I don’t often post negative experiences involving people I work with because I don’t want to embarrass anyone or cause trouble, but I want to write about my feelings toward a specific event that happened at work. Therefore, I’ll just treat those parties involved anonymously. Like Dragnet. You know, to protect the innocent.
This last week was a rough one. I had to take a couple of sick days, and I hate taking sick days. Understand, an unanticipated change to my routine is never a Good Thing. Most breaks, half-days, and days-off are met with a certain quirkiness of behavior, but completely unforeseen sick days are the worst. My brain goes into this strange feedback loop of white noise and repeated patterns on sick days. I may lay in bed all day and get no sleep the night after – leading to further problems.
Wednesday, I felt like I could go back to school. I still was very hoarse and was speaking in a very manly register that sounded like a Caucasian Barry White. (Later in the day was worse. I began sounding like Michael Bolton!) I had stayed up far too late the night before, as I am doing right now, and I had a hard time getting myself around in the morning. Mornings are rough in general as it seems to take twenty or more minutes for mind and body to come to any kind of consensus as to what they are doing, but I think that is a familial trait more than anything.
I glanced at the clock as I rushed out the bedroom. I was going to be late – no question about it. A social seizure surfaced, but I managed to postpone it, so I could keep moving. Then, as I was on the road, I realized I had forgotten to put the trash out. Social seizure number two surfaced. I shouted at myself some, but I still had to stifle the meltdown for the sake of driving. (It’s not like anyone else was in the car listening.) Shortly thereafter I realized I was going to be late to a meeting I was facilitating. Meltdown number three begins to boil. All of these surged through my brain within about twenty minutes of each other. This was not a Folgers morning.
Fast-forward to the conclusion of the meeting. Things went fine. Afterwards, a coworker asked me, “How are you feeling.”
“Physically fine,” I answered, immediately regretting my candor in responding.
“How are you mentally?” the coworker pressed.
“Very autistic today,” I replied.
The coworker looked at me with an unreadable expression and said, “I’m moving away.”
Cue repressed social seizure number four of the morning. Saying that reaction hurt would be like saying Les Misérables is kind of long. It would be like saying Alpha Centauri is a few miles away. It would be like saying Beethoven was slightly troubled. My brain screamed. My muscles ached. For a split instant, I wanted nothing more than to climb inside one of the room’s cabinets and huddle away for the rest of the day.
But I didn’t.
I postponed reaction again, so I could do my job. That’s what you do when you are an adult with autism.
A highly-functioning autistic adult in the workforce – even one who works in education – gets no one-on-one help, gets no intervention strategies, has no access to a cool-down area, a weighted vest, nothing. Compassion can even be hard to come by. In this scenario, it was particularly devastating. My coworker is an educator! This is an individual who is familiar with IEPs and with accommodations. In theory, I could have confessed this to no better person. Still, all I received was a cold shoulder.
When an autistic individual manages to verbally communicate to you that he or she feels autistic, it is not meant to be a conversation-stopper. It is a cry for help – or at least understanding. Don’t ignore that. Don’t brush it off. In such an admittance, the autistic individual is attempting to reach out. Rebuffing such an effort only serves to discourage such overtures in the future. It encourages social detachment and isolation. Don’t be dismissive.