Things people say to me when I tell them I am autistic prior to when before they knew
I was diagnosed Autistic when I was 31 and I am now 35 so I have known I am autistic for nearly 4 years however, I have struggled socially, professionally and internally for all 35 years.
Prior to being diagnosed I was bullied in both school and the workplace.
In school more so Primary School, I was very misunderstood by teachers and was forever in trouble. However, my peers also took a while to warm up to me and I don't remember really having friends until juniors so I would have been 7.
Teachers used to see me as trouble. I was not allowed to sit with my peers. I did not like primary school in fact I could not wait to leave. I found primary school to be very un structured in the sense I went in most days not knowing what we would be doing, with new things being introduced weekly. This for me at the time made it hard to engage.
I held and still do hold my pen differently to my peers. It was not their way. In primary school you are micromanaged. Everything the teacher wants doing has to be done their way and if you try a different way you are told off or called difficult. I used to get along well with the headteacher. Maybe because it was a man who had more compassion than any teachers I had throughout the whole of my time there. I remember he sat next to me once and the teacher said ‘look at how she holds her pen?’ He replied to the teacher ‘She can write fine and is doing the work so what does it matter?’ That man instantly became someone I respected because he looked at the way I held my pen as not a problem compared to others.
I was always sent out of class for laughing or being told off for misunderstanding assignments. I get told now in employment I ask a lot of questions. You can thank my primary school teachers for that. I would rather be very clear on a task because I realized from a young age that I don't seem to think the same as everyone else because I would often completely misunderstand work I was given because the instructions were not clear enough. We wont talk about the saga about the panic of the book ‘The Secret Garden’ we were told to read over the holidays. Lets just say there were many books and the one I found in the library was not the novel we were expected to read.
My peers were not consistent and sometimes their behavior towards me was very cruel when in a group setting but 121 it was fairly good. I made my friends by joining activities such as the choir, and participating in shows and sporting competitions.
So to summarise in Primary school I was branded:
The trouble maker
Couldn't follow simple instructions
High School was much better for me. OK I was bullied more by peers but the teachers were a lot less micro manager. They encouraged you to think outside the box which, was something that came naturally to me. You were also encouraged to go the extra mile and you were rewarded for it. High School had a timetable and a structure. I thrived at High School because I knew exactly what was expected. I think it also helped that you had different teachers for lessons so if you didn’t like a subject or teacher you knew it would be over in 1 hour and you wouldn't have to see them again for a couple of days. Teachers really liked my work ethic and I made friends in my form from year 8. I didn’t have many in the first year because I ended up in the same class as one of my bullies from Primary School and worked hard to get moved into a higher set from year 8 by coming top in the form on most of the end of year exams.
High School was where I peaked because the environment was perfect for me and the teachers I had were supportive. It was in their interest pupils did well but pupils hated me because I was a spoff or swott. They didn’t like me showing them up in class or outsmarting them but I was disciplined and desperate to go to Uni from year 7 so thats what I did.
I managed to gain some back up from male pupils who were on the athletics and cross country team. I was a county runner so teachers would highlight when I beat one of the bullies in the 1500m. I used sport to show them my strength and I am really lucky I have always been naturally good at sport.
To summarise High School
I was respected by teachers
I was hated by peers
I was called weird
I was called awkward
I was massively misunderstood
I didn’t fit in
Do you see a pattern forming yet?
Not diagnosed, struggle when I don't know a routine, struggle with socialisation, struggle to be understood.
You would think after high school the bullying would stop and in University it did. Writing this actually for the first time I realise the only period of time in my life I was never bullied was at University. Yes I did really struggle initially to make friends and was thinking about dropping out after first term, however I stuck it out and made some great friends whom I am still in contact with today. University was something I would do all over again given the chance.
Work place bullying is rife. Work is just like being back at school. I personally do not like work for that reason.
In my work places prior to being diagnosed I have had the following things said to me:
You have an answer for everything
What age did you lose your virginity
Why are you so rigid?
Stop being so negative
Team Leader: I was asked by my manager if I had to put my team in a line and shoot one who would it be. I told them it would be you
You need to be less black and white and more empathetic
Even though you are overachieving on your targets we don't feel you have the right energy
By team leader: Are you looking for a new job? Maybe you should start looking
You share some weird stuff on facebook. You are boring.
You don’t do us favors because we pay you
You should use your savings to improve your work wardrobe (By a team leader)
You sound like my 8 year old son
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? (whilst locked in a room with a male manager leaning over the desk)
When you were on the phone although answering the questions being asked it was noted you were doing 2 other work related tasks at the same time. We cant allow you to do that.
You have to fake it to make it
You are too outspoken
You typed your response to my email too loudly
You need to smile more
You have had a problem with every member of the team at some point. Maybe the problem is you
Honestly my experience in the workplace on entering it 20 years ago has been soul destroying. I have found it is always my attitude that gets picked up on or personality rather than my work as customers always had exceptional things to say about me and my work quality and ethic was recognised but never via a promotion of pay rise, more by giving me extra responsibility to keep me busy without ever actually allowing me to be on the level.
Now I am openly autistic I have had the below said to me by both people in and out of work.
You don't look autistic
Well everyone struggles with that
You have the mild kind so we don’t need to accommodate you
We can’t do that for you without doing it for everyone else (when discussing accommodations)
Everyone is a little bit autistic
In my first meeting with HR after being at the company for a month ‘You are autistic sorry I didn't know’ (after filling out the disabilities and accommodations section when I started) Lets just say I no longer work there.
It’s not that bad some people have it way worse
Just get over it no one likes change
To conclude on this.
People will always be ignorant and mean. However, there are some downright amazing managers I have had and people who are now and still really great friends.
I find in employment, telling them you are autistic can be risky as opportunities may not be presented to you for fear of how you may react. However, what I would say is that is on them. If I was a manager and found out a team member had a disability I would try and learn as much about it as possible to help understand them better. I do this now in my everyday life with friends. However, not everyone is like this, in fact most people aren’t. Most of the time I grin and bear it for a peaceful life but sometimes I get overwhelmed and have to share. There are very few people in life I can truly be myself with but what makes me thankful is there are people I CAN and am very much myself with.
There will be times particularly in employment where people fear difference. These people will and can make life tricky, but what I would say is in my experience, you have to trust things will work out exactly how they are meant to. Even if at the time it feels the whole world is against you. There are always things you can control