H-E-L-P Is Not a Four-Letter Word
“I just don’t want to go to work.” I have heard this phrase countless times in my life, and have uttered the words on more than one occasion myself. Growing up, I always imagined myself in a career, rather than a job. When my adult life headed in a direction that was not leading me down a “career path,” but rather a “job-after-job-after-job” path, I grew increasingly dissatisfied with how I was spending a large portion of my time. For those of us with Asperger’s, feeling unsatisfied in how we are spending a large portion of our time can have disastrous consequences.
My own experiences in the working world for the two decades or so of gainful employment has led me to reach the conclusion that meaningful employment can make or break us Aspies, at any age. This makes the importance of my career now—teaching employability skills to teenagers with disabilities—all the more significant. One of the skills we work on teaching in Career Education is knowing when to ask for help when help is needed. Every time I have a student say to me, “I just don’t want to go to work,” I see this as an attempt on the student’s part to do just that—reach out for help. The reasoning behind the request may end up being mundane, such as being tired on that particular day. Or the reason may be that the student is bored with the job that has been assigned. I suspect most of us, Aspie or not, can look back on our first ventures into the working world and recall that these were not exactly stimulating experiences on any number of levels. I know my days as a supermarket cashier left much to be desired, but there was enough motivation in the job, which suited my comfort level, to keep me going back shift after shift for the better part of three years. The point is, though, that if an individual who struggles in the area of self-regulation by nature is faced with having to perform in a job where there is no motivation to be found, this is a recipe for disaster. My gut tells me this is true, and my experiences back it up.
I spent most of my adult life working in jobs where the only motivation was a paycheck. While this in and of itself certainly is a reason to show up every day, there came a point where the part of me that needed a career finally won out over the part of me that was convinced that I would never be able to do what was required of me to attain that goal. So in addition to making sure that my students know how to ask for help when it is needed, I need to make sure they also learn to recognize those situations where help IS actually needed. If, “I don’t want to go to work,” really means, “I’m feeling very (bored, out-of-place, stuck, undervalued) at work,” then our young people with AS need to learn to be able to identify and express that feeling. Back in the day when I was an adult with undiagnosed Asperger’s and working in a job that was just a job and not a career, I grew increasingly dissatisfied day after day, week after week, month after month. I did nothing to change my situation because I didn’t recognize that I needed help, and therefore didn’t know to ask for it. I would inevitably end up leaving the job under circumstances that were typically of my choosing but not in the best interests of building my resume. The one time when I did recognize that help was needed, my attempts to ask for it in an expected manner were disastrous. So despite the fact that this was actually one of my first jobs in the career that I love and was meant to be doing, this one failed attempt led to a worst-case scenario. Getting my diagnosis—and along with it a much better understanding of how my mind worked and what I needed in order to be successful—led me to the understanding that asking for help is not actually a sign of weakness, but of strength. It led me to the understanding that knowing when to ask for help is not actually a sign of inferiority, but of intelligence on a level I never understood. So in the interest of keeping with the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, I would like to resolve here and now that in 2012, I will do my best as an educator to impress upon my students the importance of recognizing when help is needed, and asking for that help—and while I’m at it, I resolve to apply that lesson to my own life as often as need be.