The puzzle piece organization that shall not remain nameless because they need to be called out again and again (Autism Speaks, here’s stink-eyeing at you) has spawned a new “job-hunting” website.
This website contains lots of job listings, not the smallest problem of which is the fact that the job positions listed aren’t compatible with most of the traits of the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
But that’s old news; I’ve gone there before.
What I need to nitpick apart today is the lone blog post on that website’s blog section.
The topic of said post is predictable.
It’s not constructive advice on choosing the right satisfying job.
It’s not constructive advice on how to negotiate a fair salary.
It’s not constructive advice about how to handle tough interview questions, or even on how to succeed in an interview at all.
Nor is it constructive advice regarding résumés, cover letters, or accepting a job offer.
Nor is it constructive advice on how to position yourself or express yourself well, or how to apply one’s positive Asperger’s/autistic traits to the actual day-to-day skills required for the job.
Hell, it’s not even constructive advice at all.
(Nobody actually thought it would be, right? I mean, consider the source, and all that.)
Nope, it’s called “How Volunteering Can Help In Getting a Job”, for those who have the desire and the stomach to google it. (I refuse to actively link to anything associated with A$ or their ilk. My efforts to make any difference in their stats are so futile it’s not funny, but at least nobody can say I didn’t try. Don’t worry, though, extensive information will be provided, so you might not feel any need to hunt down the article.)
The post goes on to discuss five reasons why you, an Asperger’s/autistic person, should volunteer.
“It adds professional experience to your résumé,” they say. “It’s a safe place to step outside of your comfort zone.” And, “it helps you put together references.” Then, “you ‘choose to learn’ as opposed to ‘you learn’.”
Then comes the kicker: “It puts your passion above and beyond your paycheck.”
I did not just read that.
Most of these points may have some merit (although I feel like I’m selling my soul when I say that). I mean, there’s a hint of validity in most of those points. (I draw the line at the “passion above paycheck” part, though. I have my standards.)
It’s hard to argue that volunteering adds girth to the Experience section of a résumé, especially when one is just starting out. It’s hard to dispute that volunteering opens a few doors, not the least of which is a stable of potential references and valuable contacts.
I get all that.
But my Spiny Senses of Suspicion begin to tingle knowing that the source of this advice is none other than A$, and the fact that this is the only blog post on this site is quite telling. It indicates exactly how highly they value us, exactly what they think we’re worth.
It’s kinda rich for them to be telling us to volunteer. As in, how can we exploit Asperger’s/autistic people that much more?
Even the semi-sound advice is suspect. It reeks of “give away your work; it’s good for your exposure!”
Yeah, well, exposure is good and all, but I don’t want to be “exposed” as much as I want to be paid.
“Exposure” doesn’t pay living expenses. My apartment complex and utility companies don’t care how many people heard my name today, or how many desktops my résumé graced.
They have sent me a bill, and they want to get paid.
Therefore, so do I.
I don’t think it’s a cardinal sin to put a paycheck to your passion. I don’t even think it’s wrong to put a paycheck above passion, if it comes to that.
Asperger’s/autistic people, in general (myself included), are not the most financially well-off lot. I probably don’t need to rehash the depressing statistics on autistic unemployment, not to mention under-employment. They’re out there. They vary by year and region, but none of them are sunny.
For many of us, simply leaving the safe borders of our homes is a task that’s often too daunting to surmount. Driving or taking a bus or train anywhere usually requires considerable energy and resilience–at times, much more than we have.
Then there’s the interaction with people, especially strangers, the learning of new and unfamiliar policies, procedures, and tasks (and contrary to the belief claimed in A$’s blog post, none of this falls under “you ‘get to’ learn” as opposed to “you learn”; it’s all “you learn”.)
So, is it unreasonable to get a little miffed when someone suggests that we should throw ourselves over all these hurdles for free?
Going through all of this effort is tough enough when you’re a neurotypical person, in a neurotypical world, trying to earn a decent paycheck to sustain yourself or even provide for a family.
Hurling our headspace over these hurdles can be that much tougher when you’re on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and those hurdles are set just that much higher, making you have to work that much harder just to scale them.
Is it so wrong to expect equitable compensation for our time and skills?
Damned if I’m going to do that without at least a pot–OK, maybe a little cereal bowl–of gold at the end of that stormy rainbow, just because I’m autistic.
Damned if any of us should feel like we have to do that, as a necessary step to success, especially if it’s because we’re made to feel like we’re worth less than non-autistic people.
Damn the Neuro-privileged who dare suggest it. Especially when their default unit of dollar measurement is “million”.
It’s actually insulting. It sends the message that we’re not worth getting paid until we have some experience behind us.
Well, I have news for A$ and the Volunteer Suggestionists: even the “lowest” totem-pole position comes with a salary tag.
Asperger’s/autistic people shouldn’t be pressured (or “suggested”) to volunteer any more often–or for any other reason–than non-autistic people.
Being autistic doesn’t mean we’re worth less until (we’ve) proven otherwise. Being autistic shouldn’t require that we volunteer in order to get our feet in the doors. Being autistic doesn’t knock us down a rung on the value ladder.
If I’m going to volunteer (which I actually don’t have a problem with, so long as it’s done for the same reasons and an equal shot at deriving the same benefits as for neurotypical people), then I’m going to do it for the same reasons and with the same expectations that I would if I were neurotypical.
