Despite it only being 6 weeks, I felt very optimistic about how my time as an intern for Pop Press would be. I had bosses whom had some experience with Autism and understood it’s variety, meaning they had an understanding that my situation is unique as opposed to having the same traits as everyone else on the spectrum. Not only that but they was willing to allow me to work in a way that wouldn’t force conflicts with those traits! I was allowed to work from home (which proved especially helpful when the weather turned and began to affect my other condition too). I controlled my own hours so long as I met the 35hours a week rule in my internship contract, and whilst Steve and Ming contributed ideas and a rough guideline of how they wanted the project to go; they gave me control of it all. This can be rare especially with research, to have so much control and it was refreshing after months of being at the mercy of job applications that removed all my control the moment I hit send. So on my first day I sat down at my computer, ready and eager to write.
Then I promptly forgot any idea on how to even write a research report.
I stared blankly at the opened word document on my computer screen with my fingers poised over the keys, waiting for the usual flurry of typing I would usually do. Nothing. Nada. Total blank.
Absent-mindedly, I started stimming. This is a behaviour of mine I have only truly recently recognised I do because I’m usually unaware of the motions which only usually happen when I’m struggling to think of a word or sentence (or in this case, how to just write). I started clicking my fingers on my left hand as I stared at my screen trying to think. That turned to tapping my fingertips together. Still nothing. Then I went to fetch a pen to shake and a notepad to write notes on hoping the old fashioned way of writing may prompt something.
Remembering the university style of report writing: I considered the usual rule with introduction. Setting the scene. Explain the topic and it’s current state. So, I started with the statistics of the prevalence of Autism, the statistics of employment of people on the spectrum…you get the idea.
I hated it. I was dragging my way through the introduction and part of the first paragraph and just stopped. Writing the report so far had been like trying to wade through tar on a hot day (now I understood how the dinosaurs who got stuck in tar felt), and I knew I’d despise and struggle the next few weeks if I kept trying to force it. Then I realised it wasn’t because I found the subject dull, but what I was writing. That is to say, that whilst University may have approved what I wrote, I didn’t. It came across as the greatest tragedy of the Spectrum: making us all sound like sob stories that neurotypical would “aww” at and go “oh bless them! The poor things!” And that wasn’t me. Just like it wasn’t anyone I’ve ever met or encountered who shared a place on the spectrum like I did. I didn’t want to show us by the statistics and the sadness I wanted to show our amazingness! Our unrecognised skills and traits! Because that’s what we are: a community of amazing people with knowledge and skills and talents not seen or heard and I wouldn’t be able to make us be recognised if I stool to the same dull statistical woes approach.
So I scrapped it. Opened a new word document and started again. The difference was both obvious and instantaneous: my writing flowed in a frenzy, my brain processing ideas and sentences faster then my fingers could type so it was flooded with typos because I didn’t care because I was writing and making progress which was something I hadn’t felt like I was doing in so long.
I found famous icons past and present across so many industries, professions and talents. I fought through the research, limited though it were, finding what I needed and when I couldn’t I found ways to argue points that haven’t been discussed. The research sometimes caused me anxiety if I particularly struggled to find something to back up a point I was making; but when I mentioned it to Ming she pointed out it didn’t need to have a lot of research to make its points because she already knew what the current research was like. It drove home the message that I had already told myself when I scrapped my first attempt. This work was mine. Not my universities, not some stuffy neurotypical researchers whom only knew of Autism from an observers point of view. This was mine to write and to take in whatever direction I wanted, and in whichever way I wanted. So I was going to do that my way.
Now when the time came to show Ming and Steve my work after the first week I was still nervous to show them. Due to my anxiety I can often convince myself that people won’t like the work I have done, or that I had done it wrong somehow or misinterpreted instructions (I could go on with more fears but I’m sure you get the idea). Then I remembered a trait I had researched for the article, arguing many people on the spectrum can have this trait. Grit. Grit is essentially a willingness to fail and still keep going and learn from failures even in front of audiences in the pursuit of goals. Some people have argued I’ve shown this before, in times where I’ve kept going in my life in the face of challenges (both physical and emotional), and I knew i needed to show it in that moment. To overcome my anxiety to show my work and be willing to face whatever my bosses said and work with it instead of letting my anxiety run wild with it.
