By: Rick Jacobs
It is palpable, that moment when you tell someone or a group of professionals you are on the Autism Spectrum. As if you just vomited on their shoes, they get a look of shock and concern. Their speech patterns change. Their facial expressions alter. You are no longer the same person that was hired or that started the conversation.
Often, you hear things like “I never would have guessed,” “You don’t look Autistic,” or they simply start talking to you like you suddenly became a five-year old with a limited vocabulary and a hearing problem.
I am Autistic, I am not damaged, I am not less intelligent. I am just a little different than you are. I see things differently, experience things differently, and struggle with social conventions.
I understand the complex, hyper-detailed volumes of information that I am surrounded by. I don’t understand corporate culture or how to conform to workplace norms. I understand strategy, nuance of facts, projections, and planning. I don’t understand the look on your face or if you are joking with me or not. I am flat in affect when listening and processing, which may look like I am checked out or not paying attention.
I am super sensitive to my surroundings and have intense feelings, but I don’t let them rule me. I seek facts, I want to know that what I know is true and correct, not that I am right. I have intense intuition and gut feelings, I just don’t act on it until I have examined the facts, seen the possible options and outcomes, and have a plan for mitigating potential issues. I love stupid loud crazy music concerts, but a loud social gathering or cubicle space stresses me out, so no, I don’t want to go to the bar to hang out after work.
The problem with being an older Autism Spectrum person in a corporate world is that you are either weird or a problem employee because you don’t socialize like everyone else or you are a special case that everyone must tiptoe around and tread lightly. I am also often seen as not promotable, because of the belief that I might not understand how to connect with people. Actually, I connect very well and quickly, except I am also very aware of BS and will call it out. Don’t lie to me. I know.