Autism and Unemployment

A neurotypical parent can spend a lifetime devoted to their autistic child and be keenly perceptive, yet believe with misplaced confidence, owing to the child’s possible lack of external display of emotions, that he/she experiences no intense emotions or has no latent perceptiveness. The parent might also often unconsciously project their own emotions or motivations onto the child, when he/she may have ways of thinking that are simply beyond the neurotypical parents’ capabilities of intuition. I’m not generalising this, of course.

I am high functioning autistic. I am socially handicapped, not intellectually. I know how outrageous it is that I do not hold a day job, despite my above-average intelligence; but the rationale behind my decisions are simply beyond many peoples’ understandings, because they are clueless about my experience of the world.

People do not forgive a lack of diplomacy, when I seem perfectly intelligent and normal. They would forgive a child or an evidently retarded person, but I will inevitably be harassed out of everywhere, because they are outraged by my “arrogance”, “nonsensical boundaries” and “insults”; or I’ll have to allow people to take turns to walk all over my precious psychological space.

Autism and unemployment

“You’re rude!”

I was overqualified to be a sales coordinator and was hired at Mirage to be quickly promoted to be an administrator, then trainer, then be sent to the head office and so forth. But as an administrator, I discovered an impressive impediment that would make sure that my career got nowhere — complete non-cooperation by the staff, giving utterly ridiculous, outrageous and dishonest reasons, making even mundane tasks impossible for me to accomplish. If I asked them for so much as a signature, which, while being necessary for the records, posed no risk, cost or trouble to them; and if done, I could just move on to more important tasks; they would feign helplessness and say something like, “I really wish I could, but I’m too busy now”, while just standing around. So, the reason for their non-cooperation was seemingly nothing other than to make my work difficult! But why?! I was told by the management that there were multiple complaints that I was being “rude” to them. Rude?! I was decidedly the calmest, most refined, forgiving and polite person there, while they were all brash! I’ve been walking on eggshells all my life and I was the rude one?!

Ambiguous Reasons…

My challenges were two-fold. Firstly, people can pretend to be my friend or lie about what their real problem with me is or even completely make up things to trouble me. Secondly, even if they wanted to be honest and vulnerable, they may not even be aware of what their real problem with me is. People can get a bad feeling about someone and then find utterly silly reasons to justify and grow their hatred. If I resolve these reasons, new ones will take their place, but they’ll feel no different. I will have to analyze, deduce and discover the underlying issues.

I observed the other managers say things like, “If you leave your things in the wrong place again, I will throw them out!” and my colleagues laughed! I watched salespeople tell customers, “See, your husband doesn’t love you! If he did, he would have bought you the expensive dinner set!” and the customers laughed! I couldn’t dream of getting away with saying things like these to anyone! Even a colleague with an explosive temper was only seen as funny and endearing for her immaturity, sensitivity and genuineness. What were all of them doing differently from me? I realized that even negative emotional expression is far better tolerated than an eerie intimidating coldness, complexity and uncertainty coming from someone. It was my lack of non-verbal communication that my colleagues were actually complaining about! With their limited insight and vocabulary, they could only call me “rude”. This was far before my diagnosis and I dare say that a neurotypical person couldn’t have figured this out in a hundred years!

