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Within the Aspie social group that I belong a topic that frequently comes up is people’s work experience. A theme that nearly all of them have shared is getting fired because they couldn’t meet the social requirements of their jobs.
I started towards my current job in my junior year when I shadowed my boss for my high school’s Shadow Day. At the time the only reason why I decided to shadow my boss was because he was connected to a company that I knew and trusted. Some employees that I knew had offered to get me a temporary part-time job over the holidays. On the day that I shadowed my boss I mentioned to him that I was interested in working at the warehouse. He told me that he would see what he could do and that I should follow up with him.
When I followed up he offered me a part-time position over the summer. I was interested in the offer because it would be my first independent paying job. I started working in early June. During that summer I mainly did the menial tasks that nobody wanted to do. It was boring but I was allowed to listen to music through my headphones so it was tolerable. I met a few coworkers who I became comfortable with the first few days that I started working. Despite my comfort with them I didn’t inform anyone of my Aspergers. I didn’t really feel the need. At the time I figured that I’d only work there for the summer and never see my coworkers again.
When my senior year started I learned that my school offered the opportunity to leave school early to work. I made inquiries about the opportunity but discovered that it was only offered for half of the school year. I already had the approval of both the warehouse and school to leave early to work, mainly because I had several elective classes that I didn’t need, but I wasn’t satisfied with only being able to work for half a year. I made more inquiries to my school about being able to work for the whole year. I was instructed to write a proposal to the school board to obtain permission. I was the first student to make such a proposal to the school board and they approved my request to leave early for the entire year.
For my senior year I maintained a decent balance between going to school for half the day and working the other half. During this time I still didn’t tell anyone at work about my Aspergers but I guessed everyone could tell that I was a little different. It wasn’t until late fall that I told my boss about my Aspergers. I told him that I was going to speak at an Autism conference at Penn State and would need to take a day off. After the conference I gave my boss a more in depth explanation of Aspergers and how it could affect my performance at work. He showed genuine interest in the topic and said that he would do what he could to accommodate my unique needs.
After my discussion with my boss I decided that it was in my best interest to inform several other people I felt comfortable with about my diagnosis. My reasoning was that it would be good for them to know why our boss was asking them to accommodate my needs. Most of them had already figured that I might have a special need and others wanted to learn more about Aspergers. One of my coworkers was very interested in Aspergers because she knows several people with various difficulties similar to Aspergers. Another one of my coworkers had seen the movie The Accountant and I was able to use that movie as a reference for the various quirks that Aspies can have such as how the main character would blow on his fingers when starting something or recite an old rhyme when stressed.
When I graduated from high school I was working part-time and I realized that I had a lot of time on my hands. After some consideration I asked my boss if I could work full-time. He told me that he would consider it and that in the meantime I should keep working part-time. During the time that I was waiting for a response from my boss I took an interest in dressage and mounted archery. I learned skills from these activities that have helped me at work.
In dressage you and your horse teach each other a new form of language that relies solely on how you sit in the saddle and guide them with your body. Through that process you inevitably bond with your horse. As you groom and take care of the horse you learn all of its quirks until you see it as a friend. Mounted archery is an extension of that because you use the same language of body placement and leg aids to steer the horse while at the same time focusing on hitting a target with a bow. Eventually you lose the sense of riding a horse and aiming a bow. You start to feel like the horse and bow are extensions of yourself and that any mistakes made are your own instead of the horse’s or the bow’s. Many of these skills transfer over to work, listening, cooperation, and attention to detail.
In the fall my boss offered me a full-time position. I was glad that I’d gotten full-time, but I didn’t really feel any emotional attachment to the position like others did. I realize that this is a pretty big accomplishment for someone with Aspergers since many Aspies have difficulty working full-time.
Since starting full-time I’ve learned many things. First, I need to adjust to dedicating over forty hours a week to work and waking up much earlier. Exhaustion has always been a struggle for me and time management is imperative. With support from my family I’ve been able to work full-time for six months.
I’ve also learned that most people will listen when I tell them about what I need. I need to choose an environment that I’m comfortable in to be successful. I’ve been careful to choose hobbies that I enjoy and can get some benefit from. Most importantly I should use my support system and take my time.