I can’t touch people I don’t know, and hardly touch people I do know, and am unable to work with other people in such a capacity) the list doesn’t in fact reflect who I am.

I suppose that is because there are so many facets to my ability, or disability, that the standard questions don’t take them all into account – which is completely necessary for me. For instance, I have a lot of trouble with pain in my feet, which radiates up my legs and causes back trouble. That and the fact that I am so often exhausted excludes any physical type of work for me.

Then there is the Autism, which includes severe sensory issues (food, touch, smell, loud or repetitive sounds… all out!) My anxiety grows to panic when dealing with people at all – and that includes one on one. Although I can focus, I tend again towards panic and depression when I am expected to maintain a high level of accuracy, or spend a long time focused on something outside of my current interest. I might be able to maintain an accuracy sufficient enough for my employer, but the cost to my mental health is very high for me.

After taking several quizzes and questionnaires, I came to a part of the site which asked me to imagine several scenarios: Imagine money is not an object; or, imagine you had a magic wand, and could make your life anything you wanted… there were several similar ideas followed by the questions: Where are you living? What are you doing? Who is with you?

Of course, I can imagine things – especially if a magic wand is included (which, being a Christian, is not likely a good thing – but I feel so very powerless in life, the longing is hard to shake.)

So I answered:

I am living in a small cabin by a lake and far away from people. I am living with my husband, son, and many pets. We have really good internet service, but in many ways are self sufficient – wood stove, large food garden and fruit trees, well water, etc. I spend my time writing, taking care of my pets and garden, and swimming and kayaking on the lake.

sunflower-garden

I like the idea of that life, for in my mind it feels so calm and quiet, and the very thought leaves my entire body and mind sighing in relief. I want the lifestyle, but… it wouldn’t pay the bills. Writing for income is another recommendation that doesn’t fit me well, for I can’t handle criticism at all! It destroys me. And writing is one of those professions that gets a lot of criticism – which is the reason I have not shown the book I did write (though I do like it) to anyone else.

Also, despite the fact that I try every year, I haven’t got the skills or the energy to grow much food even where I am. Nothing but my imagination can bring me to a place where I consider I might be able to do this – and then, in my mind, I have some type of magic that makes it easier for me. Bad.

So while the exercise was a lot of fun, and for a while in my mind brought me to a place where I found peace and contentment (the real desires of my heart) it didn’t actually help me to live within the reality I have been given.

 

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