Unemployable Part 1: An Autistic Woman Ends Her Time with Career Counseling4 min read

I’m on the record at the Vocational Rehab center for having PTSD, but the majority of what pre­vents me from working comes from being autistic.  

Specifically, the dis­crim­i­na­tion that comes with it. The com­plete lack of under­standing or trust in the autistic expe­ri­ence leaves my sup­port infi­nitely baf­fled about how to help me.  

A Conversation with a Counselor

My last visit to Voc Rehab demon­strates this phe­nom­enon per­fectly.

I tell my coun­selor that showing up and doing the work has never been enough for me.  Then she sug­gests my time might be best spent at home working on myself some more… as if I am the problem. As if trying and trying and still man­aging to dis­ap­point others is a lack of account­ability on my end.

I say per­fec­tionism is killing me, that masking is the process of “working on” your­self until you don’t even know who you are. She says she agrees that I’m an over-thinker. Then, she sug­gests I work on myself some more.

I tell her I am too iso­lated and need social sup­port. She says, “Walk to the library.”  

I tell her about the groups I’ve joined, the drawing class I took, the jobs I’ve tried, the employers, acquain­tances, friends, and family who either left or invited me to leave. She expresses skep­ti­cism and sug­gests that we close my case so I can double down on that per­sonal growth.

I want to scream, “But it’s hap­pening right now! You are lit­er­ally doing what I’m describing.”

Instead, I try to explain that my impair­ment is social nav­i­ga­tion. She sug­gests I sit in on a work­shop to learn inter­view skills.  

I tell her this is masking and it will lead to me set­ting an expec­ta­tion I can’t main­tain. It’ll lead to more of me showing up and doing my best only to dis­ap­point and be asked to leave.

She asks me why I feel so strongly that I need to work.

I tell her that I’m bored, that I want to feel ful­filled. I want to pro­vide my own finan­cial sta­bility and help my family.

She floats that I could be happy existing without health insur­ance, as if not having access to health­care isn’t a big deal. As if not being able to meet my family’s basic needs now doesn’t trans­late to bigger issues– like my son’s future or a retire­ment plan. What if a problem comes up with the house?

She says that self-employment won’t work for me, and I’m utterly baf­fled. After all these meet­ings, she doesn’t seem to know me at all.  

Self employ­ment has lit­er­ally been the only way I have man­aged to get what I have. I remind her about the busi­ness I ran for six years. It was a “crafting” busi­ness, so she smiles like I’m being cute. She tells me that I haven’t “fig­ured out” self-employment yet.

But I’m not delu­sional. That busi­ness didn’t turn a big profit, for sure, but I learned every skill on my own. I had to teach myself.

My edu­ca­tion is incom­plete, but I’ve fig­ured out enough that it counts. What I have done up to this point mat­ters, dammit. It mat­ters.

It got me the small apart­ment that helps my income sta­bi­lize a little and my first new car in 10 years. It got me to the point where I’m paying on debt instead of acquiring it, mostly.

And when my arms were too injured to keep designing pat­terns, I needed a new gig. That’s been my focus for the last two years. I’ve been showing up.  

It’s just that my value hinges on having people skills.

The Accountability

I don’t always have people skills. 

I’m impul­sive and inde­ci­sive. I have exec­u­tive dys­func­tion. Maybe ADHD.

I can’t have a full time job or a boss, because self care is a major com­mit­ment for me. 

Also, I don’t let people tell me what to do any­more. That priv­i­lege has been revoked.

While ableism is cer­tainly part of what fuels my drive, so is the desire for peace and com­fort. Treading water isn’t the same as being stable. There’s no way to con­trol the waves that inevitably come.

No matter how many mis­takes I make, I don’t give up. I deserve to feel pur­poseful. 

The Aftermath

Social func­tioning is my greatest impair­ment, and all I hear is that per­sonal growth is the answer. There is no one who can help me. My requests for sup­port aren’t rea­son­able.

My needs are imag­i­nary.

I am unem­ploy­able to the point where even I shouldn’t hire me.

It’s enraging. I’m there, time after time, doing my very best and I leave with dis­cour­age­ment and despair. My auto­matic thoughts fill with sui­cidal ideation. I start having heart pal­pi­ta­tions. The fruits of my labor.

