January 19, 2015

Diagnosis Day



Diagnosis Day


You sat down, the doctor gave the news
In some ways it's such a relief
But inside there's still a part of you
That wants to curl up in grief



"I'm still your baby," she says.
"I'm still the same one you love.
I'm still the same child you hold 
Close to your heart so snug."



Don't worry about anything yesterday
I know this wasn't by choice
Just take each moment day by day
And in small victories rejoice


~Kelly Bron, January 2015

January 16, 2015

Mentoring in the Workplace

This is a guest post by Dawn Marcotte*. I'd be interested to hear any feedback or experiences you'd like to share in the comments. Remember your comments can help others. 


"I got the job!"


What a great phrase to be able to say, but now what?

Getting the job is a huge accomplishment, keeping the job is now the goal.

The working world is filled with unwritten rules, company specific culture, and a whole new range of skills to be mastered. It also doesn't come with therapists or any of the support autistic kids generally get in school. However, a new job does come with a boss, peers and coworkers. This is where those hard won social skills will really come in handy.

Anyone who is new to a company should cultivate a relationship with the people they will be working with as well as with management. Some companies may provide a designated 'buddy' or mentor for new employees. If not, ask for one or ask one of the people around you if they would be willing to help you as you settle in to your new job. 

However, you may not be able to find a mentor right away.  Don't give up, you can actually develop relationships with several people, so that one person doesn't feel overwhelmed with questions.  Even if the company provides you with a designated mentor it is a good idea to build relationships with others in your department and throughout the company. No matter how good your skills are in you chosen industry, part of being successful at work is the social interactions required to do your job.

Written vs. Unwritten Rules

If a manual of office policies has been provided, read it. But don't be surprised if not all of the rules are followed. This is where it is time to ask others when you see a variance.  A simple phrase such as,
"I read in the manual we are supposed to dress business casual but I see others wearing jeans on Friday's. I wanted to be sure before I wore jeans that this it is okay."

When it is phrased like that others are not going to feel they are being accused of doing something they shouldn't and you will get clarification on one of those unwritten rules. There are times when rules change, but the manual hasn't been updated. Also, don't feel pressured to do what others are doing, if you are more comfortable following the rules, then follow them.

Communication

Another aspect of company culture is how the company likes to share information. Does your boss or mentor want you to email them your questions? Leave a voicemail? Have a face to face meeting? IM? 

The only way to find out is to ask. A favorite method of communication should be used for all communications, whether they are related to a job specific task or a general question.

When you are new to a position it is a good idea to ask your boss or HR manager how they want you to address any questions you may have.  Some bosses may want you to schedule a weekly meeting or some other rhythm for submitting questions and getting answers. Other bosses may expect you to just figure it out for yourself. If they expect you to figure it out you can do this by developing relationships with your coworkers and peers.

If you have been assigned a mentor it is a good idea to ask about anything you may have a question about. However, you don't want to pester people with a lot of questions so write them down first. Schedule a meeting with them to review the questions, writing down the answers so you can refer back to them later. If you have not been assigned a mentor you have a couple of other options.


two people looking at a laptop computer from iStock on OneQuarterMama.ca
Two people looking at a laptop computer

Choosing Your Mentor

Often when a new person starts the department may have some sort of welcome. They may introduce the other people in the department, have food or just introduce you in a meeting. However, you are introduced smile and make brief eye contact with as many of the people in the room as possible. 

Later you can approach them individually to introduce yourself and make a connection. Then as you begin working you can write down your questions. Once you have 2 or 3 questions you can approach one of the people and ask them, "I have a couple of quick questions. Do you have a moment you could spare to help me?"

You don't want to ask more than 3 questions at a time and you probably don't want to ask the same person more than once a day. This will help you avoid being seen as vulnerable or lacking confidence. If you are young and this is an entrance level position you may have a bit more leeway, because those around you know you lack life experience. 

Asking more than one person will also keep you from depending on one individual who may or may not be honest. Unfortunately there are bullies and hurtful people in the workforce. They may see you as a threat to them or just enjoy hurting others, but as the new person you won't know who those individuals are right away. By asking more than one person you begin to build relationships with others around you. 

Another option is actually using online groups. Forums such as WrongPlanet.net have an entire section devoted to adult life and working. Utilize the group to ask your questions and see what kind of feedback you get. You may be surprised at how much help other autistics can be even when they don't work at the same place you do.

Feedback

When you are asking questions and getting answers it can be a good time to ask for feedback on your own behavior. Ask about any habits you may have that others find offensive or that could lead to problems down the road. This could be something like speaking in too loud of a voice when you are on the phone, asking questions at the wrong times, wearing perfume that is too smelly or some meeting etiquette you are getting wrong. 

