Challenges in Employment: An Insight into the Struggles of an Autistic Individual and How I Managed to Overcome Them
This blog has been kindly written by an anonymous, autistic guest blogger. They have shared their experiences of employment and what they learnt in both their first and second job. This blog is a really honest insight and can hopefully help other autistic adults starting their career.
Years before my Aspergers diagnosis when I was in my early 20’s I got my first job. Up until that point I was in a bubble. I was living at home and my mum was feeling helpless and frustrated. She had a son in his early 20’s who sat around not doing much, who felt lost in life and didn’t know what his ambitions or goals were.
I was applying for jobs but I was never successful. Having no self confidence or no life experience I was stuck in a hole. I finally applied for a job in retail and I was offered the job. It was my first foray in to the real world and It was a harsh reality.
It was pre-diagnosis and although I felt somewhat different I never really knew what the problem was. Just that I was “different” and had difficulties. I thought I was, for lack of a better work, “dumb” so getting this job and going to the interview was terrifying, frightening.
I was interviewed by a lady who turned out to be my manager. She was lovely. I felt nervous but before the interview I read up on the background of the company and I ran through a list of questions I could be asked and I practised Through them. One thing I had learned to become good at was absorbing information, so I used it to my advantage. In the end I got the job. My mum was ecstatic and happy for me. And I was begining my journey into employment.
My First Job and the First Signs of Struggle
Even though I applied for the job it didn’t even occur to me what role I had applied for. I had simply saw the company name and applied not knowing what role I would be filling. To me retail was working on the shop floor. This just showed my naivity and lack of preparedness. The job role was for visual merchandising. Taking stock from downstairs in the basement and filling up shelves on the shop store on the homeware department.
Having had no prior experience in a working environment, lack of communication with work colleagues, and zero self awareness, this wasn’t going to go very well. Looking back at it now I had thrust myself in to an environment that I was ill prepared for.
Lack of Social Awareness and Failure to Understand My Surroundings
My standard of work was very slow. I would start the day by bringing up the stock from the basement to fill up the shelves on the shop floor. If a customer approached me to enquire about where the cutlery was I would walk them to where the items were and just stand there, staring, waiting for the customer to ask another question or until they politely shood me away. It didn’t matter if it was kitchenware, or cutlery, or quilt covers. I would walk the customers over to the items and stand there staring. Looking back now this must have been very unnerving for the customer. Simply pointing them in the right direction would have been sufficient enough but at the time I had no self awareness. This would happen throughout the day whenever a customer approached me. My failure to understand what was going on around me was so bad that I didn’t even realise that I wasn’t getting any work done. I even asked the manager once If I could train for the tills. As good as it is to be eager to learn new skills that wasn’t my job role. But I didn’t seem to grasp that.
If I didn’t understand something I would never ask anybody that worked there. I was too shy and always had my head down.
Being Taken Advantage of and Not Seeing the Signs
I couldn’t differentiate the different departments. All the staff worked on one floor but there were different departments with different staff and a different manager assigned to each one. I just saw them all as one. There was a lady who was working on the department next to mine; Candles and picture frames. If a customer had asked her about a certain item that they didn’t see and wanted she would call me over and ask me to go downstairs to the basement and check for her. She did this more then once in a day. Without even questioning, without even asking her why she can’t do it herself, I would do it. Today, looking back, I’d tell her that I have my own work to do. It’s not my department. I spent so much time in the basement either finding an item for that lady on candles and picture frames or checking for stock that a customer has enquired about. The manager who was in charge of the basement said to me “you should come and work for me. You spend so much time down here”. I didnt understand what she meant. I didn’t know if she was joking. The whole comment was lost on me.
People can take advantage if they can see someone is vulnerable or unaware so it was something that I needed to look out for. Meanwhile; the stock wasn’t being put out. I ended up going home late because I wasn’t finishing my work on time.
The Conclusion of My First Experience in Employment
After a few weeks of not being able to get my work finished and not being up to the job it finally caught up with me. My manager asked to see me in the basement. As we were both walking down I knew what was going to happen. In front of other staff members she screamed and shouted at me. After this embarrassing experience I went off to the toilet, sat there for 15 mins and cried. I was unsure of what to do. I walked out and never went back again.
Looking back today it was not the right thing to do. I should have learnt from my experiences and mistakes and proved them wrong. But I lacked so much experience it was never going to happen.
My New Job: The Turn Around
Experience and Preparedness
After a few months I managed to find another retail job. This time I had some experience behind me. It wasn’t a happy experience but It was something to build on. But I still had a long way to go and I was still scarred from my first experience.
This job had a different atmosphere. It was a lot more busier, had a lot more staff and I felt I could “blend” in a little more. Again, lack of communication and inexperience, came back to plague me. In time I would learn how to improve on my communication a little.
What I Learnt
Communication, Prioritising, Team Work and Learning to be Proactive
I learnt to finally differentiate between the different departments and managers/staff.
I knew what my department was and my role. It wasn’t easy, it took me a few weeks, but I learnt.
I kept to my own department and I’ve had colleagues come to me and say “could you do this” I just explained that I have my work to do. And they were fine with it. If I got my work done I would go to another department and help a colleague and they would help me in return. This was also a way for me to learn how to communicate with other people.
If a customer enquired about a certain department I would point them in the right direction. If I knew that my work would get done and I could see they were lost I would take them there and make my way back, no awkward standing around.
Sometimes if I misunderstood an instruction or a task I simply asked a work colleague. I started to walk with my head high. I also started greeting my work colleagues when I saw them in the mornings.
I would put myself forward for certain jobs such as tills and stock take. It wasn’t easy and it was difficult but in the end I got there. My level of learning is always hampered and slower then average due to being Aspergers but it was a “right of passage” for me.
I learnt that I needed to carry on and learn as I go, that to give up on things means I wouldn’t learn anything. And giving up a job is the wrong thing to do, employment is not easy to come by. I stayed in the second job for a very long time.