As I scroll through Facebook, I see many articles in my feed. For the most part they fit a trend–especially when I follow so many pages and groups on autism, aspergers and self-advocating. One of the recent trends has been about Microsoft and other companies like it hiring autistics specifically. I have to say, I’ve avoided reading anything regarding this trend until today.
In November of 2014, I was hired on as an intern Grant Writer. When my project management and research skills shone brighter than my writing skills, I was diverted to Grant Coordinator/Project Manager Intern. I gathered info about our current projects, current grant makers and our budgetary needs and assessed which grant maker to match the project with. There was one thing that got in the way: the directors complete inability to stay on task and finish projects in a timely manner. Now, this wasn’t my first conclusion. I made excuses for how busy she was and how soft some of the deadlines seemed. But, when the internship ended and I got my review, I realized that she assumed she was making accommodations for me. Because I’m autistic. Wow! I wanted to tell her, “you mean to tell me that all that waiting around I did was because you didn’t think I could handle the job?” I didn’t. I left, gladly to be ridden of a place so ablist. (side note: I will not be disclosing my SPD, autism or PTSD to future employers from now on)
This is why I didn’t read the articles until today. This is why I scrolled past without a concern or care for what was being said about this issue. I was afraid for the people who would fall prey to this targeted hiring practice, but couldn’t bring myself to get involved in the discussion. Today, I felt an urge to say something. To add my peace to the mix. To tell my side, my perspective. If someone finds it here on my lonely little blog, then great. If not, I will not say another word about it.
If autistic people are hired for their gifts, they will only be seen for their gifts. What happens when the rude truth happens and a meltdown makes everyone “uncomfortable”? What happens when they decide that one meltdown a quarter isn’t worth all the skills they are gaining from employing an autistic? What happens when they say, “oh, we cut back on your work because we didn’t think you could handle it” because of that one bad day you had last quarter? Can we scream discrimination after receiving special treatment in the first place? Can we say, “I don’t like being treated like a special case anymore” when we’re tired of the ablism? Will we only be seen only for our gifts which would make some autistics less hirable? (hint: not all of us are good at math, spatial reasoning and logic)
I learned a long time ago not to present an issue with also presenting a solution (this doesn’t count when just venting about bad shit). So, here’s my solution… stop the interview process. Hire people based on their resume and application. Change the resume format to ensure that strengths are highlighted. Train HR to pick out the best applicants. If there is a hiring interview, then have it be a hiring party/luncheon and have all the candidates and employees mix for an 30 mins to see who they “feel” they can get along with the best (everyone is expected to act natural, NOT on their best behavior). If the best candidate has the worst resume, throw it out. If the worst candidate has the best resume, throw that one out too.
See, the issue is people not giving their instincts enough credit. You know before you even talk to someone that you don’t like them. Even when you try hard to like the person and things go well, something ALWAYS happens to prove that first instinct. Why not go with it? Why not change the hiring process to fit that natural born ability? The best jobs I’ve ever had were given to me by people who followed their gut. The worst jobs I was never offered were also denied by people that followed their gut.
I shit you not, a potential employer said to me during a second interview, “I just don’t think it’ll work out. It’s not that I don’t think you could do the job. I feel you’d be an amazing asset to our purchasing department. I just don’t feel like your strong personality would fit well with Phyllis.” “Who’s Phyllis?” “Oh, she’s our company secretary. I just think she’d have a real problem with you.” A look of “boy did I make a bad decision hiring that woman” crosses his face and he says, “It will be a couple months before we find the right candidate. If something opens up before then, I’ll give you a call.” We parted and I was thinking, “jeez, if this woman is so much trouble, why is she still around? And I get fired for having an attitude?” Then I wondered if he was thinking she was going to die or quit soon. Maybe he was hoping. O_o Go with your gut.
Is that the best solution for this problem? Nope. The best solution will be the one that works. Will my solution inspire someone else’s solution? Well, there’s no point in sharing if you don’t think someone might be inspired by it.
So, my conclusion is that this hiring of autistics is a slippery slope. One that I hope all the kinks are worked out of by the time I graduate university. You’ve got two years America. Two years (maybe 4 if I push through to my Masters before looking for work in my field) to get this ironed out. I won’t expect special treatment and will be wary of accepting any.