Welcome to Steve’s Aspie Adventures



Whether you are reading this as a parent, carer, friend or are on the spectrum yourself, a warm welcome to the blog and I’d welcome your comments. I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition as a teenager. Throughout my life this has brought unique challenges, deep lows but also very happy times. I hope with this blog I can share some of my experiences, challenges and successes with you. My hope is that it can help along the way at breaking down some of the fears, misconceptions, stereotypes that come hand in hand with Autism by giving an insight into what it’s like as an individual living with the condition.

At times when I’m affected most by my condition life can grind to a halt, but that has given me a drive to experience all I can when I’m feeling well. Travel brings a new perspective on life and the experiences it brings have made my good days even better and given hope in my bad days. For me it’s a metaphorical middle finger to a life-long condition. In my other blog (The Adventures of Steve) I share some stories of my travel and adventures.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to share this with your friends if you've found it helpful. I'd love to hear your thoughts, any topics you'd like to read about and own experiences so please comment or message me.


Please note, that in all my blog entries I can only relay my personal experiences and perspective. It is important to remember that every single person on the spectrum is an individual with a different story to mine. I have no medical expertise or training and am writing to share my personal experiences only.


Sunday, 3 August 2014

You’ll Never Find A Job!

This is my story on the challenges and obstacles I overcame and still face in finding and keeping employment.

‘You’ll never be able to hold down a full time job’ was the message I received loud and clear as a teenager leaving the education system with no qualifications and a bleak future ahead. In the fifteen years since then the message has become less negative and each year that passes services and support for finding employment increases, but this still remains one of the biggest and most challenging issues facing those with autism.

I'm one of the 15%(1) in the UK with autism who holds down full time employment. I've got this employment issue solved then, everything is fine and great. My life is sorted? Think again!

My employment seems to attract a huge amount of interest and confusion amongst friends and professionals alike.

'How did you do it?' I get asked from unemployed friends. 'You're living the dream, money, car, house. What's the magic formula?' There isn't. I don't have one. 'You are clearly MUCH more higher functioning than my son' (Yes I was told this! Can someone really make this judgement based on my employment?) It all paints a picture for me that suggests that employment is the golden ticket that makes everything OK and that by being employed I'm therefore doing well.

The reality? Employment takes a lot of hard work, determination, good luck, support from others and perseverance. There is no easy route. Virtually all forms of official support cease once you are employed, despite being in a situation of requiring more support. Nearly all support groups, clubs, hospital appointments take place during the working day. The closest support group to me that operates in the evenings is over 50 miles away. Working takes so much effort that at times it can render me very unwell. Sacrifices worth making for the money and the independence? That's for each of us to decide.

This is a huge topic and one I will be breaking down into many posts in the future. It's hard knowing where to start, so I guess I'll start with telling you my story.

Education

I left school with no qualifications at all. I was a grade A student and my teachers had high prospects for me. Unfortunately as many aspies will relate to, my intellectual ability and my ability to cope with the world around me are vastly different. I left school disillusioned and hopeless. After receiving my diagnosis at 16 I was given the reality check that 'You should not expect to ever hold down work.' I'm strong willed and set to prove them wrong. I enrolled in an apprenticeship in a new town and by 18 had enough qualifications to get me into work.

First Jobs

At 18 I was no longer a child and ALL my support stopped. Autism support was and still is very much aimed at children. I was simply diagnosed too late and at 18 you transfer to the adult services which were far from useful. I decided to just get a job, any job.

I walked into Tesco (A major supermarket) and very quickly landed a job as assistant in the bakery. It was hot, noisy and as the junior; I was being given constant and often contradictory instructions. It lasted 2 weeks. The final straw was a  customer handing me a sliced loaf of bread and asking for it to be sliced. When I replied calmly that it already was she told me, 'You're not paid to speak back to me.' I put the loaf through the machine sideways, collected the mangled mess, handed it to her and walked out.

A week later I tried again in a calmer job. A microfiche scanner post. I got the tedious job of sitting in a room with 100 others scanning endless legal documents to microfiche in a hot and dark room for 8 hours a day. It was so tedious I fell asleep on the button and captured 200 photos of my head for a surprised client. This job lasted a week.

