I Hate Working with other People

I hate working with other people, especially in matters of physical labor. In activities involving manual dexterity, I learn slower, sometimes much slower, than other people. It is difficult to embed the process involved within my muscle memory. My preferred learning style in such situations is a solitary trial and error process. I prefer to learn on my own because it is frequently not easy for me to comprehend verbal instruction from other people. Even when I understand verbal instruction regarding the performance of a physical task, my ability to translate the understanding into performance is sometimes difficult. 

When carrying heavy objects, I’m frequently clumsy. For me, there is nothing much worse than trying to maneuver a heavy, bulky object through a narrow passage or trying to place that object in a small space filled with other objects that obstruct its full placement in the space. It is especially bad when other people are viewing my efforts and attempt to offer me instruction in the proper physical techniques of placing the object or even offer physical assistance in the placement. Allistic persons in the same circumstances also might be offered physical assistance or even instructed in the proper carrying techniques. But I’m very touchy about my slow learning ability, clumsiness and poor muscle tone; I feel defensive when other people try to help me although my response on the surface is never hostile. Moreover, I know that their instruction is frequently unlikely to cause me to begin performing the manual dexterity task at a solid level. 

The object I’m attempting to maneuver does not have to be particularly heavy to cause me difficulty. Today, at work, a co-worker twice discerned a need to instruct me in the placing of a tablecloth on a round table. In placing the linen, he demonstrated a technique that was smooth and flawless: I felt no capacity to imitate it. At one point, the shift manager caught sight of my work and declared “looking good, he’s looking good.” Perhaps, the manager believed this co-worker was nit-picking or that, knowing my disabilities, the work that I’d done was good enough–such are the sort of thoughts that bother me at work. 

A very short time later, the same co-worker offered more corrective instruction as I completed the placement of ten chairs around a round table. He stated that I’d placed the chairs a little too far under the table-cloth covered table but that otherwise the presentation of the chairs around the table was close to perfect. My nerves were heightened by this incident because standing nearby was a co-worker I’ve referred to in other posts as Marcus. Aware of my disability, this young man went through a period several weeks ago of addressing me in passive aggressive and patronizing tones in reference to the slowness and clumsiness of my work. Marcus looked at me and said “You doing ok?”–he has been relatively friendly in our recent brief encounters. I responded “yes” and he said nothing else. Was Marcus thinking that this co-worker was unduly nitpicking my work? More likely, he believed that I was displaying yet more of the deep struggles with learning my job’s tasks that has bothered him in the past. After this incident, I was overcome with the dread I’ve felt since childhood of being viewed as slow and  a weakling. I felt very faintly the welling of tears within my eyes but I managed to contain them. Luckily these incidents occurred at the very end of my workday.

My Mother and My Asperger's

In March 2008, my mother passed away from Ovarian cancer. She was 55.

She was an outstanding mother. My well-being was always her number one priority and her judgement in determining that well-being was usually excellent. She was warm, loving and patient.

Though she never received the Autism Spectrum diagnosis that I did (four years after he death), we shared many characteristics. Like me but perhaps more so, she was ultra-sensitive and easily moved to tears when someone hurt her feelings or when stirred by a sad movie. Like me, she was prone to intense displays of emotion, especially in workplaces. It was easy for her to melt-down under intense pressure, as it is for me. I engage in numerous stimming activities; she did not do so with one notable exception: she bit down on her tongue continuously and sometimes rapidly and loudly for extended periods of time. Curiously, one of her four sisters also performs this stim, albeit with much less intensity.

In the last ten or fifteen years of her life, she was frequently a victim of bullying from her bosses. All too often she came home from work in tears, full of tension and hysterical. Her last boss before she died was a particularly evil creature. About sixteen or seventeen months before she died, the boss began my mother’s annual review by brushing aside some papers my mother had in front of her and declaring with a viscous sneer: “If you think your cancer isn’t affecting your work, you’re wrong!”

My mother’s emotional upheavals disturbed me as a child and young adult, perhaps because they caused me sensory overload and also because, as a child, one instinctively looks to one’s parents as rocks of emotional stability. I thought that I would be handle such situations much better than she. However I was wrong. My own emotional breakdowns in recent years dealing with troubles at work indicate to me that she was tougher than I in dealing with similar experiences.

