“Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.”
- Ramana Maharshi
“The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.”
- Adam Smith
All of us on the spectrum likely know the pain and struggle that comes with trying to manage our disability while living in what is undeniably a neurotypical world. It permeates nearly every facet of our existence and how we interact with the world around us. And it creates a challenging environment that makes it difficult for us to continue forward at times. This challenge is especially evident in making the leap from education to employment.
So let us ask the question: How do we find employment on the spectrum? The answer is that it isn’t that hard to find employment. Even without studying common interview questions or tips and tricks bandied about on other websites, it’s actually almost embarrassingly easy to find employment in places like Goodwill, WalMart, or McDonald’s. It’s incredibly easy to get jobs in places like these, even while on the spectrum. It’s likely that these jobs won’t be particularly fulfilling, and they might be incredibly stressful and may exacerbate co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety, but it nonetheless is paid employment.
While some may argue that these jobs can provide valuable experience and work as building blocks for more fulfilling careers in the future, the reality is that in many or even most cases they act more like insidious traps, forcing people into interminable, low-wage, sometimes even abusive workplaces that they cannot escape from. This is especially true in recent years and among younger generations. Most other workplaces look upon these kinds of jobs as meaningless and do not bother to count any ‘experience’ gained from them.
Surely this is not the answer we’re looking for. Surely no reader here is satisfied by this. Perhaps we are asking the wrong question.
Let us ask, then, a slightly different question… How do we find meaningful and fulfilling employment that allows us to be happy with ourselves and our lives while on the spectrum?
This is a significantly trickier question to work through.
“Employment” is easy. “Careers” are hard.
We can begin to answer this question in the same place that the neurotypical majority of the population does. All over the internet, there are websites and blogs purporting to know the answer to how to get hired. A simple google search will give you no end of websites that will tell you how to “perfectly ace an interview” or “write a perfect resume” or any number of other tips and tricks that will supposedly help you make that final leap into employment.
Much of the information that these websites tend to bandy about are simply common sense parroted over and over again. However, many of these websites have good information as well. I myself have used methods described on websites like this to get hired for various positions in the past. Pages that hold information, such as common interview questions that you can anticipate and prepare for, or how to prepare for an interview by researching the company you’re applying for, can give valuable information for how to get ready for an interview. And this is information that can be used by anybody, not just neurotypicals.
While it’s true that information such as ‘maintain eye contact’ and ‘give a firm handshake’ and ‘dress properly for the occasion’ is not only common sense but also difficult for many of us on the Spectrum, these are by far not the most important pieces of information on these websites. And even those of us on the autistic spectrum can benefit from some of the advice these websites give.
But we’re not on any normal “how to get hired” website. We’re on Hire Autism. And if we’re going to find meaningful employment while on the spectrum, we’re going to need to learn more than just the basic information that the neurotypical population needs. And we’re going to need to come up with new methods and work harder to carve out our place.
So as people on the autistic spectrum, what can we do beyond simply studying up on common interview questions, learning how to write a resume, and forcing ourselves to maintain eye contact?
Self-Awareness is the Greatest Gift you could Ever Give Yourself
The first and most important thing we can do is to know ourselves. More than anything else, when looking for a job, we should know exactly what we want, and exactly what we need. To clarify, we need to know exactly where our interests, passions, and abilities lie, as well as what our challenges, weaknesses, and necessary accommodations are.
It’s actually quite surprising, sometimes, to hear how few people on the spectrum know their own abilities and passions. A previous blog here on Hire Autism covered this quite expertly. The blog “Employment: Going Out of your Comfort Zone” described a down-on-his-luck, unemployed young man on the spectrum who sullenly and unenthusiastically claimed he was searching for data entry work in I.T.
Ultimately, he found a place in an animal shelter working with cats. He was incredibly enthusiastic about working with them and the sheer joy that he found from working with animals helped him to overcome many of his other challenges.
Only You can Truly Know You
It’s surprising how many people on the spectrum don’t know their own strengths and passions very well. Part of me wishes to blame the general narrative bandied about in the media about how people on the spectrum are good with facts and numbers and computers and hard information and practically nothing else. This is a disgustingly false narrative and I do truly worry that it fools many people on the spectrum into taking jobs that they won’t do well in because they think it’s where they will belong and thrive.
Which isn’t to say that some people on the spectrum don’t work well with such things. Many do. However, we all need to define ourselves as individuals and discover for ourselves what we, individually, are talented with and derive enjoyment from, rather than slapping a label upon ourselves and assuming it defines our existence.
Don’t let anybody tell you what you are good at or what you like. Introspect upon it and figure it out for yourself. When was the last time you felt happy or at peace? What activity were you doing? When you engage in that activity, do you feel like you’re actually contributing something? Do you feel competent? Most importantly, do you enjoy yourself? You may want to strongly consider investigating potential avenues and industries that might allow you to explore your preferred activity in an official capacity.
Engender Personal Growth
Some ways that you might find yourself able to explore these is to do volunteer work for causes, businesses, or organizations you feel you can get behind. Expose yourself to as wide a variety of jobs as you can through this. See if any of the tasks you perform really resonate with you, and investigate other jobs and industries that might highlight that kind of work. You might also think of the things you enjoy doing in your spare time. If anything you do in your personal time off really clicks with you and fulfills you in a way that work doesn’t, you might consider if there are any practical applications to your activities that can be translated into work. Or you might also consider movies you’ve seen or books you read. Were there any scenes in any media you’ve consumed that really clicked with you? Did the nature scenes in a movie set in the jungle excite you? Did the sweeping, classical architecture in a movie set in Paris seem interesting? There are endless ways that you can find out what it is that interests you and what you feel is worth pursuing. The trick is to expose yourself to as many things as possible and being self-aware of it the moment that something sticks out to you.
Furthermore, it’s also important to know your weaknesses. What are you not good at? What do you simply fail to grasp no matter how hard you try? Is there anything that tends to put you on edge or make you anxious or depressed or otherwise stressed-out? If you can identify these things, then you know what you can try and avoid when you’re looking for a job.
The best way to figure these out would be to reflect upon your past failures. Not in a way that leads to you beating yourself up, of course, but in a way that’s calm, detached, and introspective. What were the moments that you screwed up somehow? The moments that you failed an assignment or failed to grasp something integral or melted down or felt on the verge of a meltdown. Analyze those moments of your personal history. What components led to the failure? What were the details of that moment that sticks out to you as most egregious? What were the specific issues that caused you to lose control? If you can identify the specific problems then you can take steps to avoid dealing with them or circumvent the circumstances in the future.
These points actually tie in quite nicely with things that tend to be discussed during job interviews. Often, interviewers will ask prospective employees about what their greatest strengths and weaknesses are and how they can be improved upon. When discussing these issues with your interviewer, this is a good moment to potentially request some reasonable accommodations that might allow you to more efficiently work.
Of course, recognizing one’s own flaws and strengths is something that takes a lot of time to fully understand. In the next blog, we’ll be discussing introspection and building up self-awareness to better help you understand yourself and how you can improve yourself. Through self-improvement and becoming the very best “you” that you can be, you can rocket yourself further than you might have ever imagined!