I chose Office Max, because I enjoyed organizing things. I also loved the smell of office and school products so much so as to take a stroll down the school supply asile at the supermarket or hardware store. I loved picking out my supplies from the list the school sent. I even had a play office kit my mom got me from a catalog. I assumed that there wouldn't be the hecticness of a grocery store due to the nature of the products sold. Those assumptions were proven wrong my first day.
I started in July of 1996. Back to school shopping was already beginning. Office Max has the type of ceiling that amplifies sounds, so the screaming and crying of small children sounded like it was being played through speakers. There was a file I had to open with a combination lock that stuck. It worked for the impatient woman who was training me, but I could not get it to open and that wore her patience thin. She probably hated training anyway, not necessarily me.
Performing the feat of scanning bar codes and swiping credit cards (all while not being able to process the screaming and blinding white flourescent lights) in a quick manner was not something I could pull off. I sobbed on my 10 minute break. I got a migraine. On my third day, I had a self-harming meltdown as my mom drove me to work. My mom had to call the manager and explain why I could no longer work there as I was too upset to speak. I had to go to bed for the rest of the day with a cold pack on my head.
A few years later, I attended a workshop at the department of rehab. The job suggestions the instructors gave were based on my charicteristics than my capabilities. I was creative. Hobby Lobby HAD to be the right job. When I relayed the Office Max story, I was met with a few stares and pregnant pauses.
I stopped going to the weekly workshop, becuase it was clear they didn't know how to help me. The way the program was designed helped people with intellectual impairment and mentally illness find retail jobs. That was all there was to offer other than the sheltered workshop. My sensory processing made that impossible, too.
I did a little assembly work from home for a year (2000-2001) until the at-home work dried up. My next job wasn't until 2012 when I worked as a cat sitter for the summer. Those jobs were a good fit for me. No co-workers, no sensory overload, a reasonably flexable schedule and a mom to help with driving the work back and forth between the dept. of rehab for the one job and me for the other.
Now that I am into making beaded stretch bracelets, my aunt and sister (my mom died nearly four years ago and my dad nearly 24 before that) are helping me to find venues so I can sell them. This has proven tough. One person who owns a small botique did accept my bracelets. No one else is either interested, or mass production is cheaper and therefore a bigger draw.
The well-meant but latest misconception that is offered is to create an Etsy account.
I understand where folks are coming from. I know how to use a computer. I could work from the solitude of my own home. I would have greater exposure for my product (and greater threat of being attacked).
There are other obsticles. I would not have transportation back and forth to the post office. There is no public transportation and due to sensory issues I couldn't take it if it were offered. I have no family, friend or neighbor available to drive me. Just the thought of standing in line and having to flee, possibly in the middle of doing my business due to a child having a tantrum in another building with a ceiling that amplifies sounds makes my chest constrict.
Another thing is dealing with the "end user". What my body endures from verbal assult isn't normal or healthy. I have had to move my blog and leave social media due to cyberbullying. The shaking, dizziness, panic and rage that occurrs within me isn't something I can control well enough to perservere. I have a cat in the house, and I don't want her to accidentally get harmed or scared because I threw something or screamed.
Another idea that has been tossed around is- more retail. Rent a table at a Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning and sit out hawking bracelets. My aunt and sister, frustrated by the lack of outlet for financial opportunity, decided they would do this for me next summer, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes of it. I am very fortunate that I still have family that loves me.
In the meantime, I am taking a break from all those "How to get a job with Asperger's" type of articles. They are helpful if one is going out into the work world or interviewing someone on the spectrum. Working from home, when it is mentioned at all is targeted for those who love and excell at coding and creating software. I can use a computer, but we have a love-hate relationship. I had to beg my mom NOT to buy me one for my birthday or Christmas. Finally, she did buy me one, because she knew I coudln't do much without it. She was right. It was a tough learning process I did without much help.
My advice when trying to help an autistic person find a job is to LISTEN to them. Don't stereotype or judge before the person has communicated a single paragraph. Take notes if necessary.
Know lastly that not all autistic people will be capable of working full or part time. Co-morbids like chronic migraines, mental illness, anxiety and socialization/communication barriers can be and are, for some, TOO MUCH. Also, current work environments limits potential (bright lights, phones, office politics and forced socialization (think company parties, being expected to hang out with co-workers after work).
Our culture needs to get creative with creating jobs and workspaces-both remote and in house. This also goes for educating and housing autistic individuals-AND INCLUDING THEM IN THE CONVERSATION.