I quickly sent an email with all my work, explained what I had been doing and the first scrapped report and sent it before I could give myself time to overthink. In the meantime I continued working.
When I saw I had a reply I froze and then forced myself to open it. The relief was immediate when I saw the positive feedback and that they liked the direction I was taking the report. They liked it and my approach so I was doing something right and furthermore it was my ideas they liked not the university approved way that had been drilled into me. I kept going, looking on Steve and Ming’s ideas for loose guidance and help. The report steamrolled and though each time I felt nerves at showing them my work, they continued to like it and my confidence grew.
In the meantime, I also began working on guidelines for ways to support Autistic people in workplaces (usually whilst suffering a writers block on the report). I decided I wanted them to be more informal and almost like a conversation (in the hope it could inspire actual conversations). So then, from that I decided to think: “what would I, as an autistic person, want to say to a boss or manager if I could?” And once again ideas came forward. Small and simple ideas, some simply just about attitudes towards Autism! Because supporting a person on the spectrum isn’t just about them. It’s about how they’re seen, treated, thought about. It’s about how Autism is regarded just as much as how the person with it is affected. Steve and Ming liked these guidelines too, offering ideas to push me further as I had been in a way trying to reign myself in trying to consider being concise and simple. Yet I realised I didn’t have to be. This wasn’t about being timid and worrying about being called unreasonable. This,to me, became me standing tall and shouting for a community being shushed. This was a battle cry and I was ready to scream until my throat hurt. My report almost took on a marketing tone and in first few weeks it had worried me that it sounded like I was marketing people on the spectrum but then I realised in a way that’s what I needed to do. I need to essentially shout “this community is amazing and here’s why. Now why wouldn’t you want to hire us!?”
My bravery wilted, however, when Steve and Ming said we should take my work to the Nottingham Trent University Thinklusive event. I just knew I’d be in a room of neurotypical people from different organisations, and I’d be trying to fumble my way through the social niceties like the metaphorical bamboo on ice. I worried not only if I would manage, but if they would find my work impressive enough to be willing to listen to me, when I know previous attempts at being heard had been unsuccessful (my own university lecturers often demonstrated assumptions that no autistic people would be in there classes so how could I expect businesses and organisations too?)
But the event was the total opposite to previous experiences. It was filled with people that wanted to make changes and wanted to listen to everyone, and furthermore wanted to listen to and read my work. They wanted to hear my story as a woman on the spectrum fresh with a degree and nowhere to put it to use until Pop Press gave me the chance. I was in awe of the acceptance because although many treat it as a given right, it wasn’t often the case and yet it was refreshing to not face the change in faces and body language once the words “Autism” and “disabled” were mentioned (and let’s face it I am autistic so you know that if I see a change in faces and body language then it’s very obvious!)
I realised after the event how quickly my time at Pop Press had flown by in productivity, nerves and excitement. I worry foe my future I admit but it was Pop Press and a few people at the event whom pushed me to create this blog and said I should share my story and make myself heard. I have more to add to a small CV, new confidence in my skills and a hope for my future that is stronger now than it was before. A lady at the event shared with me a nephew of hers had been diagnosed with Autism, leaving his mother worrying for his future and she then told me she would tell her sister about me to reassure her and honestly…it was incredible to think that somehow I, an awkward women in a quirky blouse patterned with dogs in jumpers (cuter than described I promise) could inspire and encourage hope for others, as it’s always been a goal of mine to help others somehow. So to know I have already done so just by writing the report and guidelines for Pop Press has made the experience an even greater success.
I wish to thank Steve and Ming for my first pleasant work experience and for letting me have that chance to stand up and be heard and do so in my own way (which may have sometimes been scattered and rambling!) , discussing something very close to my heart. Thank you.