In some ways, I was not a particularly easy child to raise; during my junior high years I was prone to outbursts of profane rage, frequently directed at her. I clearly displayed symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome at the time; however testing undertaken in the fourth grade ruled it out. This testing was undertaken in response to substantial academic and social difficulties I experienced during the second grade, my first year at a new elementary school. My teacher was insistent that I be held back a grade but my mother ferociously fought back against this proposal. To school staff, she stressed evidence of my intelligence, including my constant reading of a children’s book about the Revolutionary War.

My mother, though very shy as a child, developed a very talkative and outgoing personality as an adult. I never developed anything close to such a personality. My extreme reluctance as a young adult to enter the workplace greatly frustrated her and was one of the sources of conflict between us. Perhaps if I’d been diagnosed as a child instead of after her death, our relationship would have gone smoother.

An Autistic man in a job designed for Allistics

I start work at 6 AM. After I clock in, I ‘check in” with my supervisor by poking my head behind the wall of his cubicle and say “good morning.” This greeting alerts him to my presence and readiness to be assigned a partner to provide me with special mentoring–in light of my learning disabilities–for the job tasks. For the most part, my mentor has been a company lead–lets call him David. Of all my co-workers and supervisors, I’ m least uncomfortable with him. Sometimes my partner has been another lead–a gentleman who is not American born and whose accent is very thick. Comprehending his verbal direction to me is sometimes hard; he understands this and compensates for it by saying as little to me as possible. This makes for awkward vibes, at least on my part.

Actually, every interaction with co-workers or supervisors presents me with awkward vibes, often in very high doses. Constant negative experiences in social interaction over my lifetime have ingrained in me the assumption that most people I meet find me unpleasant or weird. My experience in this workplace has not deviated far from this pattern. My interaction with David and other co-workers and supervisors always has an element of strain to it. On the surface, there are obvious reasons for it. For one I speak in a low, monotone voice featuring almost no inflection and whose resonance is often distorted by throat congestion (and anxiety). Another reason is the flat expression on my face, which does not exude warmth and which I find difficult to alter, especially when I’m tense (which is almost all the time I’m at work). Yet another reason is my difficulty in small talk, especially with people (e.g. my co-workers) whom I share very little in common. It is not uncommon for the awkwardness to cause me sensory overload and, after such episodes occur, I have trouble keeping my face from twitching in various poses of anguish and shaking my head in exasperation.

I’m a bookish, studious individual whereas most of my co-workers are uneducated gentlemen, several of them noticeably coarse in their language and lackadaisical in their work habits. Almost all of these brethren have been polite to me in spite of the strain caused by my shyness. One exception to the politeness has been a co-worker I’ll call Marcus, a vulgar and loud young man. Lately he has addressed me in passive aggressive bullying tones, supposedly attempting to correct my clumsy or incorrect techniques for performing work tasks. Recently Marcus was transferred to a work shift completely different from my own, with the exception of Mondays and Fridays when he begins his shift two and a half hours before I end my own. I always dread encountering him on those days.

Marcus is not my biggest problem at this job; that honor belongs to my slow visual and auditory perceptual processing along with my dreadful manual dexterity. My job’s requirements of moving sometimes very heavy furniture and placing tables and chairs in precise patterns in company meeting rooms is frequently clumsy, sometimes modestly successful and inconsistent in general. I have great trouble in keeping up with my mentor David, who barks instructions to me in an extremely rapid voice and whose physical dexterity and strength is much superior to my own.

David, though he can be gruff as he directs me in the performance of job tasks and is sometimes clearly disappointed in my performance, is also capable of showing friendliness toward me. I try my damndest to engage him in small talk though my instinct and preference is to be silent and alone with my thoughts. For the most part I ask him questions about certain aspects of his personal life that he mentions in our conversations or aspects of our mutual job duties. During these conversations the strain between us is reduced but never completely disappears.

I overheard David today speaking with an employee of an other company department; he revealed that he planned to begin planning his departure from the company if he did not receive a raise by the end of March. He expressed contempt for the paucity of wage increases granted by the company in recent years as well for the work ethic of many of our co-workers. One of the latter, he stated, had come to work high on marijuana three times but had not been fired–this possibly referred to my enemy Marcus. I greatly fear what will happen if David leaves the company and I’m still employed by it, given that I find him to be my least worst option as a coworker and supervisor/mentor.

