Meet Jon P. 32
Jon P., 32
I want employers to recognize that people with autism aren’t unintelligent just because we are different, and I’d like to ask them to leave their judgements at the door.
Hello, my name is Jon. I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I’m currently in graduate school focusing on Sanskrit and South Asian studies. Languages are one of my special interests, and I would like to become a professor.
Being autistic means that my mind and body work fundamentally different than many of the people around me. At first, that felt very isolating – I always felt “out of place” or “different” in ways that left me self-conscious. Now that I have a formal diagnosis, which I just recently received this year, I have found greater supports for my needs. Being autistic means seeing the world uniquely.
I believe there’s a lot of value in having an autistic mind: I’m structured, great at learning new systems and following them, and I have a knack for understanding patterns. Some days, autism doesn’t feel like a gift, but on the best days, it does. I want employers to recognize that people with autism aren’t unintelligent just because we are different, and I’d like to ask them to leave their judgements at the door.
The more you work to understand us, the more value we can bring to your organizations. It’s good for business to consider diverse people and perspectives. Autistic people can be good at recognizing breakdowns in systems and helping to improve them. We’re often great pattern-spotters: we can see how things work and what might make things more efficient. Step outside your own norms, and you will gain so much!
Learn more about Jon, his newfound diagnosis, and his experience in the workforce in this Q&A:
What does Disability Employment Awareness Month mean to you?
If we’re going to have a truly diverse society, it must include people whose minds and bodies are different from the “norm.” Disability Employment Awareness Month is a powerful opportunity to encourage acceptance of differences in the workplace. Different ways of thinking and acting can be of great benefit if we can first see past stigmas and learn to value others.
What message would you like to convey to people with autism and other disabilities, who are currently looking for the right career path or a job opportunity?
Don’t give up if you haven’t found your place yet. I went through several rough periods of life, especially before my diagnosis, when I struggled to maintain a job. Deciding to go back to school took a lot of courage because I had started to feel like I would never be successful at anything. Once I found subjects that piqued my interest, I realized I had been waiting on the right environment to succeed. If I had given up completely, I would probably have never found it. Don’t quit – tomorrow can be so much better!
What are some struggles you’ve faced while looking for jobs in the past? Please provide specific examples.
I once had a boss loudly yell at me for failing to understand his instructions: “I resent having to explain this to you!” he shouted. Other people overheard, and I remember feeling so embarrassed that I wasn’t “getting” what he wanted fast enough. It’s true, there can be breakdowns in communication when neurotypical employers don’t appreciate the specific ways autistic minds work. Our minds can often be very literal, and vague instructions don’t always translate to effective results. Other times, it has felt like I’ve put too much effort into things that, as it turned out, weren’t very important. Learning to understand employer priorities and balance that with my own desire to do a good job is so essential to avoiding burnout. When applying for jobs, I’ve often wrestled with how much to disclose: do I tell them I’m different? Do I find indirect ways to disclose my needs? Will I be judged right away?
What are some improvements that can be made to make the workplace more inclusive for people on the spectrum?
I believe a lot of neurotypical employers might currently think of hiring an autistic person as a kind of forced diversity – like they are forced to indulge or condescend to us because we’re different. But if greater education and acceptance are promoted among employers up-front, autistic people can feel more comfortable asking questions, getting clarifications, and sharing their contributions without fear of judgment. We are a “value add” to companies and businesses, but judgmental attitudes have to change in order to make room for what we can bring to the table. Efforts to improve understanding of Autism are essential to making workplaces more inclusive in the long run.
What advice would you give to an autistic teen/adult struggling to find meaningful employment?
You are valuable just as you are. Our culture places a huge emphasis on certain kinds of productivity, and if you internalize those messages and labels too much, you’ll start to judge yourself for not being good enough. Here’s the thing: you matter, even if you never find a job. Don’t connect your success in society to your feelings of self-value. Start by giving yourself some understanding and love. It will help you stay confident as you continue the search. You may not have found your place yet, but that’s a reflection of society, not your value. I’ll say it again: you matter just as you are.
What are your personal employment goals for the short term and the long term?
I hope to finish my master’s degree within the next academic year, then pursue PhD studies in a related field. My hope is to become a professor – possibly, of language. In the meantime, I’ve been using my language skills – I’ve studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Sanskrit – to tutor other students. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world to see someone’s eyes light up when they “get it.” I’d like to spend the rest of my life helping other people appreciate languages as much as I do.
What are you most proud of, in regards to your employment journey?
I’m proud of the diversity of my job experiences. I’ve worked for marketing departments as a copywriter, I’ve taught religious education (and language) in churches and synagogues, and I’ve been a language tutor. My twenties had a lot of challenges, but there were so many opportunities for experience. I’m happy, looking back, that I’ve been able to try many different things, and give my best at each of them.