My Inner Challenges

My logical mind is naturally expressed in formal language and matter-of-fact demeanour. Since my focus was on tasks and not on my eyes, face, voice and body conveying warmth, liking and playfulness, I must have come off as having an air of superiority and talking down to people. My “please” would have sounded insincere, if my voice was flat. No wonder they wouldn’t co-operate. Of course, they wouldn’t straightforwardly tell me what their real problem was, if they thought I was willfully disrespectful. I could inspire much hatred, while having done nothing for it. But they couldn’t have been more wrong about their perception of me. I was humbler than they could know. I rarely thought about myself, let alone engage in any comparative thinking, which never made any sense to me. I also did very much love and respect my colleagues for and without reasons. I just thought that they should focus on themselves rather than on me or my opinions of them so much. I was a mere character in their stories and could do nothing about it. The standards set for me were impossible for me to achieve. How long could any one of them pretend to be autistic if their lives depended on it? They couldn’t. They needed me to be nothing other than a neurotypical. They were offended I stayed aloof, instead of continuously validating them. I tried my best to act stupid and non-threatening, and to convey that I don’t judge or dislike them, but they’d accept nothing less than full participation in their ways. They don’t want someone around who tries her best to live sensible and principled. Even the managers immaturely joined in on pressuring me to be like them, rather than ask why this was so important. It wasn’t like any of them were left lonely and friendless if I didn’t socialize with them! Yet, I must either belong or wouldn’t be tolerated. I was told I think too much, and was too serious and intense, when everybody else was easygoing and fun. They needed me gullible, emotional, self-indulgent, entertaining, ignorant, easy to understand and easy to control. How low am I expected to stoop to make others comfortable and happy around me?

Attempts at Coping

I could imitate everyones’ dramatic expressions to earn their acceptance. Learning some nice sounding white lies might help me safeguard some of my boundaries and space, but I may be left with nothing to protect if I pretend for too long, lose my insight and end up becoming just like them. Besides, my learnt “people skills” will only help me sometimes, because different people respond vastly differently to the same kind of treatment. Even the same person doesn’t respond consistently to the same treatment. The only thing learning people skills is sure to do is utterly drain my attention, energy and insight meant for more meaningful pursuits, which might be the price for their approval, which in fact, never meant anything to me in the first place and will last only as long as I keep pretending. Camouflaging offers no sure safety against neurotypical harassment, since my steady eyes can betray my “coldness” and my emotional displays can lack spontaneity. If I take a breather from my performance, I suddenly seem to “expose” how logical, distant, cold and selfish I apparently really am. If I don’t have manifest social/emotional energy, I’m barely human. I must not exist in their midst. The idea just isn’t out there that people who aren’t that emotionally expressive can be “good” people too. But they’ll never consciously know that these are the reasons why they’re harassing me. They’ll just make something up. Because my pain isn’t always apparent, and because I continue to treat them courteously, matter-of-factly and without grudge, I seem unaffected, cold and hardened, strengthening the idea that I deserve to be hurt even more to feel anything. They are tempted to keep at it, because it’s a good vent and I seem to absorb endlessly. Reacting to injustice is important. Otherwise, you’re teaching them that you deserve it.

When I tried to have open, respectful conversations with them that they’re affecting me and must stop, I was always silenced with their loud impatience and defensiveness. While some people can remain soft and also diplomatically communicate boundaries, I’ll have to finally mistreat them in return just to survive there, which will only validate what they’ve said about me all along. When a pattern of mistreatment has been established, people aren’t willing to break out of it even if they understand it at some point, because it’s difficult to accept they’ve wronged.

When people came to me for “my side of the story”, I wouldn’t counter-gossip or speak ill about my colleagues. My refusal to engage was perceived as my guilt. I wanted everyone respected and behavioural/psychological counselling given where needed. But real workplaces don’t bend over backwards with such efforts to accommodate someone like me. Insecure female colleagues felt intimidated by what they perceived as my “sophistication and style”, and felt every need to humiliate me, disrupt my efforts and pull me down vehemently, while I was only but a gentle soul who had no need to be better than anybody. Nobody knew I used to secretly sponsor the drinking water barrels that arrived for them every time the management delayed in placing the order.

The Real Problems

When people see themselves as good and me as bad, they find it easy, normal and right to mistreat me. Unlike my low-functioning counterparts, I am insightful enough to perceive other peoples’ discrimination and suffer for it. People will tell me anything but the answer, when I ask questions that are fundamental common sense to “everyone”, because they think I am “acting naïve” or playing at something, or they’re just frustrated and impatient at my detail-orientation, instead of focusing on the big picture. How will I learn then? How will I learn if I’m being “rude” by not accepting over-stimulation, coping with exceeding levels of anxiety and also acting “normal” at the same time that I’m trying to focus on something? What do I say when they ask why I’m not picking up much? Managers have targeted, bullied and sacked me for “insubordination”, when I was genuinely confused by the inconsistencies in their requests, “arrogantly” refusing to mingle with the team or questioning their injustice in what I thought were respectful terms; while bullies, thieves and completely unintelligent people are forgiven if they have good social skills. Managers can be amazingly imperceptive of my contributions when everybody else is actively engaged in self-promotion, negotiation, bargaining, buttering and pulling others down, while I make no such efforts to get noticed or liked. People can gain managerial support and encouragement, important duties and promotions, despite their consistent haphazard work and poor results, only because they can stay casual about their failings and project massive self-confidence, always inspiring confidence in the managers too, who don’t realize they’re making emotional decisions, not based on facts. They lose confidence in me, because my learning phase is more thorough and slower, and because I never casually promise any results without being absolutely sure. I also didn’t bother contradicting my colleagues when they stole credit, and I shunned “recognition” and photography events which highlighted any worthy achievements, because I found them disturbing and contradictory to my intrinsic motivations, but which again was perceived as my arrogance. My job was a great opportunity to network and build relationships with filthy rich people, which my colleagues made the most of, while such thoughts never even crossed my mind. People knew what rules were on paper and agreed upon, but not to be taken seriously for practical reasons, while I had trouble with this inconsistency. Troubles also blew massively out of proportion for me, because I would only speak the truth, no matter what the consequences for me. I’ve had the opposite inclination for years, but am no closer to developing enough lying skills to survive.

My softness and slowness always made me an irresistible attraction to any predatory or damaged people around. People with all kinds of motivations flock around me who like to feel good at another’s expense in all kinds of ways, while giving me all kinds of labels to justify themselves. I have truly sometimes felt that it is dangerous for me just to be in the presence of another human being, because I’m often taken by surprise by random peoples’ allegations and attacks that seemingly come out of nowhere, as my attention might have been occupied by work! People can just turn around and accuse me of hurting them by ignoring them, and have a hundred other people take this bizarre allegation seriously and punish me for it. They always acted friendly, having no idea how deep I could see through their jealous, competing, gossiping, scheming, back-stabbing ways, because I only responded with friendliness. But I sometimes didn’t notice when things were brewing and readying to explode, and it made little difference even when I did, since I don’t know how to respond anyway. Their lies get validated, rewarded and reinforced even to them, while I merely watch it all unfold and spread around me. Sometimes, everyone else around seems delusional!

I have been lectured at length about how I shouldn’t be hurting peoples’ “feelings”, when a thief sat near me weeping because I called her a thief. Nothing other than my behaviour, apparent ego and seeming lack of emotion was discussed, without ever touching upon what was stolen from me. Patronizing colleagues have advised me to change all kinds of bizarre motivations and qualities that have never crossed my heart. Trying to reason with anyone was always “disrespectful”. The ramifications are interesting when fundamentally, an autistic person’s idea of respect is to be honest, whereas a neurotypical person’s is to be nice. We could then argue forever whether or not I have been respectful.

Put Yourself In My Shoes

Emotions, including trauma, and their psychological, physical and behavioural consequences, are far more intense and exceedingly longer-lasting for us than for neurotypical people. I don’t want to become a monster in response to everyone’s mistreatment and lack of respect for my boundaries! Hence, I am a hermit. You cannot even fathom the kinds of problems you would have had if you hadn’t any intuition, diplomacy, people management, handling of emotional and other stimulation, non-verbal expressiveness and other skills that you take for granted. If you’re logical like me, the only answers to a question that would occur to you might be “yes”, “no” and the provocative “I’m not willing to answer that”, whereas there might be a myriad of ways to avoid answering intrusive questions, which if you can intuit, none of this is a problem for you at all! Sarcasm is an essential life-skill. Distraction is another. Lying yet another.

