Adults with autism don’t have to settle for collecting grocery carts

Two days ago, I participated in a program called Reactor Room. I spoke in front of a panel of business leaders, social workers, and psychologists about my talents, skills, and experience in the workforce. I also talked about my current projects. Then I took questions and comments aimed at helping me to develop all of that into a successful career. It was nerve wracking, and I spent all day yesterday recovering, but it was a very positive experience overall.

Reactor Room is run by Dr. Heidi Stieglitz Ham as part of Spectrum Fusion, which is her vision of a community of adults on the autism spectrum who support each other and serve the global community with our abilities. She believes that we all have the potential to do great things, and I agree completely. That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of what she’s doing.

Unfortunately, some people don’t see autistic adults that way. The other Reactor Room participant is a writer/editor who is seeking opportunities in that field. A member of the panel he spoke to by the name of Denise Hazen voiced opposition to what Dr. Ham is trying to do, saying that my fellow Reactor Room participant will never find a job in writing. She thinks that Dr. Ham encourages unrealistic goals, helping autistic people find employment in their area of interest.

So what does Denise Hazen think is a realistic goal for adults on the autism spectrum? Manual labor. She employs them to produce trinkets that she sells in her program called Aspire Accessories. In return, they get training in a variety of retail-related skills and “fair wages.” Does that sound like minimum wage to you? It does to me.

And the stuff they produce isn’t cheap. Check out this leather, Texas-shaped keychain. Normally, you would expect a keychain to cost, what, about $5? Maybe $10 if it’s really nice? Well, this one costs $20. Sure, each one is hand made (by someone whose boss thinks they’d be lucky to have a job collecting grocery carts), but $20? Seriously?

Denise monopolized the conversation in order to promote her business, because that’s what she came for. She wasn’t there to help autistic people.

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One aspie’s gratitude

Aspies have it tough. I know a few people who are very negative about their aspergers and life in general. As depressing as it can be to be around them for very long, I can see where they’re coming from. After high school, I spent years wondering why I couldn’t go on to live a normal life like everybody else. Realizing that I’m not like everybody else didn’t help much, because it didn’t tell me where I belonged. It only told me where I don’t belong.

But as I drifted through life, some of my choices took me away from the life of misery that I thought I was doomed for. I stopped trying to live to gain everyone else’s approval, and as the stress eased, I was able to think more clearly and make even more wise choices. I grew up, and contrary to popular belief, adulthood has many perks.

I take great pride in little things that other people would take for granted, like when I met with clients recently to discuss their wedding and what kind of pictures they want me to take. My girlfriend helped me to pick out a suit, and I got a great deal on a very nice one. I do volunteer work and build a reputation as a productive member of a community. I love that I can use my talents and skills to serve other people, because for so long, I felt like an outsider.

Finding a way to do what I like to do in order to serve other people was the key to finding my place in the world, and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me along the way.

The perfect aspie job

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Celebrate! Photo credit: Me

I’m not a mathematical aspie who is a whiz at math and goes to school to become an engineer.  (Not that I’m bad at math. I’m just not a math genius.) My road isn’t that easy. I’m an artist. My mediums of choice are writing and photography. Most of the jobs I’ve had were the kinds of jobs that a teenager would do. I’ve done fast food, retail, movie theaters, movie rental places, and one job with a real estate company. The vast majority of my experiences working have not been good. I can’t even fill out a job application now without becoming very anxious and losing all my “tokens,” and that has put me at odds with my parents many times. When I started attending weekly meetings at Houston Oasis with my girlfriend Michelle, I learned that they had no photographer to document the occasions, so I filled that role and quickly found a great niche as the Oasis camera guy. Things were going very well when a friend of mine and Michelle’s read the first chapter of the rewrite of my first sci-fi/fantasy novel and asked if I wanted to learn to edit books and help her with some books for a small publishing company she works for. So now I get to apply my grammar zealotry to something useful and make money doing it. I don’t think there’s a more perfect job for me. I didn’t apply for it. I just networked. It’s extremely fortunate that I don’t have the social difficulties that many other aspies have. Of course, I don’t mean that I have no social difficulties. I just get along with people pretty well, and my friend in publishing has a lot of aspie traits herself, including a passion for grammar similar to mine. So now, not only do I have a great job, but I also have an avenue for becoming a published author, which is a dream I’ve had for a long time. I’ll post an advertisement—whoops, did I say advertisement? I meant I’ll post an article about my book when it’s out. It will totally not be an advertisement, but you should totally buy the book. :p