Meanwhile, I’ve started the process of petitioning my state government’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to provide funding for services on my behalf with a vendor specializing in placing persons with disabilities in jobs. I’ve had unhappy experiences with those vendors in the past but I’m hoping the latest one from whom I’m seeking services will be able to place me in a job where I’ll be far less miserable. I greatly hope these services will start as soon as possible.

Reminisce of a Past Job Experience/Office Skills Training (Part 1)

In December 2017, I was compelled to have double bypass surgery on my heart and had to lay low for several months. In March 2018, seeking a route back into the workforce, I enrolled in an office skills training and job placement program offered to persons’ with disabilities. This program is offered by a non-profit manufacturing company whose primary focus is training disabled persons–who are paid at minimum wage–in the manufacturing of machine parts in the transportation industry.

For my first several months in the program, I attended an office skills class, which offered training in Microsoft Office and customer service skills. I completed my training in Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook with flying colors; I earned a certificate–not a certification–from the company in each program. Obtaining these certificates was absurdly easy, especially when compared with my own unsuccessful effort to obtain Excel certification from the official Microsoft certification program. Employers appeared to regard these certificates as almost worthless when compared to the official certifications offered by Microsoft. The certificates might have been more valuable in advertising myself to employers if I’d had even a modicum of previous white collar work experience.

The certificates also might have been of more value to me had I been placed in an office job soon after completing the program. I would have been able to retain the knowledge I’d acquired of Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook by putting them to use in a real life job.However my job counselor with the company–let us call him Jonathan–believed that my acquisition of a job requiring the use of Microsoft Office programs was unlikely given my near total lack of previous white collar work experience and not lengthy work history in general. Jonathan decided that I would work part time for minimum wage at the company’s front desk under the mentorship of the company’s receptionist–let us call her Nicole. This job would involve no use of Microsoft Office programs.

On my second day with Nicole, as she discoursed about the various tasks I’d be expected to perform, I was overwhelmed by something like a nervous breakdown. Verbal communication was ( and is) one of my major weaknesses. The prospect of being compelled to learn all the proper protocols for dealing with different types of callers and visitors and then verbally communicating those policies seemed like an unbelievable nightmare. In particular, I thought that my learning disabilities would make acquiring the proper knowledge a very rocky process.

I was called to a meeting with Jonathan while in the midst of this mental suffering. I unsuccessfully tried to maintain my composure and hold back tears. Jonathan, obviously noticing my discomposure, attempted to subtly advise me about it. He knew that I’d been to the emergency room two days earlier complaining of chest pains; he argued that these pains were anxiety and not heart related. “You had heart surgery five months ago ; You’re cured! I suggest you look into getting some counseling for the anxiety.” It soon turned out that a nearly total blockage in one of my coronary artery had returned, a highly unusual circumstance so soon after surgery. Later that month, I had a stent placed in the artery.

I was actually very grateful to have the stent placed because it gave me an excuse to take a few days off work. My first weeks with Nicole were a nightmare. Intense anxiety burned inside me, exacerbated by Nicole’s exceedingly stern manner. One of Nicole’s previous trainees wrote in a Google review of employment at the company that working under Nicole was not advisable unless one desired to be treated like a five year old. Subjected to treatment that was best suitable for a five year old was a far from unfair description of my own treatment under Nicole during those first weeks. Nicole’s intent was perhaps well intentioned; it was her belief that her trainees had to be put through a sort of boot camp in preparation for becoming efficient and reliable employees for future employers. Clearly, another part of her mindset was stress; she later apologized to me and indicated that she was feeling excessively burdened by the need to train me during the morning in addition to the young autistic man she trained in the afternoon. This stress perhaps contributed to her sometimes abrasive manner.

But those first weeks with Nicole only exacerbated my anxiety. The anxiety led to mistakes in my work which I was frequently reluctant to disclose to Nicole because I feared she’d bite my head off.

Gradually Nicole started to lighten up though I still remained fearful of her. I received my first review from Nicole a month and a half after I started. She stated that though I was a quiet individual who had little to say my demeanor was calm and pleasant. She also said that I clearly lacked self-confidence and needed to improve my communication skills.