I go home and talk myself up like, “No! You’re a bad ass, a Queen. You can do this on your own.”  I can’t. No one can. Most people aren’t even being asked to.

 I vow to set up a bullet journal to help me orga­nize some goals. “Let’s get to work on some­thing fun,” I say.

I go to bed, braced to hold my head high among the naysayers. It’s time to outrun, “I know you, you can’t.” Again.

And in the morning, I am par­a­lyzed with the notion that nothing I do will ever be good enough. Suddenly, I don’t have the energy to even start. I can’t think clearly or focus. Perfectionism has me.

It feels like it’s my fault. 

To be continued…in Part 2.


  1. I feel this. This is basi­cally my life. Conformity vs self/heart. You can force your­self to con­form for a time, mask, while you use up every ounce of energy, self and heart till drained, self-lost and col­lapse. The system/society is broken, not you.

    Everyone deserves quality of life whether they per­form or con­form or not. We should be able to live as our­selves — sup­ported enough so we can give sup­port or work in a way that aligns with our­selves. We shouldnt have to live up to neu­rotyp­ical soci­etal stan­dards.

    There are coun­tries and groups of people that believe in, or are looking at imple­menting a uni­versal basic income for all humans, just for existing (esp as tech advances and can take over many jobs), it means people can be more cre­ative, inven­tive, do jobs because they want to — for extra, it upholds all the human rights rather than comod­i­fying human beings and encour­aging cap­atalism, end­less growth and ‘more, more, more’ cul­ture

  2. “When a flower doesnt bloom, you change the envi­ron­ment it grows in, not the flower” Alexander Den Heijer

    Seeds need the right nutri­ents, tem­per­a­ture, con­di­tions, mois­ture etc.. or they just dont grow. You cant force it to bloom

  3. I am SO SICK of human worth being tied to “earning poten­tial”. I’ve NEVER been able to hold down a “normal” job for more than about a year or two without serious stress and the “job” I have loved the most is one that I can’t EVER put on a resume — and oddly the one that allows me to use “people skills” in the most inno­v­a­tive way.

    I LOVED being a Tarot Card Reader on Jackson Square in New Orleans, but that isn’t a “REAL” job as far as people are con­cerned — never mind that was how I paid for rent, food, and all my other bills for over a year and a half on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS and only stopped the first time because Hurricane Katrina inter­fered.

    The city I’m in now doesn’t allow public (on-street) Tarot Card reading in the areas where it would be the most lucra­tive, plus there’s a good block of the year that it’s too cold for it, so I’m in school to try to figure out how to be an inde­pen­dent “office” for Massage Therapists — because I’m also trained as that

  4. What an excel­lent read. In a sim­ilar place at the moment and its dif­fi­cult to put into words. Reading this article been a great insight to others expe­ri­ences. Look for­ward to part 2.

    1. The hos­tile envi­ron­ment in regard to autis­tics and employ­ment is a topic of par­tic­ular interest to me. Whilst my own employ­ment his­tory has been more stable than many I’ve had to pay a heavy price to keep it that way.
      This was an excel­lent piece to read and I look for­ward to future instal­ments.

  5. I never seen someone so close to my expe­ri­ence. Most autis­tics I have spoken to don’t get how I can let myself be so mis­treated and neglected by pro­fes­sionals. So funny when a ther­a­pist sits there and empathizes with me on how I am treated (“I am sorry, I don’t under­stand how people could treat you that way!” then the next sen­tence is “Instead of freezing, why don’t you try saying other things?”) there they go right after doing the same thing. One ther­a­pist once my wife left the room to search for some­thing in her bag said to me in a quiet voice that my wife wouldn’t hear “You need to stop playing victim! You do realize that if your wife has a hernia now that it will be your fault?” I have had the same expe­ri­ences all my life since a kid. Fuck therapy, fuck Dr’s, Fuck Voc Rehab they waited one year to tell me they didn’t help me because they felt I was “playing victim”. If you read this Vocational Rehabilitation… FUCK YOU!!

  6. Sometimes non-autistics really don’t get how dis­abling the out­side world can be to us.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?