Sunday, November 27, 2011

Employment Concerns, Autistic vs Normal

I worry about my job. I also wonder how much of this concern is reasonable, what might be considerer normal for any probationary employee, and how much of my concern is unreasonable.

While many today are worried about job security due to the economy, I worry about my job because of my personality.

Fifteen to 17 percent of adults with ASDs work full-time, according to a U.K. study (2007). Other researchers have found similar trends. Even those of us with doctorates struggle with employment in academia (Diament 2005). Outside technology fields, the world is less than welcoming (Anthes 1997).

We are attending college, obtaining degrees, and ending up unemployed. It is a struggle to finish college, and yet that only marks the beginning. We love the success stories of students with ASDs in college (Erb 2008). Those stories don't answer the "what next" question. A U.C. Berkeley study found adults with ASDs struggle with unemployment:
— Almost all participants … reported lengthy periods of unemployment and/or underemployment, as well as lack of opportunities for career advancement. In the words of one participant, "I spent much more time being unemployed than being employed altogether" (Müller, et al 2007).
The university is a workplace, and I worry about the same things I'd worry about in any other job. At some point, I will say or do the "wrong" thing. I'm certain I've said and done plenty "wrong" already. You can say the wrong thing in more ways than I could outline here. You can support the right program, for the right reasons, yet find yourself opposing someone powerful. You can might criticize something a powerful person supports. It often seems the only good approach to employment is to say nothing — but I'm not capable of saying nothing at all.

I work from home as much as possible to avoid interacting with coworkers. I don't want to say anything to anyone, because I know I'll mess up by having any opinions.

There's little reason to comment on what is going well. Why would I say something about a routine day or a decent class? So, I end up only mentioning problems that should be solved. I don't like to make small talk or to waste time with the obvious. As a result, people assume I am a "negative" person, when the reality is I look to solve problems. In my ideal day, I'd have little to say or I'd only have extraordinary events to celebrate. But that's not most workplaces. We all see problems and, I hope, most of us would like to improve our workplaces.

People don't appreciate a blunt coworker. Administrators and supervisors definitely don't appreciate blunt, opinionated employees. That is true in academia as much as any other workplace. We know how well you get along with coworkers helps determine your future in the workplace.

Hiding to avoid speaking out, you risk ending up being called "anti-social." If you don't network, it is hard to be promoted, much less to survive probationary periods.

I'm convinced there are problems to solve where I work. That doesn't make it a bad place and says nothing about most of my coworkers. We can and should be creative problem solvers at a university. But, I know that speaking up and trying to solve issues seldom wins friends.

Will I survive the probationary period? Will I earn tenure at the university? I have no idea. There are times when I wonder if I can navigate the university social and political maze.

Sources Consulted (Yes, I know the formatting is random):

Anthes, Gary. "My Coding Just Flies." 1997. ComputerWorld. http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=printArticleBasic&articleId=9032498.

Diament, Michelle. "A Secret Syndrome." Chronicle of Higher Education (2005)

Erb, Robin. "Autism No Longer an Obstacle for Students Seeking College Degrees." Detroit Free Press March 10 (2008)

"I Exist: The Message From Adults With Autism in England." (2008): 44.

Müller, E., Schuler, A., Burton, B., and Yates, G. Vocational Supports for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome. (2007)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Surgery Monday and Catching Up

I have minor surgery on Monday to address a problem that has been recurring for several years. A few years ago, the problem made Christmas a bit complicated — I was planning to get my wife a gift and ended up in the hospital that day. This year, I'll be having surgery the day before a guest arrives to stay with us for a few days.

My wife and I need things to settle down for a few weeks so we can gather ourselves and relax. Neither of us has a "laid back" personality. We are both perfectionists. We both feel like we are always falling behind, even while we finish tasks ahead of colleagues. Being a perfectionist is hard work and emotionally draining.

Surgery comes right as I'm dealing with some issues at work. It also comes as we are trying to fix up our existing house enough to put it on the market next summer. There always seems to be more to do than is possible, but that's because we think of everything as important.

I want the classes I teach to be "perfect" in terms of content and delivery. I don't want anything to go wrong that could be considered a result of my teaching or planning. I want my websites, blogs, and other projects to have that same perfect content and flawless planning, no matter how impossible that is. Reports I have to prepare for work? The columns I write for publication? All have to be perfect or I feel horrible.

Yet, life isn't perfect. I realize that, and so does my wife. But we worry about things. We both worry and we both tell each other not to worry.

We worry about our jobs, though we have good jobs. We worry about money, though we are are financially more secure than 97% of Americans.

We don't seem to relax well. We even plan our relaxation.

Following surgery, I'll feel like I have to make up for lost time. It has been lost time all semester, granted, since I've been sick with bronchitis, anemia, and some other issues. I'll be stressed because there is so much to do, while the stress and worry will make it harder to finish the tasks.

