Finding a Job as an Aspie

As I read my last entry I am reminded of the anxiety, self-doubt and depression I felt at that time. Unfortunately, transitioning into the workforce can be a very stressful time for someone with Asperger’s. But, I am here to tell all you Aspies out there that there is hope for us in the workplace, I did indeed land my dream job, but not for lack of hard work!

After my last entry I gave up on trying to look for a job and applied for ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). After about 6 months of unemployment, I started to realize I had more to contribute then what I was offering at the moment. I knew I wanted to work but I needed to be more prepared this time around. I started with lots of research.

I discovered that there are a few places out there that are willing to help you find a job. Contact Hamilton and ODSP have employment supports that were a huge help to me in areas such as determining the right job, improving interviewing skills, and help keeping a job. They also encouraged me to review the Employment Equity Act to be aware of what I was entitled to and to make sure I knew how I was to be treated in the workplace. Temple Grandin was also influential for me at this time in her work on finding jobs for people with Asperger’s and Autism (I put a link to this at the bottom).

I applied to jobs in the computer programming field. I had 5 interviews and this time (through Grandin’s advice), I did let the interviewers know about my Aspergers. None of them knew what it was, and after they found out, 4 of the interviews were very short. One interview however, went very well. I ended up getting the job – I am now a computer programmer!

The past 6 months at my job have not been easy. Although I am doing something I love, there are always going to be outside influences I will have to compete with. My co-workers are finally realizing that I do not make small talk; in fact I dread the morning walk to my desk knowing I will have to say “Hi” at least 10 times. Being in large groups of my co-workers overwhelms me and I can’t join them in the lunchroom and need to ride the elevator solo. There is a new social challenge I have to face everyday and I just need to accept this and find ways to cope.

I think the biggest lesson I have learned in this whole experience is that not all of us are created equal and we can’t all adapt to the same working environments, nor should we be required to. I have grown up thinking I am the one who needed to change to be like everyone else, but in fact there are instances when others need to be more accommodating to me, and work is one of those. My manager and I have been learning together as this is a new experience for both of us. He has accepted that I don’t perform well working closely with my coworkers and has found a quiet place for me to work. I also let him know that my anxiety increases when I’m in group situations and he has allowed me to skip out on our team meetings and have a one-on-one meeting with him instead. Email has also been a very useful tool for me to correspond with my coworkers and clients as I am much better at conveying information and thoughts through my writing.

Aspies do have a rightful place in the workforce. If I could give 2 pieces of advice, it would be to stick to your interests while knowing your limitations, and finding an accommodating work environment. It is not an easy path to take and there will be obstacles in your way, but so goes the life of an Aspie.

Here are 2 links which I found very helpful;

http://www.chrismitchell.org.uk/employment_training_workshop_notes.pdf

http://www.autism.com/individuals/jobs.htm

Life After Graduation


It has been 6 months since I graduated from University. I spent the first month enjoying the freedom that came with no deadlines hanging over my head. The second month was when my parents started urging me to get out and look for a job. Because I am not concerned about finding my dream job at this point, I was willing to take whatever job came my way. I applied to anything and everything. That second month I got a call from a restaurant responding to my interest in a dishwasher position – I had my first interview.

The week leading up to this interview was a stressful one. I knew that my poor social skills would make me seem odd to the interviewer and I weighed the pros and cons of telling him beforehand that I had Asperger’s. If I did tell him, would it justify my differences in social behaviour or would he not give me the job because of it? If I didn’t tell him, would he think I was strange and still not give me the job? It was the same debate I had with myself at different stages in my life – part of me wanted to scream from the rooftops that I had Asperger’s and explain to everyone else why I was different from them, but the other part of me wanted to hide my Asperger’s and just fit in. I had decided not to tell him.

The interview was short and sweet. It turns out the restaurant was desperate and I applied at the right time. The restaurant was sensory overload for me – the smells, the loud noises, and the overall chaos of it all. I tried to dedicate all my attention to my role of washing the dishes, however as the piles of dishes grew, so did my anxiety. How would I ever get them all washed in time? Was I working fast enough? If I work too fast, will I get them clean enough? I kept to myself, did my job, never got a complaint, but I lasted only one month until my anxiety ate away at me enough to force me to quit. I felt like a failure.

Month 4 brought more job hunting. My mom suggested I stick to my interests and apply to jobs related to computers. I managed to get a job as a salesman at store that sold computers. I hoped that my computer knowledge would again be all I needed to succeed…I was wrong.

I was an awful salesman. My inability to make small talk made for many awkward interactions with customers and co-workers. My computer savvy was not enough to make a sale. I was brought into the manager’s office many times to discuss my poor sales and lack of team cooperation. I was always told what I had done wrong but was never once given any help to improve. I again felt like a failure and an outcast. By month 5 I was fired.

I have been unemployed for about a month now and my job prospects are looking bleak. My parents are sympathetic but are also pushing me to keep trying. For now, 6 months after graduation, all I can wonder is if there is hope for an Aspie in the workplace.