It has been my experience that most NT people are not prepared to answer this kind of question honestly when it addresses personal habits.They won't want to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad about yourself. They may feel more comfortable addressing job specific items. If you don't want to share your diagnosis you can simply say,
 "I know I have had some habits that drive my family crazy and I don't want to do the same thing at work so please tell me if there is something I need to do differently."
You may not want to ask this more than once to any one individual, but as you build working relationships with others you can remind them occasionally that you welcome any feedback they have for you to help you in the company. Traditionally this kind of feedback will come from either a manager or HR person if someone makes a complaint about you.

It is important to accept their feedback graciously with a simple, "Thank you for being honest, I will work on that." Then be sure to actually work on it and make changes as needed.

Being honest with managers and coworkers is the best policy. Being open about any issues or difficulties you may be having will help others feel more comfortable helping you. For example if the environment is louder than expected and you have trouble with that, talk to your manager and offer a solution you would like to try. Managers don't like to have employees complain when they don't have a solution, it is just one more problem for them to try to solve. However, if you say something like, 
"I have been having trouble concentrating at my desk because of the noise, would it be alright for me to wear noise cancelling earbuds so I can focus better?"  

This is a way to open the conversation and allow the manager or HR representative help you fix the problem, before it begins to affect your job performance. 

Keeping a job is about more than just doing the specific job tasks, it is also about building relationships with others. This takes time and effort, but is well worth it in terms of staying employed.

*Dawn Marcotte is the CEO of www.ASD-DR.com, a website designed to help teens and young adults on the spectrum live to their highest potential.


You may be interested in my other posts about being Autistic at work.

January 15, 2015

Introducing the One Quarter Mama Family

Here's a cute video I made to introduce us. It's less than two minutes and fun! Watch it!


 

January 09, 2015

The Challenges of Employment

Today* I am at work and having a really rough time of it. I work full time (35 hours/week) plus I also do two freelance contracts on the side. I've had that arrangement since September and am frankly getting a little tired of it.

Today's issues aren't caused by that, however. I have a cold still, so I'm already tired and low on energy. I find myself very distracted. I'm cold (it's minus 28C with the windchill) and the combination of all this is giving me random panic attacks.

Back in my 20s, I would have said, "f-it!" and gone home (or just stayed home), but I'm toughing it out so I don't lose my job. I've lost/left many good jobs because of sensory or other issues.  I've learned that I'm no more useful if I stay home - by that I mean I wouldn't rest if I went there. So I might as well be here not resting than be there not resting.

I think a lot of us Autistics put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always do things right or correctly. Go big or go home! If I can't give 110% to the job, I would rather not do it. But I've learned to be more gentle on myself. I've come to realize many people don't put very much pride or effort into their everyday, so if I am "off my game" for one day, no one will actually care or notice.

I keep to myself on fragile days like these, knowing if I interact too much, I will come across as cranky (I am) and if really bad, may even regret an outburst. I exploded once here at work when in pain.

I have not eaten lunch, even though I am hungry. I am hypervigilant over the sensations in my stomach, since I am sick and scared something worse might happen. This is what happens when I am overwhelmed this way. I have managed to work through two panic attacks already and I will have to go home and go straight to bed, I think.

Not every day is like this at work, but I had more frequent panic attacks when younger and was frequently in and out of employment. The stats on Autistic adults working are around 12-16%, depending on the country. That makes me really lucky to have a job at all, and it doesn't surprise me.

If I didn't have my husband, I'm not sure how I would have survived my 20s. I needed someone to fall back on and support me when I couldn't cope.

I've been at my current workplace exactly two and a half years now - which is the longest I've been employed at any one place ever. (I had better success being self-employed, in terms of length of employment)

 It can be hard to slog through work everyday when there's already so much going on within your own head and how you experience the world. Not everyone can "tough it out" and that's not even desirable in the long run. My health is more important than money, but I have managed to get to a point in my life where I can be more gentle on myself and not try so hard to control all situations. I've become somewhat less rigid in my thinking.
There are days where I still feel I am stuck swimming upstream, but I don't have to make myself feel bad for those days. It's not my fault. All I can do is try to hang on and hope tomorrow is better. And it will be.

*Today is used loosely since I often schedule posts, so no need to comment and tell me to feel better when it's already most likely passed :) Not that I don't appreciate concern. 

January 07, 2015

Life After Adult ASD Diagnosis - A Year Later

It has been over a year since my official diagnosis of ASD and SPD, and I feel like I've changed so much.

My journey started with learning and self-acceptance, and moved more towards advocacy.

I'm open and honest about who I am. I am open and honest about my limitations. I try not to boast about my gifts :) I still have a lot to learn.

Being open and proud has helped a lot. Not succumbing to the pressure to "be normal" has taken a huge weight off. Similarly, being able to tell people exactly what I need and how I work has helped for mutual understanding. I can explain when/why I come off the wrong way sometimes.

I think disclosing has been beneficial for me because when I tell others, I am able to get better feedback about how they perceive me. When I understand how I am sometimes giving off the wrong signals, so to speak, I can work to improve on that. Suffice to say, I'm still learning social skills and this awareness has helped.

one quarter mama smiling and holding a paper that says diagnosed ASD at age 32.
My picture for the Amazing Autistic Women project


With diagnosis, I joined a club and met so many amazing people so far. I'm still learning and it's pretty cool.


