Not Broken, Not Damaged!
Any of these sound familiar to you? “Are you sure you are autistic?” ” You sounded taller!” “Gees l had you pegged for a tie wearer!” “No, you’re not – you’re not like them!”
It’s a funny old world in which we live; everyone has a preconceived idea, opinion or an expectation of what you should look like, sound like and who you should be based on what they believe and not so much what is.
It doesn’t seem like only a few years ago that l was sitting in the job centre next to my appointed advisor and listening to her explain to me that autism was basically the same as depression and as such was purely in the mind. It’s not actually a play on words it was how she was explaining it – although my Aspergian mind was thinking ‘Technically that’s sort of right but you are completely and utterly wrong!’ She continued that the previous year she had broken her hip whilst skiing and there was no difference to her break and my ‘autism’, with time they would all heal!
Her nonsensical diatribe that day concerning autism was not original – l had heard similar things before from people, but l have to concede to being somewhat astonished when hearing it from the job centre especially when they pride themselves on equality! Autism would go away over time! Well there we go, l just have to sit and twiddle my thumbs and wait for my Aspergers to wear off!
It also reminded me of my time with the recruitment agency when they instructed me to perhaps leave off my CV the information that l was on the spectrum as it could be seen as ‘Affronting’ to some of the recruiters!!’
“Affronting as in offensive?” I asked of them.
“Yes, some employers don’t like to see disabilities listed!”
“But autism and Aspergers’ isn’t a disability?’
“Well whatever, l am just telling you what is acceptable and l should know, shouldn’t l?”
Ignorance is not a new thing, neither is a lack of awareness from our society, they ONLY want to know what affects them on a day to day basis, if a topic is not hotly embedded in their social brain – it serves no purpose in their lives. Sadly it is that simple – and because many people are not bothered about autism or any other disorders or differing abilities they don’t have to be aware. They can form judgements based on the tiniest snippets of information because ‘they can’. They have the ability to conjure up an expectation using the same method.
You don’t sound dyslexic … l mean seriously what on earth does that actually mean? You don’t look autistic! How are we supposed to look then?
Looking for work is never easy whatever your age or your ability, but l have noticed since hitting fifty and being on the spectrum that things are much harder – much – harder! My partner and l are mid-fifties and we are both looking for work. She was working full time up till she was fifty three when a redundancy made her unemployed. She used this free time to care for her family as well as do some study and helped me set up the Classic Eggshell Moments business, but since looking to return, the work environment has become extremely miserable and somewhat hostile to potential employees like her.
Being in your fifties and unemployed amounts to nothing positive to your level of skill or expertise and equally – even if you are NOT looking at the same field as before but looking to change career – you struggle with a mentality that only sees you as over qualified! Your entire working career, your experience, your knowledge is mostly useless! You are literally over the hill, and worse than that, even if you are NOT looking to return to your field full time and are looking for perhaps something less demanding on your time, employers still fear you and ignore you.
It’s bad enough that we are now in a society where recruiters of staff don’t have the common courtesy to respond to applications through laziness – no don’t defend them – it is laziness and rudeness. If someone addressed us [as in you or l] they would expect a response, but apparently that is only one sided as far as personnel departments are concerned – when did it become acceptable to shit on you like this? How can you remain positive in your mental attitude when the recruiting authorities have no respect for you or your application? Proving again that we are only cogs in a giant machine – we are just numbers – no longer people.
So l am sure you can imagine how horrible this is for some people – able bodied or not – it is the same for everyone looking to secure employment to their lives. Let’s be honest, money is great to have in your pocket, but it is NOT just that – it’s the confidence it awards you, the motivation, the very zest you have for life – it makes you part of society again.
It makes you human!
It can be thoroughly demoralising and depressing to be out of work in today’s economic climate and more so if you are over a certain age or lack an ‘ability’, for despite so called ‘Employer Awareness Programmes’ lacking certain criteria can place you at a distinct disadvantage to the rest of the workforce. You have either got what it takes to fit into the expectations of society or you are going to end up on the scrapheap – it is that simple.
For the over fifties as one of our examples here trying to find work perhaps after redundancy is nearly impossible. Employers seem to have become hell-bent on constantly knocking back applications from this age bracket irrelevant to how skilled or experienced they may be for their chosen field. They may be more than qualified to meet the demands of the jobs they are applying for, but for unknown reasons there seem to be obstacles placed in their path and this can prevent them from achieving success.
It is astonishing if not depressing that those responsible for securing an efficient workforce into employment are appearing more than a little bias towards a professional body of people purely because they are over fifty? There was a time when ageism was not the issue but racism and sexism were the prime contenders to hindering employment, oh how times have changed. Now the older community looking to return to work is considered more of a liability than an asset!
There are no supportive government policies to assist the older employee either which makes it all the more damning that you are thought of as ‘over the hill’ and decrepit by recruiters who eagerly seek a fresh out of university candidate who has no expertise in anything except study!
[No, l am not being derogatory to University graduates – it’s my personal observation]
Age is just a number may sound carefree and innocent to many but the grim reality is that employers are very skilled in seeking out the right age for their environments whether they ask directly or not. A fair system as a concept is as redundant a notion for able bodied fifty plus year olds equally as much as it is for those classed as disabled.
Employer apprehensions increase exponentially when they have applications from those that may be handicapped irrelevant to whether the ‘disability’ is mental, physical or social – sadly they too are seen as a body to avoid at all costs.
Not all employers are like this, but many still are. There are still too many myths and stigmas attached to employing non able bodied people. Our government repeatedly informs us as a nation that they are eager to see more disabled people in the workplace and yet they do nothing to motivate and encourage this into reality. If they are ‘keen’ then they need to educate recruiters, proprietors, bosses and managers alike to embrace the talent from this sector of the workforce.
Far too often due to ignorance, lack of awareness and fear of disability of any type, skilled, artistic brilliant and accomplished people are being ignored, passed over or judged too quickly based on very poor working knowledge and stigma.
Taboo still exists in the British workplace concerning disability, but l would say that in truth it would be less of a problem if people dropped the term “negative disability” and simply accepted differently abled into their language. When people think disabled, they can think or look no further than a preconceived idea or notion of what that means.
Sadly for many employers the term disabled means only a few things – negative things – that the new employee may be slower to function and less productive than other more able bodied workers. That they will take more time out of work due to their disability or indeed they will after receiving training simply pack up their bags and leave – that’s if they ‘had the right skills to begin with and were even trainable! Due to society being so brand aware, having disabled staff may of course damage a company’s image who wishes to project a more positive image of who they are to a so called perfect society.
Things will improve for both the over fifty’s and those of us who are differently abled when the recruiters accept the fact that not all handicaps are disabilities and that there is a wealth of very talented, skilled and experienced people wanting to become part of the society in which they breathe and live in too. People need to change their thinking and THINK differently, they need to understand that society is not just THEM, it is about us also.
These are my views on my autism/Asperger’s, they may not be everyone else’s who is on the spectrum. Also this article is written as observed by me and what l am currently experiencing with Job Search.