Reading this report, Johnathan, my job counselor, endeavored to advise me about ways to improve my self-confidence. He directed me to work on assuming a persona that was extremely assertive and fully confident in my abilities, regardless of any mistakes I might make. Curiously, he then attempted to connect the subject of self-confidence with porn addiction. The latter was apparently on his mind because he’d been counseling gentlemen struggling with that problem as a counselor at his church. Porn addiction, at least in the way he discussed it, seemed extremely remote from any subject relevant to my struggles. I was full of my usual anxiety but as he solemnly discoursed about porn addiction, I couldn’t help but temporarily turn into Beavis & Butthead. I was unable to suppress a smirk and a very slight giggle. It seemed absurd that he was speaking of porn addiction when he was supposed to be addressing my self-confidence issues.

At our next meeting several days later, he said to me “You know sometimes I’m not sure if all my advice registers with you.” I replied that everything he said registered with me; the constant, typically autistic “flat” expression on my face perhaps gave him the incorrect impression that I wasn’t properly understanding his wisdom. He seemed impressed with my use of the word “flat” and in the future would use it in several instances to refer to the unimpressive initial impression I might give job interviewers.

(To be continued…..perhaps next weekend or some other time when I’m not too worn down from the horror of my current job).

An Autistic Man's Reminisce of Walmart Employment

From November of last year until last month I worked as a personal shopper in the Online Grocery Pickup (OGP) department of my local Walmart. About half the job involved picking items from the sales floor–mostly groceries–that had been ordered online by customers for in-store pickup. The other half of the job involved preparing orders for delivery to customers waiting outside our department’s small operations room in one of fourteen parking spaces.

I was in tears after my first day on the job, which was on a Saturday–weekends are always busy at Walmart and this busyness overwhelmed my highly sensitive senses. I was convinced that my slow, deliberate mental processes were highly incompatible with the job’s task of pushing a big cart through crowded aisles and–directed by a hand held device–locating grocery items, all the while trying to get out of the way of customers pushing their carts, receiving innumerable inquiries along the way from customers as to the locations of particular items and being required to do all this within a limited amount of time. Toward the end of my first day, my supervisor joined my order picking journey amongst the aisles and eventually took over the picking from me. At one point he asked me to create a double bag; with my poor manual dexterity I struggled to add the second bag to the bagged first item which he held. He gave a slightly gruff response to my slowness in putting on the second bag–by this point I was extremely tired and always sensitive about my poor hand-eye coordination, I started to get emotional. That first day was the only day in my Walmart employment in which I was moved to tears.

I subsequently got better at the tasks though I was slower than others to learn all the procedures for aspects of the job–probably through a combination of inadequate training, being afraid at times to ask for help , anxiety and my slow mental processing of information. My fear of asking for help too many times was amplified by the extremely hectic nature of the workplace. I was sometimes afraid to ask persons for help who were obviously so overwhelmed with other duties.

My department was as hectic as it was probably in part because of Walmart’s notoriously ardent emphasis on keeping labor costs down–in this cases putting as much labor on as few workers as possible. There were all too many days during my tenure when customers waited in the parking lot for as long as an hour or hour and a half for their groceries to be delivered. The customers waited that length of time in spite of having previously received an e-mail informing them that their order was “ready for pickup.” This e-mail was (and is) misleading–it meant that all items in the order had been picked from the sales floor but not that the items had been gathered together to be delivered to the customer. Sometimes, in the highly rushed atmosphere of this work environment, it was not difficult to misplace items after they had been picked. Our operating room was too small and cramped to properly store and organize in tidy fashion the large volume of orders on busy days–this caused disorganization and an occasional misplacement of orders which in turn caused delays in delivery to those customers as we searched for missing orders. The problem of inadequate space in the department was rectified to a large extent toward the end of my tenure.

Perhaps the worst day of understaffing during my tenure occurred on December 23rd. I arrived to work at 4PM and learned that well over 500 items were “overdue”–meaning that the time was a half hour or less before the customer was scheduled to come pick them up but they still had not even been picked from the sales floor. This was yet another situation where customers would be waiting an hour to an hour and a half to receive their order. Around 6PM, my supervisor ordered all of us to go pick items on the sales floor while he would stay in the operations room alone, dispense orders to the irate customers and answer their angry telephone calls all by himself. He very manfully put this extremely unpleasant task on his own shoulders in spite of his general aversion to answering the department phone lest he have to interact with unpleasant customers.

