Success for an Adult on the Spectrum: Volunteering turns to Employment

04 Sep

When people ask my what I “do” and my answer relates to autism spectrum disorders, the usual answers include: “Oh, that must be rewarding.” (Yes, always.) “You must have so much patience.” (Not really a requirement of my job, in my eyes.) “That must be very challenging.” (Not really in the ways people might expect.) “What do you think about vaccinations…?” (No comment needed in the Walmart line.) These responses usually lead me to be a bit quiet, a rare quality for me. I realized yesterday, that these responses also have led me to lose faith in the ways in which the community cares — beyond comments of empathy and compassion.

Yesterday, when my dog Penelope went to the veterinarian for an odd skin condition, we left with news that Bryan was hired and that John’s incredible talent had application beyond YouTube.

Two years ago, I met Bryan, a high school graduate with Asperger’s Disorder and cerebral palsy. Junior college was largely unsuccessful, but his job experience was impeccable. When I met him, he was working at a bowling alley, where he was employee of the month for several months running. He was tentatively looking for a new challenge in the form of a second job, an idea pushed partially by his parents and partially by his pride.

After several sessions discussing options, ideas, and the anxiety underneath such a decision, I met Bryan at my dogs’ veterinary clinic. The clinic had agreed to allow Bryan to volunteer. After a painfully short “orientation”, I could see in Bryan’s body language that the anxiety was growing and his interest in a new challenge was waning. He pressed on, three-hour shift by three-hour shift, learning the names of the pets more quickly than that of the staff. Bryan and I continued work together for another six months, after which I received “updates” from his parents via email and from my veterinarian during my annual visits.

Yesterday, when the vet said with a huge smile, “Bryan got hired,” I admit I was slightly slow on the uptake. “He arrives on time, does a great job, never complains, and is awesome with the animals. We thought, perhaps, he deserved a paycheck.” Before the gravity of her comments and Bryan’s achievement set in, I realized that she was beaming. She was as proud as a parent, as a friend, as I am. Without skipping a beat, I joked, “If I had known that finding employment for my clients was as a simple as having canine health issues, I’m sure Penelope could make that happen more frequently. If only you needed the computer expertise that John has to offer.” Equally without skipping a beat, the veterinarian said, “Talk to Nikki. Her husband owns his own computer repair company.” And I did. And John, a client who always tells me, “My job will just happen without planning,” now can say, “I told you so.”

I always attributed John’s comments to anxiety as well as long-standing depressed realism. We addressed strategies for managing anxiety; we addressed depression and its debilitating effects of little to no long-term goal setting; we addressed how anxiety and depression are components of Asperger’s Disorder and life-long challenges.We did not address what we both did not know — he had more faith in others than I did.

And to think I always told him that he did not have the life experiences to believe some of what he does. My own depressed realism was revealed and those life experiences I hold so dear aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

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Posted by on September 4, 2010 in Educating the NTs


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