The Trouble with “Normal”

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It has been sometime since I wrote something on autism/aspergers, partially because I didn’t have anything I wanted to write.  But I stumbled accross an article on Facebook that reminds me of the situation that I face on daily basis.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I was diagnosed with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism.  When I got the diagnosis, I was relieved.  It was something I could hang all of the difficulties I faced as an adult in relationships and employment. I was hoping that I could explain to my employers what was happening with me and that they would understand.

Boy was I wrong.

The problem with having High Functioning Autism is that you don’t look like you have autism.  I can “pass” well enough for people to think I don’t really have any issues.  But that’s not true.  A recent article on the challenges those of us with High Functioning Autism face explains:

If the media is to believed, the high end of the autism spectrum is peopled largely by eccentric geniuses—Bill Gates and Albert Einstein are often mentioned, along with Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah—who by and large do very well indeed, though they march to the beat of their own drummer. The reality, however, is that “high functioning autistic” and “genius,” “business tycoon,” and “Hollywood star” rarely go together…They may also have significant challenges which stand in the way of living a comfortable life, succeeding in work or romance, or achieving a sense of self-worth. Those issues are made more challenging, in part, because they surprise and upset others who don’t anticipate odd behaviors or reactions from people who “pass for normal” in many situations…

While people with more severe autism are not generally expected to just suck it up and get through difficult moments, people on the higher end of the spectrum are expected to do just that…

Lastly, people with high functioning autism are, in general, very aware of their own difficulties and extremely sensitive to others’ negative reactions.

I’ve experienced this situation over and over. I can work to try to fix my mistakes, I can go over and above to show that I can do my work well and at the end of the day, it is not enough. I am told things that sometimes cut to the heart, even though you know that you’ve tried to be the best worker in spite of my shortcomings. But you have to suck it up and try to function even though you’ve been shamed and told that you aren’t a good worker. The thing is, you can try as hard as you can and at the end of the day, it. is. not. enough.

You have to suck it up, because you don’t look autistic.  Which means that people don’t take your autism to account.  Instead you are looked at like a giant f**kup.

And when your high functioning autism isn’t taken seriously, it affects you in future situations.  Work becomes a place where you are waiting for someone to point out a mistake you made and then, you overreact, fearing that it’s all downhill from here.  You end up not trusting people, because you fear them- you fear they will judge you and that your job will be in jeporady.

So, work becomes a minefield, one that can become of your own making.

What I would like to see from people at work not just for me, but for anyone with high functioning autism is to stop assuming things. As Ashlea McKay notes:

Don’t think because I’m a successful adult female that communicates verbally that my existence is ‘mild’ or that I ‘don’t seem that autistic’ to you. That is insulting to both me and every other autistic person on the planet. I know you’re just trying to understand and have probably heard a number of things about autism over the years, but instead of assuming what it means to be autistic, just ask.

If someone tells you they are autistic, ask a damn question as to how you can help them be the best employee. Don’t assume. Don’t just automatically go to belittling them. Sometimes people are just not good employees, but sometimes we just need help and encouragement.

One thing that I am learning over time is that I need to be willing to advocate for myself.  Simply telling folk isn’t enough. At times I might need to politely push back.  Because I think sometimes people don’t understand things unless they are hit metaphorically by a 2×4.

So, when an employee tells you that they are autistic, talk to them. Learn all you can about autism and how to be a good manager to them.  Just because they appear “normal”doesn’t mean you can treat them as normal.

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