I am also sure much of people management skills are simply beyond my perceptiveness. For all my observation and study, I still have absolutely no clue how my colleagues got customers to buy so much, while I simply couldn’t! Well-intentioned neurotypicals can’t educate me, because they aren’t as aware of their mental processes as I am. They aren’t as exhausted either. They only tell me they too used to not have diplomacy skills, but they learnt through experience, rather than quit/hide from life / be lazy / be cowardly! Paradoxically, their insensitivity is because my problems are relatable to them, but only of a whole other scale or intensity. They should instead wonder WHY I’m broken by the problems that are nothing more than mild annoyances to them! They would break too, if the workplace felt like a warzone to them.

While my body and mind desperately needed rest and nourishment, I worked overtime in my struggle to cope with their harassment. But some colleagues got together and complained to the management that I was “trying to look hard-working” compared to them. To my colleagues, my low performance was only a reflection of my low capabilities and they liked it that way. They were threatened by any possibility of improvement for me. I noticed that they could accept and even celebrate another’s high performance, if this person was also likeable and entertaining. Good things happening to “good people” was a good thing! The management decided that I needn’t be given any extra time, since it made everyone insecure and I too will probably do better if I got some rest. Some managers were mature and emotionally healthy enough to see that I wasn’t the problem here, but were too overworked themselves to spend much time perpetually compensating for my lack of basic people management skills. If I had it in me to survive, I would. It also didn’t help me that I didn’t whine loudly or demand any action against others. I merely endured.

Look at how my attention, time and effort are tragically wasted at the workplace trying to earn my right to exist, instead of accomplishing anything. Ultimately, they show me my very low productivity and tell me it’s evidence that I would have done better had I been more of a team player.

The world is an unforgiving place if you don’t know how to have casual chit-chat with no meaning or purpose other than exchanging and validating emotions. This skill is more important than any other to get and keep a job or a relationship, but you’ll never read this anywhere, because this skill is pervasive and taken for granted in the neurotypical world.

Solutions and Hopes

People like me do make it if they’ve received the right kind of support since childhood, that may not necessarily include professional help. Some parents accidentally do the right things. Some of us choose to isolate themselves to interacting with a few other human beings who help sustain us and act as a buffer against the outside world. A high-functioning autistic person’s life is significantly likely to entail bullying, divorce, unemployment, social isolation, double the rate of depression and social anxiety as in general population, 10 times the risk of suicide compared to general population, compounded by the effort involved in ‘camouflaging’ to fit in. Autistic women without intellectual disability are particularly at risk of death by suicide (0.31%), compared to (0.04%) in the general population. Suicide ideation in adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, without tangible social support is (66%), as opposed to (17%) in the general population. Often, families of HFAs are simple good people who attribute everything to “fate” and are no closer to understanding that this person actually does have a very complex condition. Their immature or ignorant love for this person often puts them in vehement denial of his/her autism, leading to a further lack of understanding and requisite support.

My next workplace was a smaller quieter environment filled with British people who supported each-other, had a culture of graciousness and had a better sense of boundaries. The mannerisms that I had painstakingly learnt to be “appropriate” at my previous workplace would be inappropriate here and were to be quickly unlearnt. I was glad that “people skills” here allowed for more sobriety. I put in my very best efforts to try and be accepted here, taking great care to follow all management instructions to the point and also to be gentlest with my colleagues. I hired a cook, bought new formal clothes, paid for a month’s conveyance and got up at 5.00 AM every morning to meditate before I went to work every day. I didn’t have tea and biscuits with them because I eat healthy, but I served them and sat with them, being sure to smile, as they made merry. My boss was all praise for me every day for two weeks, after which he suddenly let go of me for reasons that I found all too familiar, but were ambiguous to him. He tried to elaborate on his feelings and touched upon many of our exchanges, but couldn’t pinpoint a clear basis. I offered to change about myself any specific quality that he found unacceptable. But he only knew that his “gut instincts” told him that I considered myself better than my colleagues and that he “anticipated” that I might treat them badly or compete with them in the future or disrespect his authority somehow. Since then, I have never looked for a job and have rejected every offer that came my way. Why keep accepting jobs when I know I’m only likely to lose everything I invest in it and then not keep it? I have narrated here only a few of the details pertaining to a single workplace, but this is pretty much the story of my life, be it at home, school, college, hostels or other workplaces. They simply can’t see any reason why I can’t just change to be more like them. It might be more realistic for me to invest consistent efforts to learn, work or create something in isolation from others of my species, and only interact with them when necessary. Some people have tremendous misplaced confidence in me based on my apparent sophistication and offer me jobs that require high levels of diplomacy skills, which I know enough by now to reject outright, even if I may long to take it.

