Life is filled with many milestones for typical people. Getting your driver's license at 16, graduating high school, turning 21 and getting your first drink in a bar, graduating college, getting your first job, etc. One of the last milestones of life (shortly before your life comes to an abrupt end) is being approved for retirement social security and getting your first check. If you have an autism spectrum disorder, this is a particularly significant one, given the huge percentage of autistic people who are unable to work, receive SSI and so forth. I'm happy to announce that I'm an individual on the autism spectrum who will turn 62 in less than three months and I've just been approved for this significant milestone. My monthly allotment won't be much, but it will certainly be helpful, considering my financial situation, though not precarious has certainly been less than stellar over the last several years.
Recently I wrote a post where I commented on the fact that Ron Sandison, Temple Grandin, and, by extension, Autism Speaks stated or at least implied that autistic people who don't work are lazy loafers whose parents spoil them and baby them. Tom Clements (AKA "the autistic Buddha") wrote a laudatory post on facebook lauding sandison and Grandin's comments. When I politely begged to differ in a comment one of Tom's friends (a nasty ND) called me an enabler and a quitter and I blocked this person.
To anyone who thinks I've been a slacker, particularly in light of this significant milestone in my life, I'd like to write a post about my work history and this subject. This may be long so bear with me.
Though I went to special education as a young child I was mainstreamed by high school. In my adolescence, I went to pot both literally and figuratively and got poor grades and had tremendous problems. Going to college at the time seemed out of the question for me. My parents had a swimming pool and paid me some extra money by cleaning it and putting chlorine and muriatic acid in it as a pool service man would do. I thought maybe I knew enough to be a pool service person and that I'd be a self-employed pool cleaner for a living. My disability and executive functioning problems meant I'd never be able to carry out my modest ambition. I worked briefly during the summer doing clerical work at the los angeles suicide prevention center. At eighteen my last year of high school i worked an hour a day doing janitorial work at a school my then psychologist owned. These were my only jobs at the time.
Not knowing what else to do at age 19, I enrolled in a community college with the possible goal of being an academic or clinical psychologist. By the time I was nearly 22 years old and ready to transfer to a four year university I saw another psychiatrist at UCLA who was the first person to tell me I was autistic ((I'd been diagnosed by one psychiatrist and a pediatrician prior to this but had not been told of my diagnosis by my folks or them). He commented on the fact that I was nearly 22 and had not worked and asked me what I wanted to be and when i told him I'd thought about being a psychologist or brain researcher he proclaimed, "you're going to have to settle for something less than what you want to be". He suggested manual labor as something viable but was not more specific than that. I barely graduated college unable to prove him wrong.
My disability and mediocre college performance made graduate school out of the question so at age 24 I first started trying to work. I got my first job loading items onto industrial palates in a warehouse for 3 dollars an hour, minimum wage at the time. I made numerous mistakes and though they didn't fire me they took me off the loading job and had me stamp some stuff with a stamper, when I asked to be put back on the former job, they consented to give me a chance. some coworkers complained to me about mistakes and I left the job.
My next job and first fire was from a large insurance company where I was hired to do clerical work. They were a conservative establishment and required employees to wear a tie and dress clothes. I got some dress pants but neglected to get them altered by a tailor and looked very bizarre coming into the office. A few weeks later I was fired and the boss suggested I might be hyperactive and I should get on a diet without any sugar.
Undeterred, I got a job in a drug store typing prescription labels. It was an exploitive environment where various labor laws were violated and I was not allowed to take two breaks during the day or be paid for overtime and I angrily left this job.
I had another five week job typing up sales reports for this company that sold art stuff and then they claimed business was starting to get bad and they had to let me go. I had problems with hygiene on this job and the boss dropped a subtle hint by handing me a small can of deodorant.
I had another job doing clerical work for a couple of hours and the boss said she thought the job was too confining for me as I was not paying attention to work and let me go.
Another job, I did data entry and made so many errors they fired me after three days.
I got a job with the phone company which was less inclined to fire people then other companies, and made the probationary period. I was discriminated against in a job advancement opportunity and filed a grievance with the union. Not long after this, they started pestering me about mistakes, being really nasty to me and it got so bad I was compelled to quit after being there more than three years.
I got another data entry job and they falsified the amount I was producing and used this as an excuse to fire me. I still had problems with hygiene then and that may have been a factor.
