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Navigating a Career & Autism

List of careers of the autistic professionals responding to survey
With the help of my LinkedIn contacts, I recently asked autistic professionals to share with me what they found to be the hardest part about having a career.
Thank you to the forty-eight people who shared their stories via email, messaging, and Zoom chats.
What will probably come of no surprise is that many said it was especially difficult to even land a job…especially an impactful and full-time/permanent position in your area of interest.

Why is it so hard?

 

Ableism

Discrimination

Gaslighting

Unacceptable Hiring Practices

No respect for boundaries

Lack of advocates

No help with conflict resolution

Absence of Long Term Coaching

Insufficient Supports

No real understanding of autism

Unwillingness to learn about autism

Rigid job requirements

Sensory Hell

Unwillingness to write out expectations, send agendas for meetings, etc.

Not considering how to be more inclusive

Not asking how to accommodate needs

No quiet spaces to recharge/relax

Exploitation (do we really still have unpaid internships?)

Stereotyping and Infantilizing

Bullying / Lack of Safety (especially for disclosing)

 
You also explained personal difficulties in trying to assimilate without much help from peers, bosses, or mentors (where are the mentors?).
You’re told you “overshare.” You feel misunderstood constantly. You need clarification but don’t feel safe to ask. You are “over the top” productive (hello hyper focus) and then burnout and have to look for another job before “they find out.” Lots of imposter syndrome!
You share that there are many layers of communication challenges. With so many hours of masking, you are trying your hardest not to meltdown. Emotional deregulation, hello.

Finding calm and joy ANYWAY!

Woman in black turtleneck pulling on her ponytail.

Stimming to calm your nervous system

One way you are finding joy at work is by discovering opportunities to be your (incredible, interesting) self. Maybe you’re not following the pack of “group thinkers” and you share when you think your team is headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes it is as simple as stimming to calm your amped up nervous system..
Some are taking breaks and recuperating away from the triggers. It is becoming less uncomfortable for autistics and allistics alike to come to work with noise-cancelling headphones, to reduce unpleasant sounds and concentrate. Soothing yourself before the day gets too crazy is helping big time.
While not too many of you are bringing your weighted blanket to work, you’re relaxing yourself with weighted lap pads, shoulder wraps, vests, wraps, or hand, palm and wrist weights.
Looking After Your Autistic Self book by Niamh Garvey. Cover has green leaves and shapes with a white background. Book cover states "A personalized Self-Care Approach to Managing Your Sensory and Emotional Well-Being

One of many books on DBT

My coaching clients and Linkedin responders agreed with what preliminary studies are showing:

Dialectical behavior therapy skills therapy (DBT-ST) is helpful.

Multiple responders agreed that DBT is regulating your emotions, assisting you with navigating work and social situations, and equipping you with self-advocacy skills.
DBT focuses on self acceptance and mindfulness to build your sense of self. It is about empowerment and recognizing and guiding your emotions.
When you notice what you are feeling, you react sooner and avoid overwhelm.
Woman with short hair and suit communicating with woman in red suit while other look on

You also discussed focusing on fixing workplace communication breakdowns, while maintaining your boundaries and autonomy. You try to validate your experiences as well as those around you.

When possible, you are disclosing. And it feels so freeing!! One responder found an ADHDer coworker to be an awesome translator between yourself and allistic peers. How fantastic an idea is that? A few mentioned having therapists, coaches, or mentors who understood autism and you in particular (hello, autistic folks are not all the same!). A couple of you mentioned Vocational Rehab counselors helping you find the right work when you couldn’t stay in your original field.
Thank you autistic professionals! Hearing your insights gave me a lot of hope for the future. In the upcoming months, I will focus on the workplace and autism. If you’d like some individual assistance navigating the work force as an autistic professional, my team and I provide a safe space to work through the challenges and create more joy in your work and life. Cheers to the good life!!!