Posts filed under ‘Personal Memoir’
Often when I tell people I am looking for work, and they know I have disabilities, they will suggest that I try Vocational Rehabilitation. I have done that twice. I don’t think I am going to go thru with it again, though perhaps it might be more useful as more money is now going to be spent on Voc Rehab rather than on sheltered workshops. (This article is not entirely forthcoming, but comments on that later…)
The first time I applied for V.R. was in 2009, after I had interned for the Al Franken campaign in 2007-2008, and my next gig wasn’t until next November as a holiday temp worker at Jo-Ann Fabric.
Some things I wonder about Voc Rehab are: Do they ever talk to experts on the labor market? Or rather the labor market as it really is (as in not the stats that say “X number of jobs were created last year in industry Y” but it doesn’t mention that many of them were part-time jobs that don’t provide benefits. The Social Security people do, as they had a labor/vocational expert testify that I was capable of being a hotel maid, package handler etc. Wow, guys- thanks for the vote of confidence, I had no idea I was able to do such amazing things! *sarcasm* (Applying for SSDI was NOT my idea, by the way) I’m pretty sure the S.S.A. doesn’t talk to state V.R. people because at one time, my counselor told me that she “wasn’t sure I was capable of holding down a job”. At that point, I had been fired *once* and had held various unpaid internships and temporary jobs. But I had experience doing stuff, even if it was kinda random. Like no other 20-something year-old ever! (Sarcasm) I am not sure what this lady was expecting that would make me more employable- she was a VR counselor after all, didn’t she have tons of people with no work experience? Or who had been fired from multiple jobs? Or criminal records? Or simply guilty of the “crime” of being “too old”?
Anyway, the way it works is, you apply and submit various documentation that proves your disabilit(ies) Then you meet with a V.R. counselor and they interview and help you work on an employment plan. This can include evaluations of your skills, classes/workshops on interviewing, resume-writing, or if some miracle you can prove that you *really* need it for your super-specific employment plan, you might even get them to pay for training. This last one is highly unlikely if you are college-educated like me. In the realm of V.R., I was supposed to be an “easy” case, with my education and comparatively mild disabilities- though how “mild” they are doesn’t really matter, if you are competing with a zillion non-disabled people with better resumes and better social skills. I wanted to work in the non-profit field, in some type of entry-level job. I applied for lots of clerical positions. In retrospect I realize that clerical jobs are not really a good fit for me, but hindsight is 20/20. The V.R. person will often refer you to another person who works for an outside organization (a “vendor”) to help you with your actual job search, because the V.R. person is just there to supervise the case in general, and they have a zillion other cases. The first time I tried V.R. they referred me to an organized called HIRED. The lady who worked with me was very nice, though her expectations that I’d be able to easily find a job proved rather unrealistic. I also feel like people who work in nonprofits themselves are more easily impressed by a resume filled with volunteer work. People who do actual hiring don’t seem to be. In the end I had to leave the program, because I was dealing with health & family issues.
The second time I tried V.R. was in 2012. This time I applied because I had learned of an organization called AutismWorks, that as you can guess by the name specifically works with adults on the autism spectrum. What a relief! I would not have to waste a bunch of time explaining my version of autism. I was already working part-time for Erik’s Ranch, but was still considered eligible. What was odd is that I was later kicked off both V.R. and Medical Assistance after I picked up a *temporary* job that was *up to* 15 hours a week, and was estimated to last a month or two. (November-December) But apparently that made me SOOO wealthy and successful that I didn’t their help anymore. *sarcasm* This job didn’t lead to anything else, it was for a very small company and they just needed help on one project. In retrospect I could’ve challenged both of these. But I have a hard time dealing with bureaucracy just getting the paperwork done right and turned in on time. And it was the worst time of year for my stress & depression- December. Merry Fecking Christmas! But yeah- word to the wise, even if it’s hard & stressful, if they kick you of Voc Rehab for a temporary gig, challenge it. Get a letter from the employer saying that it is temporary, what it pays etc. If the employer has told you that this position is unlikely to lead to another permanent one, and he/she is not actively referring you to other clients or something, include that in said letter. Documentation is always your friend, when it comes to disability bureaucracy.
Anyway back to the actual process with Autism Works- they may have changed how they work since then, as they’ve grown and expanded, but this is how I did it then. They did various evaluations including an adult autism quotient (exact name I’m unsure of..) We did an interesting exercise with a social worker who specializes in “community based social work” in other words she does it from the perspective of how the person relates to their community, not just as an isolated individual which I thought was an awesome idea! Basically I went around with her and Greg my AW counselor and showed them around the Augsburg campus and Dinkytown and talked about my experiences and what stuff was important to me and why.
I thought about working with kids with disabilities, and applied for a bunch of aide positions at various schools. I did get a couple interviews- the one I remember seemed out of my league when they asked me about my “pedagogical philosophy” or something. I actually *know what that means* but I..don’t really have one. On paper this are pretty entry level positions but in reality with how teaching jobs are constantly being cut, I have to compete with actual trained teachers.
I did lots of informational interviews with nonprofit people I knew. It’s true that info interviews are a good way to get experience interviewing in a less stressful setting- because you are asking the person questions, and so you don’t have to prove yourself and all that. Greg was thinking that what works well for people on the spectrum is for someone in a company to recognize your abilities and create a position specifically for you. (That sounds rather pipe-dreamy to me!) Info interviews, networking to more people to interview, and yah you’re supposed to follow up with them, and maybe they’ll “keep you in mind” when something opens up and such. I also haven’t seen much of people moving up within the nonprofit realm, I mostly see people who worked in corporate and then “fell into” it, or they ran into their old college roommate blah blah. I talked to various former co-workers at my campaigns and they seemed to have no actual advice for me- just “volunteer forever” and “keep doing what you’re doing” which is…what? If I did a lousy job, or hell they just plain don’t remember me much and don’t really care, and don’t want to help me find work, then just go out and say it. Stop pretending. Otherwise it’s just as much of a charade as any other job interview.
So anyway, I’ve gotten to the point where I think I need to create some sort of mini-Conspiracy to Employ Semi-Awkward People with Goofy Brains…it can consist of people with said brains (whether officially pronounced by a shrinky-dink or not) who are either working, looking for work, run a business, as well as people with other disabilities or no disability who think employing people with interesting minds sounds like a cool idea. People who I’ve identified as Giving a Crap, not just random people I know who just pretend to Give a Crap. I want to talk to people who think I’m a cool person who’s capable of doing cool stuff, and aren’t all uptight about whether I have this perfect resume with no gaps or a cheerleader personality. (well maybe cool isn’t the right word…but something!) Anyone who has an idea for a better name, feel free to suggest!
To give a little more background about my experience growing up autistic- I had been mainstreamed all throughout my schooling- with an aide from 4th grade thru junior high. The aide was mostly there to help me keep calm, or whisk me out of the classroom if I had a meltdown. (Before then, my mother was sometimes called in!) In Northeast Iowa there is a separate agency- the Keystone Area Education Agency. My parents said this had worked really well for them and other parents and their kids for advocacy purposes because it was independent from any one school district. As my dad putting “Having the school district in charge of allocating special education resources is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse!” When we moved to Minnesota, my brother and I both had personal aides as required parts of our IEPs (though neither of us had them in high school) whereas we knew students with similar labels who were denied that option because the label of Asperger’s in particular was deemed “too mild” to need an aide. (This is one of the reasons the Asperger’s Syndrome label was removed from the new DSM)
My parents explained the labels to us, but we rather rejected them as they mostly sounded so negative, it just seemed like an insult from doctors who thought they knew everything. My parents even held a school assembly to announce our status without our frickin’ permission! (They claimed that students and staff were more accepting as a result, but I still think that was a horrible choice. I’ve forgiven them since then!)
When I had the opportunity to go to Camp Discovery, a summer camp run by the Autism Society of Minnesota for ASD kids ages 10-21, this changed as I got the chance to be around others like myself. One of the biggest things for me was that each cabin had a Mentor, an adult with ASD who working there. Ruth-Elaine was the one in my cabin. This was incredible! I had grown up with an autism community that only acknowledged as us non-verbal 5 year olds that were seen as a “terrible burden” and “tragedy” (with of course parents rushing to reassure listeners that of course they still loved their child) The only person with autism that had, apparently managed to reach adulthood was Temple Grandin. These are still obnoxious tendencies that I encounter, but things have changed a lot!
Anyhow, after attending camp my view of autism changed. I no longer saw it as a disability, but as a difference, though one with some aspects that were easier for me (and others!) to deal with than others. I reclaimed it as an identity from the know-it-all doctors and scientists and parents, and made it my own. At some point I discovered other autistic adults with similar views online, on the Autistics.org website, writings by Amanda Baggs (now Mel) Laura Tisconik, Jim Sinclair and many others. What was also cool is that many of these writers/activists are also queer-identified! I became a participant in what later became known as the Neurodiversity movement, advocating for a view that there are as many types of minds as there are people, and that we should be included and understood on our own terms, rather than expected to conform to a narrow concept of “normality” (or neurotypicality).
