, 50 tweets, 32 min read
Thread: Careering through life as an #UndercoverAutistic

I've had 30+ jobs in 40+ years but then I only discovered last year I'm #ActuallyAutistic

As a child my career aspirations were:
a) nun
b) lighthouse keeper
c) almoner*

*hospital social worker #AllAutistics 1/
In the sixth form my art teacher got me a Saturday job at a picture framer's. My main role was making excuses when customers phoned.

A trip to buy supplies with the owner turned dodgy but luckily I had the presence of mind to get away.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 2/
In my university vacations I worked back to back shifts in a bakery and local cinema to save up money.

On my first shift in the cinema the senior usherette threw hot tea over me. I was promoted to cashier and removed to the box office, out of harm's way #ActuallyAutistic 3/
I couldn't have got a job after graduating without my family's help as I was terribly shy. The concept of the 'milk-round' was totally alien to me.

I became a house mother in a children's home aged 21 and wore tweed skirts to make myself look motherly.

#ActuallyAutistic 4/
I won't go into what happened to the children - too distressing - I told a senior manager who said if any mud got stirred up some would stick to him.

I resigned and offered to explain why. No-one got in touch. 25 years later a scandal broke.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 5/
So it was off to the cinema again where I fitted back into an eclectic staff team. Peter the projectionist kept stray cats which escaped into the audience.

After work we played on swings in the park, ate Chinese takeaway and discussed the meaning of life.

#ActuallyAutistic 6/
After turning down a trainee cinema manager role my passion for reading led me to work for a bookseller.

Researching obscure books was a particular pleasure. We also got brilliant perks - 33% discount on books and 25% discount on stationery.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 7/
Eventually the predictability of my bookselling role made me consider more exciting options.

I wanted to be a social worker but that meant doing training I couldn't afford. A female Chief Inspector persuaded me to apply to join the police.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 8/
I bought a blue shirt-waister dress that looked 'policey'. I dressed like a hippy, and thought this might improve my chances.

I remember being told in my police interview that I had done rather menial jobs for someone with a 1st class degree.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 9/
My police fitness test included a timed run - I only made it because I needed the loo so badly I sprinted at the end.

I passed my driving test 1st time after my instructor got charged with drink driving 😵 and someone else had to teach me.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 10/
Then I went off to police college in the North of England where my southern accent caused much hilarity.

I excelled academically but I found the practicals hard. The law was fine but when I needed to do 'small talk' I had no idea what to say.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 11/
I was a police officer in a market town with 30 pubs and 3 officers on a shift. Things could get quite lively.

My first arrest was a 6'4" roofer who said he could kick me from here to eternity. I agreed, but said he was still under arrest.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 12/
I was thinking of taking the sergeant's exam when I had a rear tyre blow out in a police car and crashed into a ditch.

My partner was terribly shocked. We married precipitously, then I got pregnant. And that was the end of my police career.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 13/
As a full-time mum I earned money delivering leaflets, teaching English to business people and designing tea-towels.

I was very depressed and asked a health visitor if my children would suffer if I got a job. She said they might if I didn't.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 14/
I got a job In a probation centre where offenders did CBT based group work instead of going to prison.

The Home Office then sponsored me to do a Master's Degree/Diploma in Social Work (the qualification for probation officers in those days).

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 15/
My social work course was gruelling. University was a 3 hour round trip. I was so tired I'd fall asleep writing essays.

My first placement was a maximum security prison where I correctly predicted a riot. Luckily it happened after I left.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 16/
When I qualified Michael Howard was busy decimating the probation service. The only jobs were in Liverpool and Northern Ireland.

I couldn't relocate, so I became a social worker for people with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 17/
My social work role was reaching vulnerable people who had disengaged from mental health services.

I found them in bus stations, shopping malls, cafes. They hadn't found services welcoming or appropriate so their needs were unknown and unmet.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 18/
One of the men I worked with as a social worker asked me to drive him back to a village where he used to go to school.

He said that he wanted to try and find a particular teacher who he remembered being kind to him 30 years before.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 19/
I became a social work academic by accident. I was a PhD student when someone landed a big research grant and I got to cover their teaching.

I loved qualitative research. I loved teaching students. I even got to go on a study tour to Romania.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 20/
My next academic job was with the Open University, where I was part of a small team producing a multimedia course: Care, Welfare and Community.

I got to make audio and video programmes with the BBC and researched family carers' experiences.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 21/
My job and partner ended up 120 miles apart and I needed a permanent contract to get a mortgage.

I went to work for a County Council commissioning training for mental health staff. I also worked on service user involvement and research.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 22/
I transferred to a learning & development role in an NHS Trust before being recruited by NHSU (NHS University).

NHSU was 'an idea on the back of an envelope' which should probably never have become a thing. It was set up only to be abolished.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 23/
Faced with redundancy I applied for several jobs. One interview sticks in my mind, a panel of 3 with 12 other people sitting behind them facing me.

I had no idea where to look, I was preoccupied by having too few handouts. I was unsuccessful.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 24/
I ended up running a third sector mental health service for women, originally set up as a therapeutic community.

