I will start this post on Autism and employment by saying we don’t do employment for Autistic people well. So many Autistic people are unemployed, underemployed and / or work in unsuitable jobs.
Thankfully, on a personal level, i have made a career for myself in the professional world. This post will be a mixture of reflecting on how I got to where I am as well as strategies which might help others in their employment journey. I recognise that Autistic people often face significant barriers to finding and keeping a job and just building job readiness skills is probably not going to result in employment where the recruitment processes (interview particularly) and the workplace is not ‘Autism-friendly. It is usually more complex than people just needing a positive attitude and some determination.
This week marks my ten year anniversary of being a public servant. My work history started in 1992 when I was 17. I worked in a fast food restaurant. I hated the work. I didn’t know what to say to my colleagues outside of work. I was there two years and was promoted to a junior manager role. Then a new store manager joined who was a creepy abuser and he subjected me and other colleagues to sexual violence. Not knowing what to do, I quit my job. My life at that point went rapidly downhill. A few years later and I was in a desperate situation as an ex-prisoner with severe mental illness. I had made so many errors and poor choices that I was determined to change. I enrolled in university and started looking of work.
I had a huge degree of perfectionism and was terrified of making a mistake. A fairly easy dishwashing job in a restaurant resulted in some much stress and perfectionism that I became unwell with psychosis. I didn’t give up though. Over the next few years I did what I would now describe as ‘controlled challenges’. I took on incrementally more difficult employment situations and gained confidence. After building my confidence I applied for a graduate job in a Government Department. I had been undertaking study while preparing my employment journey and applied for the graduate job with a Masters degree in Fine Arts. I completed all the recruitment criteria and I was successful. In my whole life I had never worked in an office and I had significant barriers to employment. I moved interstate to take up my job. The change was very scary but I was moving from a world of poverty, misery and a lack of choices to what I imagined woful be middle-class heaven.
I loved my job in the public service as soon as I started. There were challenges but there were huge benefits too.It must be good as I have been there ten years and have been promoted twice – to the level I am happy to stay at. My world of work went from woeful but I now think it is quite wonderful. I love that I am a visible Autistic person with mental illness who has professional role. While there are a good many of us, not everyone is ‘out’ at work (which is often understandable due to concerns of stigma) and for some people they are told a lot of negative things about their capability to don’t think to try and join the workforce.
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