There were several instances when my nerves were greatly shaken by being spoken to in abrasive fashion by customers. One lady in particular shouted at me over the phone in an extremely belligerent manner. However I was impressed by how pleasant the vast majority of customers could be, in spite of substantial delays in the delivery of their order and other abysmal displays of customer service. It was not uncommon for a customer to politely say to me, even through gritted teeth, that they recognized they had had to wait a long time for their order because our department was very busy. Occasionally, feeling the need to protect my own dignity as the “face” of the store that was delivering them such abysmal customer service due to circumstances which were not my fault, I told customers about the understaffing problems in our department.

Many of my co-workers were pleasant and hard-working people. I certainly would wish for them in the future to be provided with better resources to deliver quality customer service. Of course, as long as customers continue to provide Walmart with its huge profits, the company will face little incentive to invest in customer service improvements.

My experience as a Walmart worker was sometimes far from enjoyable but it was a better experience than at many places I’ve worked.

Autistic and Trying to Survive an Incompatible Workplace

For me, going to work is quite an ordeal in spite of the fact that my employer is aware of my Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis and has taken two steps to accommodate me: I have been given a shift where my co-workers are less disagreeable than on other shifts and am being provided with extensive training by a department supervisor.

My manual dexterity is poor. As a result the aforementioned supervisor has provided me with instruction in numerous aspects of the physical handling of tables and chairs and the organization of tables and chairs in different patterns in company meeting rooms. My attention span for learning these tasks is undoubtedly made more difficult by anxiety. I experience palpable sensory overload in facing the expectation that I remember so many details necessary to execute tasks for which I’ve inherently weak ability to carry out.

I’m also extremely self-conscious about my learning disabilities. Memories stretching back to childhood of being ridiculed as clumsy and intellectually slow and being treated with contempt by others have left a deep imprint on my conscience. My mental antennae is always alert for the slightest expression of contempt for my mental and physical capacities on the part of other people. As an Autistic person, my ability to read social cues is inferior to many neurotypical persons and this circumstance undoubtedly fertilizes feelings of paranoia.

I’m completely certain though about the nature of my treatment at the hands of a co-worker–lets call him Marcus. On Monday and Wednesday this week, there were five or six instances where this young man spoke to me in a highly bullying tone. He treats me as a bumbling idiot and seems to relish barking orders at me in hostile fashion as our workgroup conducts various activities. Before this week, he had periodically spoken to me in similar fashion but with nowhere near the intensity. About three weeks ago–on my third or fourth day of employment–he spoke to me with kindness and stated that he had friends with disabilities. I did not tell him about my disabilities but perhaps it was obvious to him that I have some. He also stated that he meant “no disrespect” when he called attention to my disabilities such as he had earlier that day when he bellowed out “training department! training department!” in response to seeing my struggles putting a spandex on a bistro table. He is a highly vulgar young man. He has engaged in heated, profanity laced arguments with supervisors but has not been fired. Last Friday, I was with him and two supervisors in a company vehicle as he conducted a heated cell phone conversation with someone in connection with the claim that he was the perpetrator of a hit-and-run fatality. Today, also present with him and a supervisor in a company vehicle , he related the story that several months earlier he made an attempt while intoxicated to enter his own residence because he needed “to shit.” His method to open the front door was to rush at it with a bear hug and this caused the door damage.

There are of course recourses available if Marcus continues his disrespectful treatment of me, although I don’t know if I have the emotional strength to pursue them. Social interaction is a major source of sensory overload for me but most especially are interactions involving any significant tension. In tense interactions it is not uncommon for me to burst into tears from the sensory overload. At the very least, I tend to freeze up during tense interactions and my wit fails me. He starts his shift two and a half hours before I end mine; it is usually impossible not to have at least one interaction with him. I can speak to supervisors about him but what if he understands the source of such complaints and confronts me about it? Given that he is still employed with the company in spite of the heated arguments he has had with supervisors, how extensive would they really protect me from him? He has many friends among his co-workers and although these appear to be much more civilized than he, how cooperative would they be as witnesses if I brought a complaint against him to supervisors?

There are times at my workplace when I’m possessed by a deep sense of self-degradation. I’m slow at learning the work and though the supervisor training me is not unkindly, my sense of inferiority at having to have my hand held as I perform my tasks is palpable. I think I’m capable of doing so much more in this world. But meanwhile, the job market thinks otherwise and has assigned me this dreadful occupation where I feel like a child again, ever fearful of being bullied for my disabilities. The era when I was in grad school and thought I would find a dignified place in this world is long past.

