I have a book called The Wonderful World of Work. It is my second book and is an instructional activity type thing for autistic teens to help prepare them for a career. On the morning that it was published, the publisher posted about it on their Facebook page. The first comment on my lovely new book was this: “The world of work for autistic people is horrible, not wonderful. I won’t be buying this book!” I was of course quite horrified by this reaction. I mean they had a point! Maybe I shouldn’t have written a positive book about autism and employment? Thankfully future reviews and commentaries on my second contribution to the literature on autism were much more positive but it got me thinking.
I couldn’t work for many years. I was simply too anxious and too much of a perfectionist. And earlier in my life I was in prison and psychiatric wards pretty much non-stop for five years so paid employment was a fair way away from my mind. By the time I worked out that I wanted to change my ways, I realised that work was a very important thing. I was desperate to work but it took many years to get to a place where I could work. I did what I would now call controlled challenges in order to build my confidence to work. I started by volunteering at a gallery. I really enjoyed this and it wasn’t too stressful because I wasn’t getting paid. (At this point in my journey I worried about being in paid work and costing the employer lots of money or making mistakes). After my volunteer job I started a small business editing videos for my art school colleagues. And then I got a job talking about autism to school kids which I loved – yes, I have always loved public speaking! I wrote a book in 2005 and it was published. This gave me enormous amounts of confidence and within three months of it being published I applied for public service graduate roles.
Applying for the public service was a big deal. I was fairly certain I would be refused due to my schizophrenia and my extensive police history from the 1990s but I figured that if I didn’t apply but would have won a position I would have missed out big time. However if I applied but was unsuccessful I would have lost nothing. ‘Give it a burl’ thought 31 year old Yennski and so I did and I was successful.
I am still in the public service sixteen years later. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I had to answer a LOT of questions about my past but I got the job and hav now been promoted twice and worked in a range of really interesting and rewarding areas. My job has funded the purchase of two properties and I am financially independent and doing meaningful and rewarding work. I absolutely love my job.
But what about my reviewer and the world of work not being wonderful for autistic people? Well they still have a point as for many autistic and neurodivergent people work is stressful and even traumatising. I have also had some of those kinds of jobs in the past.
It is quite common these days to get people listing all the positive attributes of autistic employees…attention to detail, pattern thinking, focus, passion, loyalty, that sort of thing. I wish we didn’t need to do that because we lived in a world where employers were aware of the skills and gifts we bring to our jobs. There is still a ways to go in that area but things hav improved in the 31 years since I first joined the workforce. Employers need more uncerstnnidfng and knowledge of autism. I think it is definitely changing but it is still the case for many autistic people that their world of work is not wonderful. We also have very high rates of unemployment, underemployment and being in unsuitable work. I want to live in a world where the world of work for neurodivergent folks is a lot more likely than not to be wonderful!