Interviewing While Autistic
written by Bron - spring2015
I have had 6 in-person job interviews in 2 weeks, with another one scheduled for next week so far – hoping to book some second interviews in there. There are of course, lots of calls, phone screenings and emails. I am, quite frankly, exhausted.
Having to sell yourself constantly and think about it, is tiring. I am constantly questioning in my head, am I sitting properly, is my body language open, am I making adequate eye contact, am I talking with my hands too much, am I smiling enough or too much, did I just say the right thing or the wrong thing, how was that perceived?
Towards the end of an hour, I start losing eye contact – my eyes just want to shut, they feel heavy. So in response, I start blinking, probably too much, but it’s the only way I know how to keep them open. Otherwise I presume I look like I’m falling asleep. Of course, I don’t want to look like I’m falling asleep! I am interested! It’s just fatiguing maintaining these actions.
So I come home and all I want to do is sleep. Instead today, I am writing this now so the feelings are fresh in my mind. I am still fighting to keep my eyes open as I write, “perched”- as my husband says – on my kitchen chair. I look like a little bird squatting, with my feet on the seat, my knees up against my chest. I am almost in a ball, except for my hands out and typing. When I pause and look away from the screen, the world around me has a funny haze around it. I close my eyes at times, to get away from the visual disturbances and continue typing. I know my keyboard so well, I can type with my eyes closed.
What I will probably do, rather than actually sleep, is something “brainless,” which for me means scrolling through Facebook or just sitting in my rocking chair in the quiet. If the weather were warm enough, I would go out back and lie in my hammock, and probably fall asleep there. If I were anxious (though I am not), I would play a “brainless” game like BeJeweled Blitz or LINE Pop to “turn off” my mind. Regardless, I will need some time to relax and recover. Writing helps to some extent, as it helps me clear my mind and organize the many competing thoughts.
As for disclosure in interviews. I don’t have a set strategy for this. I leave it almost up to the spur of the moment. In some places I have felt safe and comfortable enough to disclose right away. In others, I chose not to. I’m not always sure how relevant it always is, as I don’t really ask for tons of accommodation. Some situations are best explained in the moment.
What is great to me is when HR brings it up themselves. I don’t hide myself on the internet. I don’t hide the fact I maintain sites/blogs/Facebook pages devoted to autism. If you do a search of my name, you will get my Huffington Post article. A good HR professional will do a thorough online search, find me and know who I am before even meeting me. Some choose to ask about it in interviews, some don’t. If asked, I will explain.
I don’t think my autism prevents me from doing good work the vast majority of the time, providing no one is concerned about how I get things done. I prefer to work in quiet. I prefer to manage my own time/tasks during the day. This doesn’t mean I can’t function in other situations, but I will definitely do best if left alone in a quiet room. I do not mind occasional conversation, but I do not require as much of it as others do.
It took me a long time to learn that when people ask to “go get a coffee” it’s not necessarily because they want to get coffee, it’s because they want to talk and/or don’t want to go alone (and for ages I said, “no” because I don’t drink coffee!).
I know disclosing could mean I don’t get as many offers, but in the end, I would rather not work with a company that was not open to working with me and understanding me.
I will let you know what comes of all this! This is just a little peak into my experience. Interviewing is stressful for everyone, I would think, but it definitely is very taxing on me.
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