Rough Waters: irregular employment of an Aspie

I recently read that up to 85% of the people with Aspergers do not have full employment. That is a hard number to fully comprehend and accept, especially since, apparently, I am (mostly) one of the 15%.

Thinking about this further, however, and I understand. Even for someone asks highly functioning as myself, I see continual challenges and barriers even when I am employed.

I think back to the beginning of my career, right out of college. I had graduated with a B.S. In Mathematics with a Minor focus on Computer Science. I really did not know what I should do with that.

I knew about a large computer services company that would hire bright people out of college and train them to be even more than programmer/analysts. In 1987, this was one of the best programs around. I saw that they were interviewing in the Portland area, so I arranged an interview.

I was invited twice to interview with Electronic Data Systems (knowing that the third interview was usually the hiring interview). I thought the interviews went very well, so I was surprised to receive a letter after the second interview that said that I was not a fit–and they explained why. Mostly, it had to do with me not asking many questions and generally the recruiter feeling that I seemed uninterested.

I turned around and wrote a long letter explaining that I had already done very extensive research about EDS and their training program, and I knew a couple of people who had entered the program. I knew that this is where I belonged.

The letter worked. I was scheduled for the hiring interview and then I ended up working for that company for several years.

Throughout the course of my employment, there were often one or two leaders who ‘didn’t get me’ and with whom I would have many disagreements. Every year when it came time for my performance review, it was always very mixed. I always excelled in problem solving and usually got good marks on customer relationships, but generally lower marks on teamwork and I would generally find that coworkers were uncomfortable coming to me with technical questions.

Really? My few close friends always told me that I was very friendly and tried to help whenever I could. Why was I not approachable in the workplace?

Despite the difficulties and challenges I faced, generally, it was good employment and I learned a lot and still became one of the technical leaders, one of the handful of people in the entire company who knew the business functions behind the managed care health insurance delivery system, specifically as it interfaced with Medicaid. I had worked on managed care systems all over the country, so I knew how it worked in many States. I had earned the respect of Medicaid IT managers in a couple of States, especially in Tennessee.

Everything came to a head when I was working as the Managed Care functional team lead on a project to replace the Medicaid system for Tennessee, which was entirely a ‘Managed Care’ State. One member of my team did not like me and would bully me and harass me daily. I thought that this was because I was gay and that is what she didn’t like. When I protested one time, she claimed that I was harassing her—and when a woman accuses a man of harassment in the workplace, then that is pretty much the end for the man, regardless of what the reality says. She was a person who was very unhappy with her life and she found someone who was different who she could transfer her unhappiness upon.

While I thought at the time it was because I am gay and she was a conservative Christian woman, I now believe that it was because of Asperger’s. I was an easy target for her daily bullying.

I ended up losing my job as a result of her protests against me and a middle manager who didn’t like me because the Tennessee Medicaid IT director told him directly to listen to me. Yeah, no one told him what to do and who to listen to, especially not the person who is not seen as a team player.
Since that time, more than 10 years ago, I have gone from job to job, unemployment to unemployment. I have a very impressive resume, and I’m usually told that I am the top candidate being interviewed for a full time job. Each time, I thoroughly research the company prior to the interview. Each time, I am invited to interview multiple times, with different managers and potential coworkers. Each time it ends with one manager telling me that I am not a fit for the team or I didn’t connect with the team or the manager when I was interviewing.

This falls in line with a lot of what I read about others living with Asperger’s and it matches my experience in other areas. When interviewing, there is usually one or two people with whom I cannot connect. Whenever I do have a job, there are always one or two people who are there to bully me or to otherwise make things difficult on me since I’m the odd one. I’m the different one.

I used to think that it was everyone else who didn’t try to reach out to get to know me and work with me. I now know that this is ME and part of my neurological makeup and there are things I can still learn that will help me finally find that perfect job.

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