January 05, 2015

Review: The United States of Autism

I have Netflix, so I checked out The United States of Autism, a documentary by Richard Evert, the father of an autistic boy, who travelled the US speaking to families with autistic members.

There's a disclaimer at the beginning about how Evert promised not to censor any of the family interviews and that many viewpoints would be expressed. He leaves it up to the viewer to make up their own mind.

I think he really succeeded in presenting a wide range of families and viewpoints. I certainly didn't agree with some of them (there are some curebie anti-vax types included) but he really objectively gave everyone an equal voice. In the end, the documentary explores how American families are dealing with autism. Some had issues with insurance or finding care providers. Some felt their children's gifts were being ignored by society at large.

Evert spoke to both family members and Autistics of all ages. He visited Asian, black, interracial, single-parent, Latino, and Muslim families. He talked to activists and those just keeping to themselves. Most are just everyday Americans trying to do their best for their families.

If you're already in the autism community, you'll recognize some of the interviewees, like Sharon daVanport, Alex Plank and Raun Kaufman.

I think it was a very down-to-earth exploration of how different families were dealing with autism. If you have Netflix, it's easy to just click and check it out, otherwise it can be purchased through Amazon or iTunes.

January 02, 2015

Sensory Triggers

If you are Autistic or live with someone who is, you probably know your/their particular sensory triggers. There are lots that overlap, but everyone probably has one or two that are unique to them (since we're all unique individuals).

When I talk about sensory triggers, I'm talking about objects, sounds or experiences that can trigger sensory overload, over stimulation or meltdown/shutdown. In serious cases, it can cause seizures.

Some things can trigger someone almost immediately and others can take time to build up over the course of a day or more. It also depends on how well we were balancing ourselves prior to whatever trigger was introduced. If we are tired, hungry or sick, we'll be more fragile. Other times, there is no real predictor to how we will react.

I'm going to mention some of mine, because it took me a very long time to realize what I was experiencing was sensory overload due to very common things. It doesn't help that I didn't get a diagnosis until last year. All of this is through my own self-discovery and observations of my son.

Clothing:

When dealing with sensory issues, it seems a lot of Autistics fit into one of two camps: the clothes wearers and the strippers. Some will wear the same clothes all the time, regardless of season. Others will want to be naked, or at the very least, topless, as much as possible, regardless of the temperature.

I ran around naked a lot as a child, but grew into more of a clothes-wearer as an adult. However, I have no shame or problem being naked.

For me, clothes have specific issues. I pretty much always have socks and slippers on in the winter and must be barefoot in the summer.

I wear tight pants, but do not want anything tight around my waist. I rarely wear belts or sweaters with tight hems. I'm not a fan of tights or pantyhose.

I dislike tight things around my neck, so no chokers. I'm very specific about turtlenecks and only wear them sometimes. I will not wear itchy wool (I think that's pretty common with everyone).

Noises:

(Note: it's quite possible these are better attributed to misophonia)

Whistling makes me crazy. A shame because my husband will happily whistle a tune and I REALLY. CAN'T. STAND. IT.

Retching/burping/gagging/vomiting noises - mostly because I'm an emetophobe though. I don't think this has to do with sensory really, but it will cause a panic attack.
(I have had to get used to burping sounds since living with two males, but I still don't like it. Also, yes, China was awful for that.)

Snot sniffling - when people snuck/sniff their snot instead of blowing their nose, it drives me up the wall. Again, I live with two males who do this and I can only take so much.

I very much dislike the sound of trumpets/horns. You can instantly ruin a song for me by playing trumpet.

People chewing with their mouth open.

It could be because I see some sounds and those sounds are just gross and disgusting.

Experiences:

People breathing on me, sighing or coughing - Sometimes I feel like a target, like people go out of their way to come near me and cough. Or just walk down the street, pass me and cough in my direction. There's always some weirdo behind me in line sighing and breathing down my back. Makes me nuts!

When in bed, I cannot have my husband breathing on me - I will make him face the other way.

Crowds:

For me crowds can cause a sensory overload situation because of the movement and heat. Add to that the fact I can't predict what so many people are going to do and I find that difficult to deal with. Also, everyone is coughing and breathing all over the place. Ugh.

Pregnancy: that was pretty much one long sensory overload experience.

Fun:

It's important to remember that even too much fun can cause us to overload. It's not just things we don't like that set us off, but even too much of a good thing can overwhelm us after a while. For this reason, I make sure to intersperse fun/exciting activities with calming activities throughout the day, for my son. As he gets older, he'll be able to tolerate more, but right now he's so young, he can't regulate as effectively. Even me as an adult, I need to limit my "fun" to some extent. I can go to one party on a weekend - I'm not one of those people out Friday and Saturday nights, running from event to event. If I go out on a Friday night, I need Saturday and Sunday to recoup.

If you want, comment and add some of the things that really irritate you and send you into Overload Town.