It’s not that I’m against the idea of volunteering, whether it’s to satisfy a desire to make the world a better place, or to get ahead in the employment world. I don’t see any shame in that. In fact, it can bring some awesome advantages. It really can set individual people apart from their competition when applying for jobs or breaking into a cut-throat field. That’s all good. No problem there.
My issue with the A$-related site’s blog post primarily lies in the context in which it’s written. It’s A$. Here’s an organization that makes annual millions off of autistic people, gives very little back toward helping those autistic people, and is now telling autistic people (whom I’m pretty sure, by now, A$ knows could always use a financial shot in the arm ourselves) to go give of themselves, telling us we “should” do it (and for some lame reasons), as though they were “grown-ups” addressing children.
The suggestion to volunteer is certainly not for the most extremely out-of-touch neurotypical people to make. File Under: Easy For You (A$) To Say. Especially given that they don’t have much of a clue about what most of us actually face/experience (at least, beyond their cherry-picked stable of neurotypical observers and autistic yes-peeps), and they hold us in even lower esteem.
My other issues with the blog post involve what it had to say and how they said it. To illustrate this more clearly and to make sure that it wasn’t simple oversensitivity or overreaction on my part, I found a comparable article (complete with the same number and type of tips), and decided to do a little side-by-side comparison. Hence the geek-chart below…
I know the print is tiny, especially for mobile users or people with vision issues (I can sympathize; my partner is legally blind). I really did do my best.
So here’s a text comparison of the titles and main points, in plain text (please forgive me for the redundancy; I’m just striving for greater accessibility). (I couldn’t resist adding some of my own commentary, which is not included in the graphic above.)
Cool article, written for a general audience:
Title: “5 ways volunteering can help you find a job and advance your career”
The five major points of advice:
- You expand your personal and professional networks.
- You learn new and transferable skills.
- It’s an opportunity for career exploration.
- You build a track record of work for a specific cause.
- Hiring managers value volunteerism.
Contrast that with the A$-affiliated website’s blog post:
Title: “How volunteering can help in getting a job”
The five major points of advice:
- It adds professional experience to your resume (valid point, but 1) that’s not the only good reason for volunteering, 2) the author assumes we have no experience or other valid resume attractiveness, and 3) their elaboration proceeds to talk down to us).
- You “choose to learn”, as opposed to “you learn” (that doesn’t even make any goddamn sense).
- It’s a safe place to step out of your comfort zone (Au contraire).
- It helps you put together references (again with the assumptions. Tsk tsk).
- It puts your passion above and beyond your paycheck (I keep trying not to read that; you probably do, too. Sorry about that).
See what I mean? There’s an air of condescension, of the assumption of incompetence, of the impression that we’re clueless. And it talks (down) to us as though we need guidance that almost comes across as parental, except worse. (Not that I’m implying that parental guidance itself is bad–it’s not–it’s just that it’s not A$’s place to talk to us/treat us this way.)
It’s very true that at any given time, many of us are indeed just starting out. Even those of us who’ve put a few miles in the rearview mirror have all been at that starting gate at one point (or more) in our lives. It happens. It even happens to people of different neurotypes.
But my issue is not that the blog post was written for people just starting out. Those of us just starting out, without any experience, certainly do need sound advice and helpful support.
The point of contention I have with A$ offering career advice is in the way they do it. Every sentence in that post drips with a compulsive, repetitive Vote of No Confidence.
And what’s more is, about half of that advice isn’t even relevant or helpful. Much of it doesn’t even make sense. And much of it is downright false.
The good news is multi-fold:
1 – Most of us are not going to be seeking career advice from a website like that anyway.
2 – That’s the only blog post on that website as of today, so at least they haven’t done any more potential damage than that.
3 – That blog post was written a long time ago, well over a year, and it doesn’t look like they’re throwing all of their resources toward this website (which makes me wonder about the care/effort they’re devoting toward the job listings? This website doesn’t seem very worthy of their attention at this time).
4 – Best of all, the website didn’t rank well at all (I had only found it while poking around A$’s website, in the interest of info-digging for a previous blog post), which means that if I had trouble hunting it back down, other people probably won’t be likely to happen upon it, either.
5 – FunFact: When I type “A$’s”, it looks like a naughty word. Sorry, Junior High/Middle School Moment 😉
Obviously, we (the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum) can use a lot of the same career advice that non-autistic people could use, and it would likely help us much the same way as it would help anyone else.
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing career advice from an Asperger’s/autistic angle or consideration, because we do have a few unique circumstances that can make it difficult to follow some of the career advice out there.
But if that’s the case, let’s leave the dispersion of that advice to either Asperger’s/autistic people ourselves, or perhaps someone who’s a hell of a lot more in-touch with more of a variety of the reality of the Asperger’s/autism spectrum and our actual needs than A$ is.
Volunteering is for us to decide to do or not to do. The A$-affiliated article came across to me as hypocritical, a multi-million-dollar, largely-exploitative “support” organization that seems to belittle us at every turn, with this particular article falling right in line with that tendency. The lack of any other career advice on that blog is pretty telling; all the bru-haha about “employment initiatives” that they describe in their brochure is probably not all they’re cracking it up to be.
And in a way, that’s a good thing, that their career-oriented website gets so little of their attention (and that of Google as well). After all, if their first and only post thus far is that much of a train wreck, it’s probably good that they haven’t developed that site any further.
(Image Credit: Chris D. Jones)