The key will be reminding myself that I need to work slowly and steadily to get back on track. The books I wanted to finish writing? They will have to wait. The programming ideas? The website updates? All will have to wait until I feel better. Some things will be months late. That's just how this year and next will be.

I wish we didn't take things so seriously, but that's also why we are both hard workers and good employees. If we could relax, we wouldn't be us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Moving (Again) and Home Owner Stress

We will be moving again in April, if things go according to plan. This will be our fourth move in the last five to six years. That might not sound like a lot of moving, but moving is stressful for everyone and extra stressful for two people with a need for order and routines.

Moving is a lousy experience. Things get damaged, misplaced, and general disorder reigns. We lost four desks in moves, including two I really liked. We were never compensated for those loses, either, with bothers me. I end up attached to desks (and other things). Desks are where we work. I write at my desks and they become part of my routine. I still have the desk my family purchased for me in high school (if not earlier — I cannot recall).

After we move, I do plan to replace both my computer and writing desks with a single desk. Sure, it won't be perfect, but I want to consolidate my work area. Plus, I want space for a scanner and other things I use frequently. (I like to scan books and documents for the text recognition.)

This move ideally will eliminate a great deal of home ownership stress. The house we initially purchased has quite a few little issues that need to be repaired. It could be a wonderful house. If we had endless funds available, I would consider paying to have many of the issues fixed because I love the neighborhood. However, I don't love it enough to pay what we would for a new house.

The new house is being built about 1.8 miles from the house we own now. It's also on a lot that is only slightly smaller (0.40 acre). Because it is near a large regional park, the smaller lot won't matter so much.

Moving two miles shouldn't be horrible, right? We can move a lot of the little things ourselves. There are things we cannot move, from the laundry appliances to our beds, but I'm hoping we can do so much that it only requires one trip by professional movers in a small truck.

I want this to be the last move we make for many years. That was the ideal with this house! I don't want to be moving again until I'm done teaching full-time at the university. Then, I want to retire back to the Southwest.

The new house is now the "goal" that keeps me from total meltdown in the current house. There are so many little things that the house is emotionally exhausting. A new house won't be perfect, but we also won't be dealing with constant water issues in the basement. The new driveway will be concrete; it won't wash away during storms. My wife and I will have separate offices in the new house, too, so I won't bother her while she's trying to work.

The new bathroom in the master bath is a major benefit to me. It will have a "soaking bath" and separate shower with a seat. Sometimes, I need to soak in water. Some autistic adults suggest water is soothing; I appreciate warm water because I have a bad back and some other issues. The shower is nice when you're in a hurry, but a bath is much nicer.

Moving at the end of my first year teaching in a new university position will be stressful, too. My employee review is at the end of the year, as I try to earn tenure, there are final student projects in April, and much more will be happening. But, moving is going to be a good thing. It can't be any worse than the stress of this house.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Autistics Speaking Day

Someone sent me a note asking why I didn't participate in National Autistics Speaking Day. The simple truth is, I'm not home on Tuesdays and don't have much time for anything outside my university duties on that day. I teach until 9 p.m. and don't get home until late.

I thought about writing something a day or two earlier, but I'm swamped with university projects, teaching, freelance writing, and a never-ending series of household-related tasks. I'm more than a little overwhelmed lately. I have to fit in a surgery this month, too, while staying somewhat on track.

So, here are my thoughts for "Autistics Speaking" as I glance at my new dry-erase board featuring a list of to-do items:

1. I am a "success" neither because of nor in spite of my "autistic" traits. I am a success because my wife, parents, extended family, and friends help me and I try to help them when I can. Success is a team effort, whether you're "normal" or not. Plus, no one is normal.

2. Autism does not define what I do for a living as a writer or teacher. I'm not in charge of anything autism-related at work, and the freelance writing seldom addresses autism or other disabilities.

3. Autism is a "disability" not a blessing or some special gift. So what? The list of human "impairments" is long, and almost everyone begins life and ends life with some level of impairment. Find ways to adapt, not ways to surrender.

4. Stereotypes of autism are unhelpful. The savant mythology, in particular, follows many of the college students I meet. They have to explain to peers, and some instructors, that autism is not synonymous with "Rain Man." Unfortunately, the media love unusual stories, so the "freaks and geeks" become the template for autism.

We did purchase the new whiteboard so I could see everything on my to-do list at a glance. My wife helps me stay organized, but I know several professors far less organized than I am. My lists and notes work well for me.

I'm off to work soon, for a series of meetings. That's how "normal" my life is. I go to meetings (where I'm as bored as everyone else), do paperwork, cash a paycheck (direct deposit), and pay bills (via
automatic bill-pay). My daily routine is nothing unusual, in other words.

That's what I want to say: My life is simply a regular life.