Lost Employment Dreams of an Over-educated Autistic Man

In August 2011 I received my Master of Arts in History. The road to this degree was full of struggle and its conclusion was highly disappointing, even devastating: I received only a B on my Master’s Thesis. Nonetheless my initial idiotic assumption was that this degree would carry great weight in the job market. I was wrong, dead wrong.

For one, my employment experience in the preceding fourteen years or so of my adult life had been sporadic. The “job” of attending college served as a substitute for the devastating social anxiety which had caused me, for the most part, to steer clear of paid employment.

For another, my degree in and of itself provided virtually no gateway to employment. Persons earning a master’s degree in history often subsequently pursue PhD studies. My master’s thesis was too weak for that to be a possibility. Community college teaching was also out of the question–my chances might have increased had I accepted an offer to become a teaching assistant. Such an offer was made early one fall afternoon in 2006 in a phone call from the History department chair. I was about to take a nap at the time of this call; the job sounded like a lot of work and I replied that I preferred the job of research assistant to which I ‘d already been assigned. As a research assistant, I was only assigned two small projects from two different professors, one of whom apparently subsequently lost the computer file of work I’d done for her. Apparently few professors in the history department were even aware that my research services were available.

In any case, it is unlikely in retrospect that I would have succeeded as a teaching assistant or college instructor. I did not have the communication skills or executive organizational abilities to pull it off. Paradoxically, while my social anxiety during my college years was significantly greater than it is now, I also possessed greater self-confidence and was far less self-conscious. During college, my Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis was still a long ways off and I had little inkling that it was coming–the years since the diagnosis have made me much more self-conscious about the way I interact with other people. Perhaps, during my less self-conscious college years, I could have muddled through a teaching assistant gig.

In the years since I received my MA, I’ve tried to keep some connection to the field of history. I’ve volunteered at several local historical societies; my articles on local history have been published numerous times in a local newspaper. I even published an article in the official journal of my state’s historical society. But any career in the field of history is not even remotely on the horizon for me. In May 2015, I attended a short and small gathering of graduates of my graduate school’s history department. I was hoping to do a little networking but accomplished literally nothing in that regard. My former thesis committee chair was co-host of this event and clearly viewed my presence with horror. As I attempted to make small talk with him, he assumed a disposition which seemed to indicate anxiety, annoyance and boredom. It is possible that his disposition was partly motivated by discomfort or even guilt–he was aware that I’d fared poorly in the job market since receiving my degree. But it was also highly possible, even likely, that my display of certain common autistic traits in years past had caused him to regard me as a bit discomforting or even boorish. Certain organizational, intellectual and emotional barriers rooted in my Autism made the completion of my master’s thesis exceedingly difficult and must have bewildered him. We’ve had no contact since the May 2015 event and most likely won’t in the future.

Stuck in a Difficult Job Situation (for the Umpteenth Time)

As I implied in my introductory post, my current employment situation is distressing. It requires manual dexterity skills as well as social skills that I don’t have in great quantity.

One of the department managers has been assigned to train me. He says I’ve been picking up the basic tasks of the job fairly well. However my instincts for performing the tasks are terrible. My natural muscle movements are extremely clumsy and the manager has been compelled to offer me extensive instruction on proper movements. I’ve improved in terms of my lifting techniques, carrying techniques for tables, techniques for placing spandex on bistro tables, etc. These proper movements do not come naturally to me and I’m liable to make a mistake, especially when I’m nervous. However, I am improving.

My IQ test from 2012 (as part of my Asperger’s diagnosis) showed that I’m borderline retarded with regard to perceptual reasoning (my dad greatly dislikes me using the term “retarded” but I can find nothing more cogent or politically correct to describe my abilities in many aspects of the non-verbal reasoning sphere). My abilities in spatial organization are poor; the main part of my job is to take part in the set-up and take-take down of tables and chairs in different meeting rooms based on the stipulated number of such furniture and particular floor plans dictated by company employees. At this stage, I’m very early in the process of being trained to organize rooms based on different floor plans containing a dizzying array of numbers of chairs and patterns for placement of desks that I feel is going to be particularly difficult to handle.