Aspies can go to university

Graduation is coming up and I’m feeling pretty scared about standing in front of the whole school to get my diploma. I’m pretty glad high school is over though because it is hard. My grades got bad at first because it was really hard to concentrate with all that noise in the class. The teachers made us sit in groups, work on group projects, and sometimes do presentations. That really freaked me out. I used to get in trouble for taking breaks when class stressed me out and being late after avoiding the busy hallways. Gym class was the worst. Not only did I have to play sports on a team I couldn’t even play as good as the other guys. That is why I got super mad at my mom for insisting I try out for the basketball team. She said ‘all boys love sports’ but I told her that is not true and that she couldn’t force me to join things that I wasn’t interested in. After that I started coming home late from school and telling her I was hanging with friends so she wouldn’t worry as much about me making friends. My computer teacher used to let me stay in the computer lab until 4 o’clock. He showed me how to sign up for facebook and suggested I add people from my class. I didn’t know that they would accept me as a friend but they did and that is how I started talking to a girl. We talked a lot on MSN and facebook messages. I asked her out on a romantic date but she said that no one goes out on romantic dates in high school you are just boyfriend and girlfriend. I don’t know how to be boyfriend and girlfriend so we just stay friends mostly over the internet until I figure it out. My mom tried to tell me what to do but she was the one who told me about romantic dates so I’m not listening to her anymore. My mom still asks about that girl but we are just friends mostly on MSN. Chatting with friends online is a lot easier than at school because it is just typing words and I don’t have to figure out if they are joking. When my friends are joking they add smiles and winks and stuff and that makes it easy for me to know.
My grades got better in the past few semesters. My mom is really happy. She says she always knows I am smart it’s just a different way than other people. Now I get to pick most of my classes so of course I pick the best ones. The principal and teachers know me so they let the lateness and the breaks slide as long as I don’t take too long. My computer teacher says I could go to university so I asked my mom if I could. She wants me to go and live on campus somewhere not too far but I might look into distance education if I can find one that is for computers. Living in a different city and house doesn’t sound like fun at all. My teacher helped me apply for some grants for aspie students like me so I can get some money and my parents don’t have to pay for everything because he says it is expensive. Hopefully I can do classes from home but I have to check. I didn’t know that school had fun stuff not just hard stuff. I wonder how many aspies know they can go to university.

Life in High School

I wanted to write more about my academic experience in high school. At school I still have an IEP. All throughout school my Mom has always gone to the IEP meetings to help ensure I get all the services I can. Now that I am 16 I get to have input into the IEP.

As part of my IEP I get to go to special classes and learn how to do things for myself like laundry, washing dishes and balancing a cheque book. The school is also helping me to figure out post-secondary education. Since I love electronics and wiring they are helping me get into computer classes. I also get together with other aspie teens from other schools and we do group outings. As part of my IEP I also get to work on my social skills, some of the other kids at school get to help me with this part. I think this helps them to understand me more and why I am the way I am.

Not only do I get social skills help from school but also from contact Hamilton. This is another government service offering transition supports. I get to attend social groups and receive social stories on things like how to talk to my friends. The social stories help me to know what to say in social settings and what I shouldn’t do or say.

All in all I have had lots of helpful services in my education. My social skills are improving and my peers are becoming more accepting of me.

Here is the website for special education in the school board:
http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/speced.html

Max Reporting

This is Max reporting. I am now 14 and I have decided to take over this blog from my Mom. I want to let people know what my life is like with Asperger’s Syndrome and Social Anxiety and I want other people with this dual diagnosis to know they are not alone in their struggles and triumphs. This blog is a great way for me to express my feelings and thoughts because I have a hard time saying it face to face.

Now that I am in high school, I feel the other kids looking at me because I might be acting or saying things differently. I am really into electronics and wiring, so I tend to talk a lot about it. I think this puts other kids off because they aren’t interested or don’t understand what I am talking about. So the other kids usually don’t want to talk to me because they know something is “wrong” with me. I wish I knew how to talk to people and make friends, but it is so hard for me to know what to say. This has been a struggle for my entire life! No one is willing to give me a chance because they are all too cool and don’t want to be seen with “the weirdo”.

In high school I have had to adjust to a new routine. It has been hard to adjust to the new schedule and changing classrooms. Now that I am getting used to it I can enjoy my favourite classes which are math, shop class and computer class. I am super smart about electronics and numbers. I love to take things apart and see how they work. In these classes I feel like I belong. I know what I am talking about and I am good at it too.

I hope you enjoyed my first blog adventure. I know I did. Signing off until next time.

