Career Choices

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been wondering whether my chosen career choice is the most suitable for someone with my – shall we say – unique mindset. In my past employment, I have been made fun of in various ways because of my disability. I’m not keen on that term though; firstly, I don’t see myself as disabled for the simple fact that I’m high-functioning. I know some don’t like that term either, but what I mean by that is that it is not obvious to most people, and I can come across as being neurotypical.  This sometimes leads me to even begin to doubt the diagnosis that three clinicians gave me after more than seven hours of assessment.  “Of course I’m not autistic!  I could just be very socially awkward and shy.  Yes, that’s it”.  But alas, that’s just me deluding myself, and no matter how much I try to avoid the inevitable, the truth is, I am autistic.  Much as I try to appear neurotypical, it does, can and will impact my life in ways that, at times, I don’t even realise.

Taking all this into account, some people are surprised to find out that my job, far from being science-based or computer programming, is very public-facing, and involves me needing to make small-talk with people in a little village near my hometown.

This is a big change of pace from the career I had before I moved to Devon : an aerospace engineer. During my career there, I did everything from office work, forklift driving, logistics and managing a team of people, right down to laboratory based R&D. To be honest, there are times when I miss working in that industry and the large financial reward that went alongside it, but I don’t miss the shift work and the extreme pressure of deadlines, etc. Since moving down here, did a couple of jobs before settling into this job role. I did a stint working in a laboratory as a microbiologist in the food industry, and also as a marketing assistant for a local company, both temporarily. Eventually, I went into the service industry and I have spent four years doing this role. I now basically spend my working life looking after a bar and front-of-house area of a very pleasant family-run business. My team has changed since I took over supervising the front-of-house team, but they are all great at what they do.  We’ve had some great summer staff as well who made those hectic Sunday shifts go without a hitch. So, over the last few months, I’ve started to settle down within my role and get to grip with what it all entails.  I like to know the rules, apply them carefully and expect my staff to do so too.

I know that I do struggle with some aspects of the role and as the customers don’t realise I’m autistic, if I’m under pressure, my reactions can be unintentionally snappy.  This led me to question whether I was in the right career, until I had a baptism of fire recently when both of the owners had a family event and were away for the weekend.  They needed me to look after things while they were away, and I’m very glad to say that this went really well.  After they returned, I had a conversation with them over how things had gone and the issues I was aware of.

They were so supportive, and told me that my performance work-wise was extremely promising and this gave me a way in to explain that, despite how I come across that I have a diagnosis of Aspergers.  They seemed as if they already knew, which surprised me, but as I explained, I find the social side challenging and do it to push myself outside of my comfort zone. This was met with “that’s commendable – I admire you for that”.  That chat helped me no end, and since then, I have started to realise that, despite my occasional wobbles, I’m a pretty capable, valued and respected member of the team.  I’m also very lucky to work with such an amazing team.

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Autism before it was cool

It wasn’t that long ago that comic books, superheroes, Dungeons and Dragons, computer games, science fiction, and technology were the things that interested a small, somewhat localised, group of kids and, to a lesser degree, adults who were often referred to as either Nerds or Geeks. They were usually picked on and made to feel like social pariahs; the epitome of “uncool”, they were often of above-average or high intelligence, and often portrayed in the media with pocket protectors, taped-up spectacles, running the high school AV (audio visual) Club and being  bullied for the way they were and because of their interests.

Nowadays, things are so different.  The situations have pretty much reversed, and it’s now very hip and cool – dare I say it – mainstream to like comic books, and science fiction. TV shows such as Dr Who and Star Trek are now actually popular and have it a huge cult following. Now it is actually abnormal to have never watched the latest comic book movie, and everyone has heard of Voldemort and Darth Vader. We live in a tech-based society, where if you don’t own a smart phone and stream your TV online while being anti-social at the weekend, then *you* are the outsider – the uncool one. It really seems that geek-style hobbies have gone mainstream; it’s almost as if popular culture is heading towards a more autistic, introverted style of life. I say this because, as an Aspie, I have some narrow field of focus or obsessions which, like some (not all) autistic people, is based on technology, science (including sci-if) video games and comic books. Also, many of us that are on the autism spectrum tend to be introverted, shy and often socially awkward. In short, the personality traits we exhibit are becoming more popular, even …cool!

This raises a very important question for the autistic community. Does this rise in the popularity of geeks and their culture mean that there will be more of an understanding of us as autistic individuals? I can only speak for myself, but the way I see it, (being a geek with social shyness and all the other traits now becoming popular, and coupled with the the way technology has come on in huge leaps and bounds since I was a kid), this may well be the way forward. If so, then that’s an amazing leap towards acceptance and understanding. At the same time, though, it’s a very sad state of affairs because what we are saying is effectively that we will only really accept things like autism when it becomes a big part of our mainstream popular culture.  This a shame, but I guess it’s how the world works.

Who knows, maybe somewhere down the line it might go full circle, but for people like me who grew up in an age of being picked on and ridiculed for how we are, we can at least say that we had autism before it was cool.

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