“Empathy” is a bad word in my dictionary. The problem with empathy is that if a whole community of highly logical people matter-of-factly committed suicide, because life has simply become unsustainable, neurotypical people won’t find it sad. Empathy only extends to people you can relate to. The world needs compassion.

Notice the logical analytical systemic approach in everything I write. Notice my hyper-sensitivity, detail-orientation, lack of basic people skills and creepy insight. That is who I am. We do have the desire or even yearning for normal socialization, but learn through life that we lack certain essential capacities to safely interact with neurotypicals, who have infested the planet. It’s easier and more practical for us to write off that need than to try to meet it, which is rarely worth the risks and turmoil for us.

I think ‘high-functioning autism’ could be defined as the inability to communicate with neurotypicals, because they’re uninsightful, emotional, deceitful and egoistic, and having to own up all the resulting problems.

A New Perspective on Autism

My “autism” is nothing more than an inability to assert my rights, safeguard my boundaries, claim my entitlements, express my needs and distresses, and deflect blame for other peoples’ misdeeds and insecurities. My “autism” is an inability to manage people, but only sick, selfish or immature people need managing! I have a disability only in reference to such a majority! The world would be a better place if corrective efforts are focused on them, instead of me. So why should I carry this label? My poor diplomacy skills don’t cause any issues with people who are ok with themselves. Emotionally healthy people who are compassionate can only see much intelligence, courage and virtue in me, and nothing wrong whatsoever! I have deep, strong friendships that have lasted years without a rift.

There is no consistent logic in what they call “people skills”, but they talk about them as though they are among the physical laws of the universe. Neurotypical people are no better at empathizing and responding appropriately to autistic minds than we are at understanding how to treat them. Even the most educated and sensitive neurotypical person couldn’t know how to treat us right, because our needs starkly contrast their habitual intuitions and accumulated learnings of a lifetime on how to care for another. But they must learn nevertheless, so that we may exist and live. Their ways are the social norms, only because they are far more numerous than us. Neurotypicals don’t ever realize that their emotions, needs, experiences and desires are validated only because they can get together in large numbers and decide that they are important. They think it’s all universal and punish us neuro-minorities for not intuiting their ways. There must be educational efforts to highlight the existence of people like me, which is fundamentally necessary for our survival! Many of us who perish are exceptionally brilliant and capable of great contributions to the world. We are a silent community in distress, isolated and scattered across the world. You may have read and intellectualized facts like (93%) of communication is non-verbal ((55%) body language and (38%) tone of voice), but do you have any idea what it is like to have reduced non-verbal skills, and actually speak words and not feel heard at all or be completely misunderstood? I’m not communicating (7%) words and a whole big void. The rest of what people perceive about me or hear me speak is unconsciously made up by them! That is why the most beautiful minds are harmless to me and see nothing wrong with me, while others can be infuriated that I don’t need their approval and don’t feel particularly anything for them. I am only but a mirror that takes the blame for most peoples’ ugliness. Hence, I seem “easy” to some and “hard” to others, but never “appropriate” as long as everyone feels inadequate!

I endure all of the world’s disrespect and try to survive in a silent corner of it, while surely being far more intelligent in some significant ways than a vast mindless lot of them! It’s not “arrogant” to state this simple truth and ask for a little space to survive. I was born to this world too…

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