I mentioned before that something people on the spectrum need to do is take control of their labels; change “Autism” from something they may see as negative and make it positive, make it their own. This is something that must be done on both a personal and professional level in order to show everyone- yourself included, that Autism is not the big scary uncontrollable and unreasonable part of you. We are not modern Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydes, and we do not need to banish our Autism to some tiny little corner of our minds like a dirty little secret.
When you look at Autism traits objectively; a great deal of them can relate to or directly are traits desired in a workforce. I spoke of this briefly but I want to expand on it more.
If you are reading this and you yourself are on the spectrum I would like you to think of your traits, even ones you may have once perceived as a flaw. For the “negative” ones you need to think of them as neutral because you need to look at the trait objectively. Perhaps write them down if it helps or say them aloud whatever will work for you.
Then you should think of a way that trait helped you in some way. For example I can have a keen attention to detail and usually when a person on the spectrum says that people usually tend to defer to the stereotype in noticing details in data; however I once used this trait to actually spot a potential health and safety hazard in a light fitting of my workplace before any of my co-workers had spotted it. Although not a typical example it is a perfect example of me using an autism trait in a workplace to benefit the workplace and my co-workers.
Another example could be the “oldie but goody” autism trait of enjoying repetitive tasks: for some reason liking repetitive tasks and routines can be implied as a negative but it is in fact very good for us especially in a workplace. For example I was given a repetitive task at work and I found that out of all my co-workers I was able to maintain the task at a quick pace and maintain my focus on the task (and not just fall into an auto-pilot of boredom) longer than my Neurotypical colleagues. Another example was when I fitted drives into laptops and repaired their speakers: I did 27 laptops in one day of work experience (the apprentice who works at the shop I did that experience in managed 6 laptops in one day in comparison). A lot more jobs require a repetitive task or are completely made from repetitive tasks than what many people realise.
Once you get into this way of analysing your traits and finding examples you not only find connections you may not have before but you can also then use them. These are the sort of things you can use in your CV’s and job applications and you’ll find many of them: “Attention to detail”, “deep focus”, “unique thought processes and creative ideas” are actually buzz phrases: they are the golden-ticket items for job applications that employers want to see…and your brain LITERALLY has them built in ready to use! And if you can literally spoon feed these words to employers then you are clearly communicating that you have what they want. Which means they’re quicker to see your application and help it stand out. I’ve spoken to many job coaches and they all say the same general thing: employers who are looking through applications could look through hundreds or even thousands and they only spend a few minutes on each so you save them time by directly putting what they want in front of them. We are a community who thrives on clear and direct communication so we need to do that for employers and not make them read between the lines to see if we have the skills they want.
This is not a one-time exercise however: once again we have the joy of repetition because whilst it’s great that you can list skills it’s even better if you can accurately apply them for each application. For example if you decided you wanted to apply for a job in fraud investigations you might list autism skill sets such as: attention to detail, ability to retain facts and remember legislation, excellent report writing skills (etc.). They match that job well and can really help an application. However, if you then applied for something a bit more creative such as a job in advertising then you would want to frame your application about skills that benefit that role such as: unique ways of thinking, creative ideas and flexible approaches to work styles (etc.). Whilst it can sometimes feel overwhelming to keep changing your CV, especially if you feel you’ve already listed your best skills and experiences there, it will help you and your employment odds in the long role to keep returning to it, editing, upgrading and improving but furthermore it helps you see just how much you can do and also get you to start talking about yourself and what you can do in more positive ways which goes a long way when job seeking (after all you can’t really go into an interview and go “well to be honest I’m not that great and I don’t feel like I have much to offer” are you?).
I take the idea that if I can talk about my conditions lightly: casually or even make jokes about it then I can show people that it is ok to do it and that it doesn’t have to be a taboo. Talking about ourselves positively and standing up and telling the world and employers “well actually I have a number of skills…” will have the same effect; we cannot expect to do well if we only talk about ourselves negatively and with shame. Think about it this way: if you have a friend whom is struggling with something do you sit there and go “actually yeah you’re really bad at this and don’t even get me STARTED on how awful you are as a person in general…” or do you tell them to not be so hard on themselves and tell them about all their good traits and abilities? If the answer is that you’re very positive and supportive of your friends…why not offer yourself that same kindness and support?
Like the adorable Thumper says in the Disney classic Bambi: “If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all.” And I think we all need to remember that little rabbits wisdom (or at least the wisdom of his “Momma”) when we have nasty little voices telling us that we aren’t good enough. Because we are. And we deserve to be heard.
(And just to add a little more Disney to your day as Disney is a special interest of mine and it should be in everyone’s day: here’s a classic shot of Thumper to go with the quote. Copyright of Disney of course).