Unemployable Part 2: An Autistic Woman Sticks to Her Plan Anyway3 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.


  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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