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)