By far my greatest challenge in this job is social. My learning disabilities and manual labor deficiencies are part of the problem. I have an inferiority complex–perhaps even paranoia–about these things that has deep roots going back to my childhood. I’m very slow to feel comfortable in a new situation–e.g. a new job–particularly when that situation requires me to learn new skills. I lose confidence easily when attempting to learn such skills, particularly in the area of manual dexterity or anything else in which I’m weak. I become tense and quiet–of course I’m often quiet even when I’m not tense. On the surface I may appear calm but I’m terribly uncomfortable and co-workers and supervisors sometimes obviously feel strained in interacting with me because I have so little to say. My demeanor undoubtedly appears “flat” and I seem unapproachable. This causes strained social interactions. If I were in a job where I had a much better mastery of the job skills, my confidence might increase to the point where I could exercise more wit and otherwise appear more aggregable.

I’m not quick-witted, especially among people with whom I have little in common. Some of my co-workers are much younger than me and slightly crude. One of them is quite loud. He is 21 years of age and acts as if he is still in high school. He is a sort of class clown in the work group. On the third or fourth day of my employment, he told me that he sympathized with me because I ‘d received grossly inadequate training from supervisors as he himself had when he’d started the job several months before. He said that he meant “no disrespect” when he attempted to call the attention of shift supervisors’ to my struggles in learning the job. He also added that he had friends with disabilities so he felt an urge to speak up when he saw my case–obviously he figured out I was disabled. In any case, this young man, in spite of his kind words on that occasion, has occasionally addressed me in a rude and childish manner in a way that seems to belittle my learning abilities. I’m probably being vastly over-sensitive but that is who I am. No doubt he is baffled and disturbed by my taciturn nature. It is amazing that this young man is still employed with the company. He constantly talks back to supervisors, constantly grouses to co-workers about the supervisors and last week got into a ferocious argument with a supervisor who claimed he smelled weed on the young man’s person.

I work on a shift that includes the first three and a half hours of his own. I’ve made up my mind to submit a request that I might work an hour or two less at the end of my shift so that I I may lessen my time in his presence. Interaction with him causes me anxiety but then again so does any social interaction on this job. These days social interaction in all too many circumstances frequently induces severe sensory overload within myself. I’m attempting to navigate a neurotypical world which I’m poorly equipped to handle in some ways.

My Search For Employment as an Autistic Adult

I’m forty one years old with a master’s degree in history. Seven and a half years ago — not long after I earned that degree and at which point I’d accumulated little experience in terms of paid employment — I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. As part of the IQ test portion of the diagnostic process, I received the none too uplifting information that I’m borderline retarded in such areas as perceptual reasoning and information processing. The diagnostic process also confirmed what had long been known: that my communication and social skills are weak (to put it mildly). Another unsurprising finding was my testing very positively in such areas as depression and anxiety.

Like any human being, I want the ability to control my own life. I also want fulfillment: in my case, the ability to engage in useful and productive work, the opportunity to spend my spare time reading and cultivating my intellect. I’m willing to do any job — no matter how modest in status — at which I can be successful. In my more grandiose dreams, I‘ve had visions of making a career of utilizing my intellect for creative purposes, whether it be in the discussion of books or making journalistic-style observations about the world. However, I don’t have much ability to make a living in such a line of work; as for control of my life, I don’t have the financial resources to do so and am dependent on loved ones for much of my basic financial needs.

In my quest to find secure employment, I’ve utilized the services of four employment service vendors through my state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). These vendors frequently advertise themselves as having connections in the local business community that allow disabled persons to receive employment more easily than non-disabled persons applying through the normal application process. My experience with these vendors gave me the impression that there are some people in the field of employment services for persons with disabilities who are skilled business people but not always honorable in dealing with people like myself desperately seeking a foundation for dignity and economic self-sufficiency through paid employment. There is a tendency among some of these vendors to greatly oversell their ability to find a job for their disabled client. Even if they have no resources to connect a particular client with an employer willing to hire the client, they give a contrary impression, enroll the client in their program and thus are able to collect taxpayer dollars for providing the client assistance in areas such as resume writing, appropriate workplace wardrobe, cover letter writing and interview practice. I was provided all these services by all the vendors I worked with but the actual procurement of a job for me — a full time job with benefits as called for in all four of my vendors’ contracts with the state DVR — was another matter. The business model seems in some cases to be one of collecting as many clients as possible in order to procure as much taxpayer dollars as possible. The actual provision of quality assistance to clients in achieving a job — the foundation of dignity and self-sufficiency in this society — seems to take a back seat at times. At one of the four vendors, my job coach told me that his employer had piled his case list with so many clients that he had a maximum of only two hours per week to devote to my case. Needless to say, this vendor was unable to procure a job for me.

