Meet Mallory F.
Mallory F., 20
Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. For me, interviews (or personal interaction really) are hard, but some of the coolest opportunities I’ve had are because I went out of my comfort zone.
Since March, I’ve been working as a registered behavior technician at Inspire Therapy. Inspire Therapy is dedicated to enhancing the lives of children and teens through individualized learning. We pride ourselves on providing direct, individualized ABA, speech and occupational therapy services in the community and clinical settings.
Being on the spectrum allows me to connect with the kids I support unlike anyone else on my team. I get it—I know exactly what they are going through. So, I’m going to take what I learned in my own life and my teachings and use that to help them to the best of my ability.
While having autism has sometimes made my various jobs harder, in some unique ways, it has made them easier. I think that’s so special. I’ve had so many jobs over the years, typically working multiple jobs at once while going to school. Currently, I’m a Chancellor’s Scholar at Kansas University, and have made the Dean’s list every semester to date. Aside from working at Inspire and attending college, I also babysit for the Pavlovich family and their two kids, Andrew, 5, and Madeline, 9, which I love! I’ve been doing that for the last three and a half years.
What does National Disability Employment Awareness Month mean to you?
I can knowingly say that all of my employers have had little to no idea that I am on the spectrum, but this month, I WANT them to know. I want them to know the struggles I face and recognize the work I do despite those challenges. I want them to realize that I can perform just as well as any neurotypical person. I want them to realize that having a disability isn’t a bad thing.
What message would you like to convey to people with autism and other disabilities who are currently looking for the right career path or job opportunity?
Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. For me, interviews of any sort (or personal interaction really) are hard, but some of the coolest opportunities I’ve had are because I went out of my comfort zone and interviewed for jobs or positions I never thought I could get. Then, I got good at it! Obviously not everyone is the same, but practice really does make perfect! I’ve had eight jobs since I was 16 in all different sorts of fields, and through practice, I learned how to be a good interviewer, how to highlight my strengths, make eye contact and became a darn good handshaker!
Find something you care about. Part of the reason I love to work is because I work with the most amazing kids! I love each of them and I genuinely enjoy getting to go to work. It’s exciting to me and makes me very happy. This is how you should feel about your own line of work. For me, part of the way autism reflects in me is hyperemotionality and extreme levels of passion. This works out, as now I get to put my heart and soul into bettering the lives of kids like me.
What are you most proud of as it relates to your career?
I am proud of myself for being one of the hardest workers I know. I don’t mean for that to sound smug, but I’m not afraid to work, and I have consistently held at least two part time jobs since I was 16. I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to come in at 5 a.m. or stay till 1 a.m.. I’ve had jobs where I left one and went straight to the next.
I’m proud of myself for balancing work with school and a social life. I’m proud of myself for never being scared to face a challenge. I’m particularly proud of myself for choosing jobs that force me to grow. As an autistic person, talking to strangers is very anxiety-provoking for me. I prefer not to do it as small talk is a struggle and sometimes awkward, so being a server and working in retail was difficult, but it helped me practice various social skills and was overall very gratifying knowing the money I made was because of my own positive interactions with customers.
However, I think my answer to this question will change as my life continues to unfold. I plan to be a pediatric psychiatrist, and when I’m finally able to help children like myself through my own practice, I bet I will experience a whole new level of joy.
What are some struggles you’ve faced during your employment journey?
I’ve definitely thought at least one to two people in each of my jobs hated me. I can’t read people so it’s pretty easy to assume the wrong thing, and in the workplace, that sometimes doesn’t feel great. Also, just the intense anxiety of it all. It never feels any different—interviewing, training, etc. Sometimes, I would get overstimulated in louder, more fast-paced environments. This would make it difficult to function.
One struggle I’ve noticed now is that I hate letting people down. I fear negative emotions and worry people are going to think poorly of me, so I let things fester or ignore them at all. I try to please everyone, often overworking myself. I also wish I could be better at work speak. It is so stressful for me to tell my boss I have a dental appointment or choir concert. However, I know they aren’t going to hate me after.
I don’t have as long of an answer to this question because I feel like working is almost easier for me than spontaneous social interaction out in the “wild,” if you will. With a job, there is a handbook and rules—not the guessing game I usually experience!
What are some improvements that can make the workplace more inclusive for people on the spectrum?
Teach managers to have a wide array of conflict resolution strategies, including those designed to best help individuals with disabilities learn. Sometimes, all people need is a change of delivery. I think we would see a much larger employment rate and smaller turnover rate in the autistic community if managers were equipped and willing to help ALL their employees perform to the best of their ability.
Additionally, I think that efforts could be made to make the interviewing process easier. While I may not have ever interviewed for salary-based jobs before, I have applied for organizations and went through rigorous interview processes that were in no way designed to accommodate the needs of those with disabilities.
Many people can perform better if they have the right accommodations. For instance, I struggle to verbalize deep aspects of my life to a group of five strangers, but I’d happily tell those five people individually the exact same thing! Help people do the best they can. If the staff puts in effort, so will the employee, and from personal experience, adults with disabilities are some of the most amazing people and would be a beautiful contribution to any work environment! I think what this really boils down to is hiring people who care about other people. People who don’t judge.