I had another approximately three month data entry job where I sometimes got in trouble for raising my voice and the boss threatened to let me go. They supposedly started running out of work and laid me off as I had the lowest seniority.
Another data entry job, I was working at the computer and supposedly all the work I had done was wiped out for some reason and they let me go.
After this my mother called the Los Angeles Chapter of the Autism Society of America asking them if there were any kinds of jobs where they would hire and keep autistic people. This was in 1985 before specialisterne, rising tide car wash and others who claimed to help those on the spectrum with employment matters. They referred us to the California State Department of Rehabilitation. Because of my ability to type and the belief that people who worked in the medical profession were kinder and more tolerant of differences, they recommended I take their course in medical transcription. It was a very abysmal program and they treated me badly. For further details anyone interested can read here.
Despite voc rehab's bad treatment of me, I approached one person who consented to train me as a medical transcriptionist based on what little I'd learned from these people. As a trainee, I was paid a very low rate on production basis and for about a year I worked for this person as an independent contractor for substantially less than the minimum wage.
As I learned more about transcribing, I managed to get a few gigs but most of them did not last long and were not as good jobs as others with more skill and experience could get. I finally got my first crack at one of the more challenging and potentially higher paying hospital jobs but was fired after a couple of months. I was fired from still another job later.
I finally got a job in a clinical setting which was easier than hospital transcription where I was not fired, though I get into arguments with co-workers and was occasionally called on the carpet for less than satisfactory work. I lasted there a year and a half before getting fired.
At this point, I thought I'd reached the end of the line and have to apply for SSI where even if I qualified I'd be restricted about assets in the bank and have other restrictions placed on my life to get a low amount from the government.
I'd been told by various people that if I disclosed my disability that would help. I was referred to this organization who would pay employers the first two months salary of their disabled employee as an incentive to hire the disabled worker. A radiologist with a practice agreed to this saying he had a son with a learning disability and i'd work for them and they'd keep me there forever. I tried to go as slowly as possible in order to avoid the errors I'd made in the past and was told by the office manager i was not doing the work fast enough. After working for them a month, the office manager fired me on the radiologist's day off.
I decided to try one more time before giving up. I found a company that did worker's comp and PI reports for attorneys and I was hired to type up these. The supervisor did not want to deal with the organization and preferred to work with me herself and did not accept their payment. I worked there for a bit over two years. Then the company was accused of running afoul of the law and was starting to have problems, I was let go as the most expendable person, though they later completely went out of business.
I found another transcription service and worked there for a year. After this I became better and worked for another place for almost three years, but they restricted what doctors and accounts I could do and I ended up getting the worst work you could get being paid on a production basis. I had conflicts with them and resigned.
I worked as an independent contractor for another place for several years. Then I was fired from a couple of other jobs after this and retired a few months before my fifty-second birthday. I applied for disability which I've detailed in other posts which I won't link to but I'm sure the interested reader could find if sufficiently motivated. It was a heart wrenching and humiliating experience and to make a four and a half year long story short, I was not able to get disability.
Ten years later, it looks like I will finally be able to get the disability money that I had put into social security in the form of retirement starting in November. I may write a brief follow-up post after my first payment is deposited in my checking account.
Contrary to all the propaganda headlines from the wall street journal
and New York times about what a great asset autism is in the workplace,
the vast majority of those on the spectrum have difficulty working,
receive SSI, and/or are supported by their parents. Therefore, I'm
rather proud of the fact I was in the workplace (though not employed
100% of the time) for the number of years I was and am able to have the
cachet of this milestone.
I apologize for the length of this post,but there was no way I could express my work history and what happened to me over a more than forty-three year period more concisely. If anyone stuck around long enough to read the thing in its entirety, I do appreciate that.
So I just want to say to Temple Grandin, Autism Speaks, and particularly Ron Sandison, this is my work history. It's hard to know it completely from this blog post without having experiencing it first hand as I did but I went to Hell (Mr. Sandison I know you believe in Hell so in your case I'm not saying this just figuratively)and back. Being fired from those jobs and being compelled to apply for disability was absolutely traumatic, humiliating and heart wrenching, and I don't appreciate the three of you implying that I'm a lazy loafer.
The New York times and Wall Street journal do autistic people a disservice by claiming they have all these hidden abilities that make them hugely valuable to these companies and I don't appreciate that either.
But I know the majority of autistic people will not achieve this milestone (not to put anyone down who is less able than I am) and this is a proud moment for me.