Autism socialization and stereotypes in the workplace
Addressing myths and misconceptions about people on the Autistic Spectrum
Hello, I am Adam Thomas Applebaum, and I work for auticon in Los Angeles, CA. We’ve been working from home since last March, but I have been working for auticon since the Summer of 2019 so I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing auticon both remotely and in the office. Whether in the physical office or on various Slack channels, I have found opportunities to converse with coworkers about all kinds of things because, and this may surprise you, auticon is a pretty social place. While I don’t know everyone in the office, I happen to know Ariel likes to read books on her work breaks and is really friendly, empathetic, and conscientious of everyone’s feelings. I also know Greg runs Marathons, Max has acted in many different productions, Melissa is an artist, and Gray likes to do Improv. I know all of this because I’m not particularly shy about being social. In fact, I’m pretty outspoken at times and have worked on being a better listener. That said, working at auticon has been different because I’m in a workplace where neurodiversity is the norm. Our workplace is not drastically different from mainstream society by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not a silent, dark cubicle like many might imagine, but instead the kind of place where we have conversations about all sorts of things that maybe people outside the circle would be less familiar with.
It can be difficult in the workplace to find people where socializing feels effortless, but at auticon, my teammates and I might be working on something for a client one moment, then find ourselves talking at length about something like the convoluted Marvel Movie series the next. Sometimes we talk about many different things and not really worry too much about what was spoken about, so much as exchanging pleasant conversation because we all just kind of get each other. For those who may find public spaces a bit intimidating, or since we’ve had to transition to working from home, there is a lot of friendly chatter and pop culture sharing in Slack channels such as #memes, #riddles, and #WFH. This may be a sharp contrast from the typical medical depictions of people on the spectrum. A classic media example of autism is Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory – the archetypical unapologetic genius. While some of my coworkers are intensely brilliant in that way, I’d say the coworkers I work with are more balanced in terms of social skills and intellect than Sheldon. Then there is a converse the stereotype of the person who cannot speak or “freaks out” with minimal provocation. In all the time I’ve been at auticon, I have never seen or heard of anyone getting overwhelmed to the point of melting down, and everyone can speak, though some prefer to speak very little and that’s perfectly acceptable. I believe this comes down to the support we receive, we work in a fast-paced environment working towards client deliverables, but the stress is always managed, accommodations are always made as needed, and our mental and physical health is always accounted for.
As I mentioned, auticon is a bit different than other workplaces. My previous jobs have been in fast food, at a campus bookstore, and even as an office assistant. I bring this up not to contrast it unjustly to working at auticon but to expand upon the diverse roles I’ve played in society up to this point that might otherwise seem counterintuitive to what one on the spectrum would be expected. However, through these other roles, I learned how to manage my sensory needs with all the beeping of fast-food machines in crowded conditions, how to talk to other people in both customer service and conflict resolution manners, and how lookout for trouble if someone wasn’t there to do legitimate business. These experiences also helped me in my job at auticon by teaching me how to work together with people on a team and in honing some of the attention to detail needed to be a Quality Assurance Analyst and perhaps even a Database Analyst in our new training program. I’m proud that I’ve been able to break stereotypes of autism by working in these non-autism-friendly conditions and that they helped me gain better employment at auticon. In short, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about people on the Autistic Spectrum that can easily be debunked. We are as diverse as any other group of people in interests and hobbies, and lots of us are social, empathetic, and team-oriented. There are also many behaviors others may not immediately understand but can be cleared up if those people take the time to interact with us and give us the tools use need to convey ourselves. With that, I hope you found this blog post as enjoyable as it was informative.