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Resilience in Your Career When You're Neurodiverse

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My blog this month is going to discuss something that I have dealt with my entire life. It probably won’t leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. As an undiagnosed Autistic/ADHD woman I have been treated very poorly by both people and business organizations over and over again. I have been terminated from positions due to my neurodivergence. It’s been unjust. I have even pondered about the legal ramifications for these groups, but ultimately decided my separation is the peace that I choose to accept.

The First Time: I was terminated from my internship at the most well-known theme park in the world to be made an example of. I called off work and went to one of the parks to return some past items I had bought because my cousins were planning to visit the next week. I thought I would not be picked out of the crowd, but because this park was so worried about its own employees’ theft, I was pulled aside and accused of buying items as a discount and returning them to get full price. Ultimately, that wasn’t the case. These were items that my boyfriend had purchased for me when visiting and because he was the new ‘ex’ I thought, who cares if I return them.

Well, this place really only cared if I was trying to flip a buck by returning stuff. When they discovered that wasn’t the case, they returned my stuff, but the damage had already been done. My manager was notified that I went to a park after I called off and the regional manager wanted to make my choice a lesson for all. I was terminated. My parents returned to pick me up and my mom couldn’t believe that I could be fired from the happiest place on earth because I called off sick. For many years afterwards, she said she thought I was caught underage drinking. The sad part is this impulsive behavior was a direct decision from my ADHD neurodivergent brain. This was just the first time my neurodivergence was the underlying reason for the job loss.

The Second Time: I was terminated because someone I trusted, even though they were actively deceptive with intent to harm, did something that I didn’t catch. I was the youngest Managing Editor of a Weekly Newspaper when the graphic artist added an inappropriate caption to the paper. I didn’t see it when I proofread the paper because I proofread everything except the empty caption block that night. It didn’t matter that I was the hardest working person at the office. It didn’t matter that it was the week of finals during my third semester of graduate school. It didn’t matter that my mom had died six months earlier and I had not had a good night’s sleep since before she had passed from terminal cancer. It didn’t matter that I didn’t write the caption or intend for it to ever happen. I was still fired from this position. A little part of me died inside when I heard that the newspaper clip ended up on Jay Leno’s newspaper headlines night skit routine.

The Third Time: I was working for a large educational institution in Phoenix. I regularly worked 50-hours a week for this role, but also picked up teaching classes at the largest Community College district in the United States on top of that. It was late on a Thursday afternoon and I had missed taking my lunch. This was common because those with ADHD often become hyper focused on tasks and forget to eat. It was 30-minutes until the end of the day and I decided that I would just take my lunch at my desk and organize some papers for my night class. My manager rounded the corner and asked me what I was doing. I stated that I was taking a break and organizing my papers for my class later. The next day by 10am, I was told while the Dean was out on vacation, that the decision had been made to sever employment because I had elected to spend the end of my work day, working on stuff for a different employer. It didn’t matter that I was on a break, this was not acceptable behavior. It also didn’t matter that I had not taken a lunch or had already worked 40-hours by Thursday.

When I think back on it, I can’t help but to wonder, if I have taken my lunch at the appropriate time and organized my papers then… I was told “it would have not likely been a problem, it was the perception that I was preparing for my next job and didn’t care about the job I was at.”

The Most Recent Time: I was promoted to senior educational leadership, the 3rd position down from the top role at the educational organization. One of the team leads that I managed stepped down and another female faculty member of mine was hard pressed for this new position and a promotion. She was a good professor, but as a person she was unreliable, combative, and loved to stretch the truth about situations. Ultimately, I felt as though I couldn’t trust her in a leadership role because of these characteristics and she decided to go to HR and make up fallacies that I promised her a promotion. I told her I would discuss her interests and speak positively about her qualifications, which I did. This female faculty member then had a private conversation with the Campus Director and claimed that I said that the campus director said, “where did Susan get these faculty from? The garbage can?” This was enough for the Campus Director to go to HR as well. Why did the Campus Director do that? Because then she was able to tell HR she never said that to me.

Well, unfortunately the story about the Campus Director was true, she did say it and she knew that it would be her word versus my word. So, she made sure that this truth wouldn’t come out, she lied to HR to save herself and made me out to be the liar and poor leader. At this point, my justice sensitivity took over. I refused to sign their severance package. I had been terminated enough to know that if you sign a severance, you lose your rights to speak up and it’s perceived as an admission of guilt. The irony? When I refused to sign, this organization changed their story about my termination and told the state unemployment official that I was laid-off.

At this point in my life, I have to say I feel that I have improved my ability to be resilient even when faced with adversities. I share all of this, not to make others feel sorry for me but for the neurodiverse population to know that regardless of the situation — you can be resilient. And regardless of what is done to you, is not a reflection of you and all that you are or all that you aspire to be.

Anne Brown

Anne spent most of her life feeling misunderstood until she was diagnosed with Autism later in life. Everything started to eventually make sense, even more so, when her family was all diagnosed with ASD and they begin this new journey together. She wants to write about all of this because sometimes one’s struggles are silent and only through efforts towards inclusion can we all be more comfortable to communicate our struggles. And as someone who is rejection sensitive, she often fails to communicate her struggles because she anticipates that her struggles will lead to further rejection and the cycle continues. She hopes that sharing her vulnerabilities leads to at least one person better understanding themselves or an Autistic loved one. She is looking forward to sharing more specifics about her struggles as a neurodiverse family residing in Pennsylvania.

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