Unemployable Part 2: An Autistic Woman Sticks to Her Plan Anyway

3 min read

This is the second of a two-part article.  Read Part 1 here.

A couple of days after my disastrous meeting with a career counselor, I’m feeling dysregulated. My mood will be confident and upbeat…until it’s not. I’m shaken, as if reeling from an impact. PTSD symptoms abound: abandonment injury, nihilism, freestyle panic attacks, the works.

It’s taking a lot of work to feel calm. I can’t think through this mess. Another social injury from another organization that doesn’t understand autism or neurodiversity. Another round of self-care to repair what most will say I’ve imagined or overreacted to.

A Conflict of Influences

When I was a kid, my mom said that I “couldn’t handle” cooking.  I do struggle with certain aspects of it. It’s very hard to process the information in recipes. The words make no sense and won’t stay in my memory.

Her response was to ban me from the kitchen.  She would not discuss food or cooking with me. She told my friends I would never be domestic.

My grandma spending time with me, one on one, teaching me how to make brownies and bread. I don’t remember her ever letting on to me that there was anything amiss.  

Well, aside from the time I made my grandparents lunch. It was “soup” but with lettuce and deli ham. They were so polite. It was so awful!

There was this one time when we were making bread, and I didn’t understand how to work the dough. I ended up flattening it out like a pizza crust. When my mistake was noticed, everyone decided that we’d have pizza for dinner.

My point is, I don’t know what people saw in me as I tried to learn this basic life skill. No one knew I was autistic. But one person worked with me and was flexible; the other banned me from the kitchen, labeling me as incapable.

A Label That Follows You

In my last article, I talked about encountering this same attitude in career counseling. In fact, it has been the dominant attitude as I’ve built my career. Almost all of the different career counselors I’ve worked with have come to this conclusion.

I’m unemployable, but also, I shouldn’t work for myself.

I feel like my whole life has been spent trying to outrun, “I know you. You can’t.” My impairments and needs are often only valid enough to invalidate me.  

It shakes a person’s confidence.

My deficits are obvious because I’m trying to do something. My hat is in the ring.

The Quandary

I have skills, and I have deficits. This is an observable, measurable fact.  

Most people will assume that I could overcome my difficulties if I applied myself more. Like, when school faculty said I was smart, but disengaged as a student rather than checking for a learning disability. Or when I’m advised to learn better masking, because the skill is more valuable than my well-being.

This leaves the burden of learning basic life skills on me. It’s on me to figure out why it is a challenge, and what skills I will need in order to build the skills I am lacking. And the whole time, these same hopeful, supportive people are disappointed in me.

I’m left with a paralyzing compulsion to “be better.”

The Solution?

Other people making bad assumptions about your capability seems to be a common autistic experience.  

I think my grandma gave me a tremendous gift in allowing my mistakes. She recognized my efforts and validated my contributions to the group.  

She gave me an environment where I could explore enough to make something as abysmal as lettuce soup. Then she explained why lettuce doesn’t go in soup, and why I should have used broth instead of water.  

She didn’t invite me to give up on making soup.

So, I think I’m done with career centers for awhile. I don’t want to be around anyone who tells me I can’t do what I’m already doing.

I’ll only flourish in an environment that lets me be authentic, so I need to channel my grandmother and keep her influence around me.  It’s not about being better. It’s about maximizing my unique, clumsy effort.

2 Comments

  1. “My deficits are obvious because I’m trying to do something. My hat is in the ring.” Yesss. This is such an inspiring post. Thank you for this. I am going to do my best to channel your grandmother as well, with everyone I meet.

  2. Very inspiring. Thank you for your courage to share your experiences with such honesty and feeling.

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