When I initially met with the owner of the first vendor which provided me with services, he stated pompously: “We can find you a job. That’s gonna be the easy part. The question is: can you keep it?” A year later his company had not found me a job; he stated that the reason for this was because I did not do well in interviews. It was probably accurate to say that I did not do well in interviews but in as much as I’d never actually gotten an interview from any employer while I was his client, I wondered exactly how dumb he thought I was. As is common with these vendors, he also directed me to compile a list of hiring manager contact information from companies with whom I’d applied for employment. The idea was that he or his subordinates would contact these hiring managers after I applied and inform them of the benefits — such as a six thousand dollar tax credit — of hiring a disabled person such as myself. I laboriously compiled these lists but I suspect that not many (if any at all) were actually contacted. One early Friday afternoon, he tried a different tact. He called me out of the blue to report that he’d been talking with an official of a local natural history museum about possibly employing me. I pressed for details about the nature of the position for which I might be hired but he told me to not worry about that for the moment and instead concentrate on forwarding him my updated list of contact information for hiring managers. After talking with him, my mind raced with wonder about the possible nature of the museum position to which I might be hired. In any case, that was the last I heard from him about the alleged museum job. I can’t prove it but I suspect he invented the story of his discussion with the museum official in order to assure me that he was putting in the effort to get me a job.

I had more success with two of the other vendors. I spent a year with one; the vendor’s job coach and other officials could not convince any of their business partners in the local community to hire me while overselling their ability to procure a job for me with those business partners. This vendor directly employs disabled persons in manufacturing work but, in my case, I was trained in the art of the receptionist. As a paid, part-time receptionist I earned the vendor’s worker of the month award, although I was eventually let go from the job because of its temporary nature. The other vendor provided me with my most successful employment thus far, arranging for me to acquire a mail processing job at which I lasted nearly three years.

After thirty-five months of mail processing, I quit and moved to an order picking position at an Amazon Warehouse. Picking orders as directed by a computer from pods brought to a workstation by robots, I was terminated from this job after seven weeks because I could not reach an average pick rate of 1 pick per 8.2 seconds. There were times towards the end of my tenure there when my pick rate reached between 9.5 and 10 seconds. However 8.2 seconds eluded me. I have little doubt that my poor hand-eye coordination and other disabilities played a significant role in hindering my performance. After this, I endured two more brief warehouse jobs where my experience was much worse than my Amazon gig. My poor hand-eye coordination and learning disabilities stood out during these jobs and I was only rescued from being forced to continue them by the need to have double heart bypass surgery.

I’ve never received anything but low wage work. Currently, I find myself employed in the facilities department at the headquarters of a major international corporation. Taking this job has been a grave mistake. My serious learning disabilities, poor hand-eye coordination and social anxiety have all been amplified since I started working there. My managers and co-workers are generally gruff, blue-collar folk; one of them, a 21 year old male, has not been shy about interacting with me. He told me that he’d seen me struggling at the job, could not resist offering occasional instruction to me and also that he had friends with disabilities so he felt he had to engage with me. I guess the fact that I had some sort of disability was obvious to him. The feeling of being a weakling in the eyes of other people is something that I’ve struggled against my entire life. Being amongst this group of co-workers with vastly superior abilities to mine in manual labor and other manly arts as well as vastly different hobbies from mine — none of them have probably ever read or even heard of Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, H.L. Mencken or Henry Miller — is a situation which greatly heightens my social anxiety. I’m especially conscious of my clumsiness and every time this quality is displayed it further hurts my confidence and reduces my energy to try to fit in with my co-workers. As is common with persons on the spectrum, I’m prone to being emotionally overwhelmed in difficult interactions with other people. Asking clarifying questions about the details of particular work tasks is also difficult if I expect there is any chance that my interlocutor — a manager or co-worker — to display impatience in response. Such impatience has been displayed more than once.

Meanwhile, I try to soldier on, always seeking to grasp time for solitude where I may calm my over-sensitive nerves as well as take solace in glimmers of hope that I may one day reach a much greater feeling of dignity and financial security than I now possess.

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