Working 9 to 5
It was about a week into my job at Autism Speaks when I realized how much you have to enjoy your work to do a full-time job. I am one of the lucky ones. To find an organization I love in a field that helps maximize my interests is something I’m extremely grateful for. This has made the days seem to fly by. While getting work done I usually have the biggest smile on my face.
This made me ask myself a question though on what others on the spectrum believe about full-time jobs. Three major challenges for me as regards a full-time job are related to interests, communication and burnout. I wanted to discuss what these three challenges mean in more depth from my experiences.
Forty-plus hours a week at a job is a huge chunk of many people’s lives, so being happy—or at least content—with doing what you are doing seems to be really crucial. For an individual on the spectrum who has key interests in only a few areas, it makes finding your specific job especially important. In addition, making compromises can be difficult for someone with ASD. Even if you are at the right job for you, if it isn’t exactly what you want you might turn yourself off from the job altogether. The “connect” has to be there.
Another challenge with most full-time jobs is collaboration. Even in many positions where you are working on more individual projects, you still have a supervisor who you have to report to. If you have several of these projects and there isn’t an inherent time-line for getting them done, a person with ASD may have issues as sorting through and sequencing which should be done first. In addition, making necessary transitions between tasks and projects can be tough. If you are working in a team environment you might need to compromise which often takes understanding from other team members and from you. This is hard at times because some individuals on the spectrum have “tunnel vision” or the inability to put themselves in the shoes of someone other than themselves.
Finally, another challenge can be burnout. For me, I had to do a lot of work as a kid when it came to therapy to get to where I am today. This has made me feel like I have a few more miles on me even though I’m a rather young adult. Because of the work I did as a kid, it has made it an easier transition to the job world because I’m more aware of how to take on commitments. I always had a schedule, another therapy session appointment to make, another task or goal to achieve. Committing to activities when you are younger I think is a necessity today for kids to develop.
Preparing for the Future
I think these challenges need to be considered for adults on the spectrum and we need to start focusing on addressing these in early childhood. Teaching and learning job readiness skills is essential if there is to be a job for those of us on the spectrum. While I am focused on employment in the traditional workplace, I’m thankful on the other hand there are self-advocates out there who are not doing the full-time job route. Some of these individuals have decided to create their own businesses, do consulting, speaking, tutoring, etc. They have found jobs where they have a certain amount of flexibility to what they are doing. It’s important to consider what type of employment model fits you best. And, the more trial and error you do the better off you’ll be. This has always been my mantra and I’d absolutely encourage you to make it yours as well.