Autism, the Workplace, and Me

Wired has posted a great article about autism spectrum people and the workplace. This article gives some excellent insight on why accepting and encouraging autistic people in the workplace is not only important, but may help accelerate solving some very hard problems. It also has helped me spur me to tell a little more of my story.

As a person on the autism spectrum, I can tell you that I struggled for years in the workplace trying to fit in and trying to figure out all the “rules.” I am fortunate that I am working a great place like SparkPost that embraces people for their passion and ability rather than a snappy suit and winning smile.

 
Learning to cope with social situations and rules where all I can see is getting something done and doing it well was really hard. I was fortunate to work with a really great psychologist that helped me develop better coping mechanisms and improve my self-care.
 
I am by no means “fixed” and I do not want to be. I do not want or need to be “cured.” I have embraced who I am, and I understand now that there are things that I can do very easily that others cannot. I have focused on sharing my experience and knowledge. My coworkers are generally receptive of whatever I can do to help them. Communicating is hard, but the practice is good for me and gives me great satisfaction to help someone else.
 
I still have hard days and challenging moments. I still have meltdowns occasionally. I have become fairly good at containing them or channeling them in other ways. I have also developed a trusted network of coworkers that I can vent to privately without fear.
 

Most importantly, I have a great partner in, Irina, who has worked very hard to understand me and support me. She gets it when sometimes I just can no longer cope with outside input, and she will let me go turtle up and lose myself in a video game or whatever else soothes me. Conversely, she won’t let me quit or just check out permanently. She is always there to help me push through.

 

It was very helpful to see this article today, as I prepare to head off to AWS re:invent tomorrow. I know it will be a sea of over stimulation and challenging situations, but I have prepared myself and thought through how I will cope with the challenges. Although I am anxious, I am excited to be going with my coworkers to interact with lots of other people with similar interests. I could never have done something like this five years ago. I did not have the coping mechanisms and the support systems that I have today.

If you know someone who is a bit socially awkward, has trouble coping with social situations, seems to have very narrow interests, does not talk or communicate much with others, or seems to be easily frustrated by dealing with other people, I would encourage you to take the time to reach out to that person. Start simply with a greeting or ask about something that person appears to be interested in.

 

Be prepared to have to do this several times over days or weeks before you may get much response. Be prepared to listen. Often times when we do come out of our shell, then it is an explosion of information, especially if it is something that we love. You will very probably find a very interesting person who although may be socially awkard, has tons of interesting things to share and talk about when he or she feels safe.

 

I hope everyone gets the opportunity to meet and work with someone on the autism spectrum. Just remember, that once you have met one person on the autism spectrum, you have met one person on the autism spectrum. We are all unique and varied individuals. Please take some time and get to know as many of us as you can.
%d bloggers like this: