Working with Autism

How do you work with high-functioning autism? No, I’m not talking about working with people who have autism; I’m talking about being autistic and trying to work. Let me tell you, it’s not always easy to get the job done. Some days, it’s a breeze and you feel completely normal, like you’re no different from anyone else. Then there are all the other days. Those can range from wondering if you’re doing things the way a non-autistic would, to a complete disaster that has you in tears and incapable of a coherent thought.

So what do I do on the really bad days? Cry. Literally. Yes, I can fight the meltdown, and usually do. Who wants to sit around crying for seemingly no reason and suffer the completely draining emotional release a meltdown provides? Not me, that’s for sure. It’s hard to be a grown woman and cry like an upset toddler just because the stress of everyday life has piled up. But sometimes, there’s just no avoiding a meltdown.

To the uninitiated, a meltdown looks like a temper tantrum or a serious case of melodrama. Trust me, no one likes a meltdown. It’s emotionally taxing, physically exhausting, and just plain embarrassing to lose it like that. What causes a meltdown? An overloaded, stressed out nervous system. Sometimes, a meltdown can be avoided by getting out of the stressful situation, but not always. Sometimes, nothing can be done to avoid it.

What does all of this have to do with working? Well, in my case, when I reach the point of an impending meltdown, I can’t work at all. I can’t think; my mind goes to the “gray place,” a place where there are literally no thoughts. If I’m lucky enough to be able to think even a little, I still can’t talk. The words get stuck and just add to the stress I’m already feeling. The tiniest thing can push me over the edge.

Thankfully, I don’t reach that point often. If life’s been stressful, I may be distracted when I start working and have trouble concentrating, but I usually get absorbed in my work fairly quickly. And once I’m “in the zone,” I can work for hours without realizing that much time has passed. I do freelance work, which is perfect for me. Some days, I meet my daily goal. Other days, I can exceed that goal by two or three times.

Then there are the bad days. On those days, I’m lucky if I get any work done at all. Given my lack of brainpower when I’m either fighting off a meltdown or recovering from one, I usually just do my best to relax and get back to normal so I can work the next day. I’ve never missed a deadline, but I have been known to work at two in the morning because my sleep patterns can get pretty messed up when life gets wacky.

The moral of this post? Be patient with autistics, even those who may seem completely normal most of the time. We can be odd and don’t always react to things the way others think we should, but we can be very good at our jobs. As many people have pointed out, a lot of autistics have a great eye for tiny details, and we can be obsessive about getting things right. Yes, we sometimes have bad days and are completely useless when it comes to work, but the number of good days (for me, anyway) is much greater than the number of bad days.

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