I attended Camp Discovery a couple of times as a camper, as did Dylan, my brother, and I also became a Mentor myself for 7 years! I decided to step away from that position to allow others to take it, as for many of us it is the first job we manage to get, or the first one in which we can really be ourselves. I was also asked to speak many times by Kari Dunn-Buron, the director of the camp and a professor at Hamline University’s autism education program. I spoke on (paid) panels about my experience on the spectrum at autism conferences and classes at Hamline. When Kari retired a few years ago, I lost that key connection, and I’ve been meaning to re-connect. However, I am really interested in doing speeches rather than just panels where I answer certain questions, as there are many issues which are not addressed. I want to focus more on discussing transition and employment issues, and dating, sexuality and relationships. I also would like to tailor speeches for different audiences- parents, education professionals, social work & healthcare workers, and so forth. And yes, I’d like to get paid, though I do not expect to make my entire living doing this! (Getting my driver’s license will make this work a lot easier!)
Where we last left our bumbling heroine, she was living in Dubuque, Iowa with her brother and parents. In junior high, I found my elementary school friends growing apart from me. They had discovered the fascinating trio of Clothes, Boys and Makeup, oh my! These failed to impress me (junior high boys, really?), so I focused on my studies- particularly enjoying art class and social studies and immersing myself in fantasy novels and mythology. I also had a few years earlier, failed to see how wonderful puberty was supposed to be– it mostly just seemed messy and smelly and annoying. Kinda like junior high boys. I enjoyed being a girl with free mix of tea parties with dolls and dress up as well as playing with mud and collecting bugs with my brother. Becoming a “woman” seemed like a joke when “gifted” with just with the physical features and none of the social perks. It just seemed like a longer to-do list- shave your legs and arm-pits, dealing with acne, wearing a bra, wearing make-up and “the right” clothes.
In elementary school we heard this on the playground:
I Love You, You Love Me! HO-MO-SEX-U-AL-IT-Y! People Think That We’re Just Friends, But We’re Really Lesbians! Ha-ha and that is SOOO GAY! (That’s the Barney Dinosaur theme song, in case you are from a different time or place and are blissfully unaware) Things were also “retarded” about as often as they were “gay”. That was about it, as far as my awareness of other sexualities were concerned. They were just slurs, playground taunts.
In junior high we graduated to rumor-mongering!
I bet that art teacher is gay! He wears an earring, and has long hair! Whoa…he must be a (gasp!) hippie!
At this point I realized that this was actually A Real Thing, that some people were attracted to the same sex. Cross-dressing was also A Thing that apparently some people had a big problem with, though I thought their objections were pretty silly, considering how I was coming to view gender roles and expectations!
Then after junior high we moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. Instead of Central in our neighborhood, we chose Arlington Senior High School. It was brand new, with lots of computers and was organized into “houses” so you would take your basic classes together with the same group of students, and had block scheduling so there were only 4 classes a day instead of 7, which made things easier for me to handle. There’s far more I could say, but I’m focusing on identity development.
At some point I went to a movie with a friend, a re-make of The Haunting of Hill House. One of the characters in it was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and I realized while watching it that I felt about the actress the way I felt about, for example Brad Pitt. It’s possible I’d felt that before with other women, but the character she was playing in the film was a rather embarrassingly stereotypical bisexual- promiscuous, trying to seduce people of both genders and so forth. My friend was vocally grossed out by this, so I naturally did not confide my new found feelings.
There was, according to a bulletin board, a gay and lesbian (not sure if B & T were featured) student support group at our school. It wasn’t a Gay Straight Alliance, it was a Top Secret Support Group. To get into it, you need to go talk to the nurse. This was well-meaning of the Powers That Be, perhaps to protect the privacy and safety of the students. But I had already been dragged to enough doctors and therapists, I didn’t like the idea of having to go to the nurse to discuss my sexuality. That seemed to imply that I had a “problem” that I needed help with.
My parents while this was going, had switched some of their church-y social justice gears to getting Hamline United Methodist to be a Reconciling congregation, with a statement that gays and lesbians were accepted. The topic had never been broached from the pulpit, from what I was aware of as a kid, nor had anything been mentioned in the church-sponsored sex ed class I had taken in junior high. So as I realized my own sexuality, I knew my parents would be accepting. It was just a matter of accepting and understanding it myself!
This is part 2 of a series of posts on my personal identity development – previous one here.