Finding a career

Clearly I needed something else, and I got my lucky break not long after. At the time my Dad worked on a military base and they were looking for a stores assistant. He dragged me in front of the manager with a script to ask for an application. I did as I was told and found myself at interview.

The job was fairly mind numbing, I literally spent my day stacking socks on a shelf. What made this different was the people I worked with. The military can be very blunt and to the point, and this is how I work best. My supervisor left after 3 months and I'd proved my worth enough to be asked to stand in.

Now I was a fully fledged and permanent member of staff I used this foothold to propel my career forwards and towards a job that suited me better. The civil service is huge. As one of the biggest employers in the country and covering a vast array of jobs it literally provided me the opportunity to choose my own path as and when I felt ready.

Over the years that followed I rode on my successes and jumped at opportunities when I could to bounce up the grades and try different jobs. After the stores I transferred to a local Medical Centre as a receptionist, then to a personnel team, I passed a management board and took a post as a Communications Officer in charge of corporate events and publicity.

This sounds like a smooth ride but it was a constant balance of finding and using supportive management to help me ride through the tough times. Unfortunately one of these tough times had catastrophic consequences.

Coming back down to earth with a bang.

This leads us to a point three years ago. I had a (relatively) well paid job, a mortgage, a girlfriend, holidays abroad, a nice car. Everything was perfect and I'd become complacent. So had everyone else.

I'd been able to put the right support in place over the years and I had started to flourish but as I became more and more independent, the support dropped away. As I pointed out earlier, support groups tend to only operate during working hours, so they weren't available and had become reliant on friends and family for back up. I can manage meltdowns myself but when a few happen at once it can turn into what I term a crisis; the point I need to call in external help. This time round the support from line management, parents, the church and friends didn't work.

Over a short period of time changes at work had added to stress and I had an unsympathetic manager, I'd been arguing with family and split with my girlfriend. 5 of my closest friends (whom I relied on largely for support) left town and I took a bad turn. My usual support network had disintegrated and I was faced with a huge hurdle. My attempts to get help failed, the church didn't understand what my issue was and the professionals required me to go through a referral process that took about 6 weeks. I spiralled downhill as I fast lost control of everything I'd spent all these years building up for myself. The resultant mess nearly lost me everything including my life. Most of friends fled to the hills and without income (signed off work long-term and benefits don't cover even the basics) I lost the house and ended up returning to my parents' home to avoid homelessness. The depression at times was so severe I felt suicidal and hopeless. In a total of nearly two years off work my office had begun relocating to a new town and I was faced with almost certain redundancy with no options left for my return.

Rebuilding

Just over a year ago I had finally recovered enough to start rebuilding. I was fairly certain my immediate future would involve unemployment and I was coming to terms with that. I didn't want to go without a fight and made one last attempt at restoring my career.

I decided that taking hefty pay cut as I saw downgrading a better option than being unemployed. If this strategy was to work then I needed to make sure I was going to a job I could manage and with colleagues I could work with. Still being in a crisis meant that it would be too risky to just get anything at this stage as I didn't want to risk a complete relapse. I arranged visits to meet and talk to prospective managers about the jobs on offer and about my situation. This was one of the hardest things I've had to do. Approaching a stranger who I would like to employ me and being open about my situation. I felt humbled, embarrassed and nervous.

It paid off. I now work in an office doing a variety of varied duties with the best team I could hope for. It's not easy and I'm not there yet. I'm still recovering and fighting personal demons but the support I get from work at the moment is so important to me and I've got hope back that I can achieve my potential again in the future.

What next?

I don't know and all I can do right now is concentrate on what's immediately in front of me.

My journey through employment has been a rollercoaster and I hope this post has been interesting to you. It was very hard to write and something I was very nervous to put into print. I would like in next week's post to continue the topic of employment and look at things that have helped me and what support work have provided that have been of great use to me.

As always, please feel free to share this post and send me any comments or feedback. I really value your input.

Thank you for reading.







1) http://www.autism.org.uk/about-autism/myths-facts-and-statistics/some-facts-and-statistics.aspx

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Steve. It's very helpful to hear about your situation. I hope this and your next article will help me support anyone I may work with who has a level of autism. Helen

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you Helen, I hope these articles can be of help to you

    ReplyDelete