An unconventional career path

I have just passed my 47th birthday and can finally say I have success in employment. For me, working from my home computer and interacting with people primarily over the telephone has been the long sought-for solution to my difficulty with getting, and then maintaining, employment.

This is despite long years of educational preparation and academic success, which I had expected to be the ticket to a career. After all, isn't that the way the formula works? Not if you have Asperger's!

Growing up with Asperger syndrome

I grew up a peer-rejected and severely bullied child in a working-class suburb of Massachusetts. I was an adopted child and I think everyone around me thought that was why I was so odd. School and other children were incomprehensible to me. I got rebuked and punished by my teachers and my parents for just sitting and staring, being in my own world.

Sensory overload at work

I was fired from my first job as a cashier because I couldn't reliably count the money. I believe they thought I was stealing, but I was just giving it away.

The stress of this typical job was unbearable. I woke in the night hearing the noise of the day and seeing endless faces coming at me. I thought I was crazy."

It would be decades before I understood that overstimulating my brain with too many sights and sounds and motion made me sick.

Issues with higher education

Believing that the answer to all of my difficulties was to get an education, I enrolled on a four-year college course against my parents' wishes. They just thought I was a slacker and never wanted to work, and they didn't understand or respect education. I had a nervous breakdown by the end of my first year. After a year off spent living with friends, I finished another year at a different university. The same mental unravelling ensued. Life was agony. What was wrong with me? If only I could have known.

Having a family and trying education again

I married and had three children. I loved my kids more than anything and they made life worth living. I was a fun-loving mom and enjoyed with them the childhood I never had. We had a hobby farm and tended goats, fowl and rabbits. We took long walks in the woods with our three dogs. I gave them a pony. When they were eight, nine and ten, I decided to go back to college. 

This time I went part-time and graduated magna cum laude. I applied for several jobs but was never successful. I decided more education was needed and went on to graduate school. The hardest thing about that was dealing with the other students, all working adults. I felt like a precocious child amongst them. The studies were easy, though. I got my M.Ed. in counselling psychology.

Recognising that I was on the autism spectrum

Finally, I got a job in a school, albeit one for which I was overqualified.

I was supposed to be the private tutor for a girl in an upper class school. She had Asperger's. I saw that the girl, who was in tenth grade, was in emotional agony. I recognised myself."

By this time, I had learned about ASDs and knew that was me. Yet it took many more years to reconstruct the story of my life in light of this knowledge. When the girl's parents had a few interviews with me, they were appalled at my bluntness and 'oddness'. I was promptly fired over an incident that didn't happen. 

I tried teaching but that was a disaster. The high school kids bullied me just as badly as my peers had when I was in high school. I tried middle school, but the kids just acted as if there was no adult in the room. I was told I looked around like a frightened child, so they didn't respect me. The noise just shut down my thinking, and that is terrifying. Teaching was not for me. 

Working from home 

Last January, I started working from home, marketing vacation packages, and helping other people become successful in their own businesses.

No-one can tell over the phone if my facial expressions are not quite 'right'. Best of all, I control my physical environment: I take frequent breaks and get to be surrounded by my Pekingese dogs and my parrots."

I often speak to people with my Eclectus parrot on my shoulder. She is very quiet, but sometimes surprises someone by saying hello in her little parrot voice. I get to be my eccentric self. This is my business, and no-one can fire me. I am at last successful. To all of you who are like me, remember: never give up, no matter what!

By Sienna