Max goes to school


Starting school is a big adjustment for all children, so Max was not alone on this day and milestone. We did all we could do to prepare Max for this new chapter in his life. Deciding to enrol Max into the public school system was a big decision, we as parents had to make. We knew that Max needed help in certain aspects of his life and socializing with peers was at the top of the list. The Mother in me just wanted to protect him and home school him, and avoid added anxiety and awkward moments school would bring, however deep down I knew it was the best thing, yet the hardest thing to do.
I did my homework and researched the options that would best fit Max and his learning style. I got nervous and anxious myself thinking of Max trying to blend into the classroom and fit into the routine, the loud school bell, the crowded hallways, the close interactions with peers just to name a few things Max would have to learn to adapt to. The more I laid awake at night thinking about this the more furious with the school system I got (and even society). Why did my child have to adjust to this one size, should fit all classroom mold that was presented in most classrooms across Canada? This is a public school so children from all sorts of backgrounds attend and why should they have to adapt to one set of school standards. Really does the school bell have to be that loud inside the hallways of the school, or did the children really need to stand quietly in a line? I told myself we would just give it a try and see what happens and worse comes to worse, we will home school.
I was pleased to meet Max’s teacher Ms. Stewart. She’s fairly new to the education system and fresh out of school with experience working with children on the spectrum, so she was eager to learn all she could to help Max enjoy his year. We met Ms. Stewart late summer to go over areas of concerns we had and things we would like to work on. We were disappointed to learn that Max did not qualify to have an EA with him throughout the day. Max got a tour of the school and his classroom. I went online and learned about social stories that would help with transitions, I wrote one for everything and we would read them over and over again.

As the early school year unfolded so did Max’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). We learned that it is mandatory for the school to develop an IEP for every student who is identified as exceptional by an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC). The IEP will include a lot of information regarding children like Max and their education. Included in this will be the annual goals and learning expectations for Max, method of assessment that will measure progress along with Max’s strengths and needs related to learning. Parents of other children with AS I met through a support group I joined shortly after Max was diagnosed stressed the importance of building a strong IEP with Max’s growth and well being the priority, since an IEP is a document that will travel with Max, from elementary school right through high School and even college.
The principle and Ms. Stewart tried to reassure me that they were going to do all they could the help Max....now we wait and see what happens!


Part II

Max is now in Grade 3 and enjoys and thrives on his routine he has come accustom to. Schedules are a must each day to let Max know what he is in for, now sticking to that schedule is sometimes a challenge. Some challenges and bumps we have face are simple things like a supply teachers or a closed computer lab due to repairs. Over the years the people working with Max can sense or can sometimes predict what will set him off; at times we avoid any upsets and at other times when time/space is available we introduce “change” to help teach him see change will happen (I consider it tough love).
Academically just as we predicted Max has excelled and is at top of the class and socializing with peers will be an ongoing challenge. I have enrolled him in many group activities as possible, summer camps, Beavers and science classes all year round. I try to build on one of his interests and incorporate peers with it. He has his bad days that consist of frustration or feeling overwhelmed, but also good days of excitement and progress!

Max

In late June Max’s pre-school teacher called my husband and I in for our final parent -teacher conference. It had been a year of back and forth and we had gotten used to these meetings. According to Max’s teachers he was not a very social boy. He never tried to make friends and for some reason his peers never really tried to make friends with him. At recess he’d become noticeably upset when his peers made attempts to engage him in play. Not that he didn’t enjoy playing, just that he’d rather play his game, alone. I assumed Max was shy. Teachers described it more as ‘self-centred’. Still, it didn’t overly concern me. Max was a smaller boy, and soft spoken. He probably felt intimidated by his peers and any behaviours he had were just probably out of fear. There were never any concerns about Max’s academics in the school. He was a smart boy. His teachers and I knew this. Max could count well past one hundred and loved to be read to. The only concern was that Max did not respond well to following direct instruction, this lead to tantrums and fits of panic. At our final meeting Max’s preschool teacher, suggested we take Max to see a paediatrician. Three months later our son had a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. This ‘diagnosis’ knocked the wind right out of me. Max before ‘Aspergers’ was just a quirky little boy. Now Max’s ‘quirks’ are his symptoms. A higher I.Q., narrow interests, clumsiness, poor motor skills, and most disheartening are his substantially lacking social and non-verbal communication skills. I wanted to hear about life with a child like Max from a parent’s perspective. I have joined a few Moms of ‘Aspies’ support groups. Many of the mothers I have spoken with have told me the benefits of having received his diagnosis at such a young age. That their children hadn’t been diagnosed until about 7-8 years old and that there are adults who have only recently been diagnosed as having had Aspergers their whole lives. Now we can prepare for Max’s future. We decided it would be best to quit my job so that I can make Max my full-time priority, I will volunteer in his school. Money will be tight but we hope to qualify for some financial services through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services he is eligible for. For starters we will begin saving for Max's future with a “Registered Disability Savings plan”and we can apply for financial aid to cover any other therapies we decide might be best for Max. I have heard of things such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Involvement in Social Groups, and even Medication to curb anxiety and Obsessive tendencies. I am not sure which would be best, but these are choices my husband and I will have to make for Max... until he is old enough to make them on his own. Right now I’m just reeling over school options. September is approaching too quickly. What will his peers and teachers expect of him and how will he be treated, as Max enters school system as a child with Aspergers?
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