Commissioners wanted a different service. Staff wanted to keep the status quo. The business model wasn't sustainable, nor was I.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 25/
I returned to a regional learning and development role designing and delivering training and consultancy for local authority staff and members.

My kaleidoscopic career gave me lots of knowledge to draw on. Working independently suited me.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 26/
As a single person early starts and late finishes were no problem. But once in a settled relationship I looked for something new.

I was offered a senior lectureship at a London university and a university research funding role close to home.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 27/
Helping academics find funding opportunities and make successful applications was brilliant.

It tapped into my ability to become deeply interested in subjects, apply guidelines with forensic accuracy, and connect academia and the real world.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 28/
When a senior academic made racist remarks to a junior colleague I agonised over what to do. He'd already made sexist comments to me.

I explained why what was said was offensive. He charged at me exploding with fury. I left a job I loved.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 29/
If you feel so strongly about aggressive behaviour in a job interview that you phone your partner to say you won't accept it, don't change your mind.

Even if the aggressor turns charming. Even if you're offered a huge salary. Just don't.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 30/
I was profoundly lucky to be able to go back to teaching social work.

Shortly after I started a malicious email was sent to HR via the Dark Web. I'd upset someone who wanted revenge.

I'm saying this publicly to let them know I'm not afraid.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 31/
Getting diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 51 was challenging. I had no idea tiredness from effortful listening was partly due to autism-related auditory processing issues.

I left teaching and took up a graduate employability role.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 32/
My #employability role was at a university I'd worked at previously.

It was wonderful collaborating with students and academic staff to develop innovative and inclusive approaches (virtual business challenges and pop-up career cafes).

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 33/
Homelessness has always been a matter of great concern to me and my next role addressed this in practical ways.

Then my husband's serious illness made me reluctant to leave him at night-time for call outs. And my own health suffered too.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 34/
My next job was as a part-time 1:1 support worker for a young adult who attended a local horticultural project.

We had a great time - building ponds, measuring the temperature, watering plants and tuning into his favourite radio stations.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 35/
Then I got the opportunity to help set up a pilot befriending scheme for autistic adults.

I learnt a lot and should have taken more notice when an autistic volunteer I'd run a market stall with said: "you know you're one of us, don't you?"

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 36/
There seems to be an invisible thread connecting me to the NHS: I ended up in my 3rd NHS role.

This time I was a CMHT employment specialist helping people with mental health issues retain or find employment, education or voluntary placements.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 37/
When it was clear my husband wouldn't be fit to work for some time we relocated to NE England.

I ended up with 6 part-time and casual jobs. The death of my dog and work-related stress forced me to take time off. It was then I discovered I was #ActuallyAutistic

#AllAutistics 38/
Knowing I'm autistic helps me to think differently about work. Previously my main compensation strategy was overworking.

I now realise this results in burnout. So I'm making an effort to maintain work life balance and use energy accounting.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 39/
I've now swapped my multiple part-time and casual roles for one full-time job.

It helps a great deal to be able to be openly autistic at work and to have an employer who is willing to make reasonable adjustments and accommodations for me.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 40/
Access to Work are also helping - I'm looking forward to trying @Brain_In_Hand and autism specific job coaching.

I commute to London part of the week and I'm looking at simple changes to travel and accommodation so that's less stressful too.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 41/
@brain_in_hand This career thread has ended up being more confessional than I intended - writing it has actually helped me a great deal.

Something I've learnt from other autistic people is it's sometimes better to talk about stuff, rather than bury it away.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 42/
@brain_in_hand A message running through this thread is that autistic people can do any kind of work but challenges may need to be considered.

We may need some accommodations to thrive/survive but the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce are becoming clear.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 43/
@brain_in_hand I've found myself in difficult situations at work when autistic honesty (aka black & white thinking) came up against duplicity (aka bending the rules).

Inability to tolerate dishonesty has been my Achilles' heel, or perhaps my saving grace.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 44/
@brain_in_hand I often see through bullies and cheats and the fact that I don't disguise my disapproval or collude with them puts me at risk.

My great-grandfather was shot dead by the Nazis for refusing to betray people. This would have been my fate too.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 45/
@brain_in_hand In the words of the Edith Piaf song "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention".

I've had an interesting career. Letting go of my final salary university pension (aka golden handcuffs) allowed me to have many new adventures.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 46/
@brain_in_hand I've confounded the colleague who told me no-one ever gets a job over 50. At the last count I've been offered a dozen.

Recently I've become much more aware of the importance of doing work that promotes well-being rather than compromising it.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 47/
@brain_in_hand It's important to emphasise my many failures in getting and keeping jobs.

I've been unsuccessful in lots of interviews, particularly those involving psychometric testing or analysis of complicated information without sufficient time to think.

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 48/
@brain_in_hand Going back to ageing I remember Dame Philippa Russell, Chair of the Standing Commission on Carers, saying "I think I've got one more job left in me".

Judging by my track record I'll probably have several more before I reach state pension age!

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics 49/
@brain_in_hand In this inspirational vocational film from long ago Alan Watts asks:

"What would you do if money was no object?"
"How would you really enjoy spending your life?"

#ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics #autism #careers #employment #work #employability 50/ End
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