You know, I'm tired of corporations that donate millions of dollars to support autism awareness, and then their employees have absolutely no idea what to do when an autistic person, trying to be independent, comes into their business establishment. I've done the research, and the fact is, while there are many websites attempting to explain what causes autism, the symptoms of it, how to get help, and how to donate money to benefit those with autism (of course, always gotta donate money) the "Autism Awareness" campaigns have almost no information about how to help those with autism deal with life in society. Even milder forms like Asperger's Syndrome are given a hard time - try telling the person interviewing you for a job that you aren't going to look them in the eye or answer questions like "Tell me about yourself" because your brain doesn't work that way. There are campaigns going to help autistic children have an easier time in school, but right now, all help and tolerance for autism ends at age 18. After that, you're everybody's reject.
I applied for a job working after hours at a warehouse, taking inventory and putting things on the shelves. I was asked in for an interview, and after staring at me awkwardly and asking vague questions for fifteen minutes, the interviewer said that even though I had the best resumé, he couldn't hire me because I lack interpersonal and communication skills. Who am I going to communicate with after hours in a warehouse, the janitor? And this is despite the fact that I have a letter of recommendation from a previous employer stating that I always kept him in the loop with financial decisions that would affect his company!
I have yet to find any "Autism Awareness" information that talks about what it's like to live with autism, either... Well, I'll tell you. Ever tried to put Windows software on a Mac computer, or open a Wordpad file with standard MS Word? Trying to communicate with non-socially-impaired people is like society is Mac and my brain runs on Windows. I don't think in words, so every time I have an idea in my head that I have to put into words so someone else can comprehend it, the words glitch like Google Translate. For me and others with autism, ideas simply cannot fit into these neat little compact boxes that are called words. Personally, I think it's because those with autism have a way of thinking that runs parallel to, rather than in line with, how other people think, so we have very few frames of reference in common with everyone else. Any communication through words is highly reliant on common frames of reference... Try imagining what it would be like to explain what pain feels like to a person who's never felt it, or what colors look like to a person who's been blind since birth, and you will see why. Now imagine you're dealing with that situation every time you go to ask an employee in a grocery store what aisle the bread is in. That's what it's like to have autism.
Most people go out to McDonald's and order some food like it's as easy as walking. Here is the list of steps I have to go through to place an order at McDonald's:
1. I get online, read their menu, and write down what I want. Otherwise I am going to forget how to put the words together into a sentence as soon as I start talking.
2. I consider how to use a polite tone of voice while placing the order. What words or syllables do I need to place the emphasis on? How do I phrase and use tones to sound like a polite request, not a demand or a question?
3. I go to McDonalds and struggle with alternating between reading the order, trying to periodically look up and look at the cashier's face to be polite, thinking about what pitch my voice needs to be for the next part of the tone, and moving my arms and hands for body language.
4. The employee criticizes me for texting while placing an order, because I was reading the order off my phone screen.
5. In responding to the criticism, I forgot what to respond when they ask "Credit or debit?" Now I waste two minutes standing there like an idiot saying "Ummmmmmm..."
6. I finally get the food, go back home, and be frustrated because I'll have to do the same thing tomorrow.
One thing that I would like to say to any and all employees is that dramatically staring into peoples' faces like you're trying to read their soul is not polite, it's intimidating. I can't begin to address how many times I've wanted to throw my drink in a cashier's face because they won't stop staring at me. Hey, person, am I not allowed to read the frigging menu? Why are you looking at me like I did something wrong when I'm just trying to figure out how to string some words together to get a chicken sandwich? Look at the cash register or look at the floor, or look toward me without staring like you're trying to achieve telekinesis. It is possible to point your face toward someone without staring rudely at them.
I had a childhood friend who was a nonverbal autistic, and everyone assumed that because he didn't understand how to use words, he must be stupid. He actually wasn't stupid at all. He understood everything that was going on around him, and knew the schedule of the household better than the fully communication-capable members. If they had forgotten an appointment that they needed to get ready for, he would set the alarm on his wristwatch and make it go off to get the point across to them. His parents had a water-cooler jug full of coins, and he knew exactly how much money was in there. He might not have been compatible with society's operating system, but that boy knew what he was doing better than anyone.
So now I'm staying with my friend and his two housemates. My friend has had a hard life, and tends to worry about people he's friends with. No matter how hard I try not to make loud or unexpected noises, it is inevitably going to happen at some point, and their house echoes which doesn't help. So if I knocked something over, he will jump and say "Are you okay? What was that?" Well I'm trying to fix the problem and don't really have time to figure out some frigging words for him right now, because words are NOT USER FRIENDLY! So I get angry. And I'm not actually angry at HIM (which I think is a big thing with a lot of people... when autistic people get angry or frustrated at simple questions, you think they're mad at you, but they're just mad at how not-user-friendly communication is) but it's not like I can communicate that when I don't even have words to explain "The cleaning solution fell off the counter, don't worry, nothing is broken." See, translating between words and ideas and back takes up all of my brain power, and if I'm doing that, I can't be doing anything else that requires concentration. So sometimes I really need to stop talking to or paying attention to conversations if I need to get things done. Let me fix what went wrong first, THEN I will tell you all about it... But if I don't answer right away, he'll think something went horribly wrong.
Then there's one of the housemates, who likes to be helpful. She always wants to help her friends with everything. Well, most autistic people have very rigid ways of doing things, and if they deviate from their way of doing something, it will bug them for months... So you might think you're being helpful, but you're actually putting them in a situation where they either have to ask you not to do that and risk being rude because they don't understand context, or they have to put up with it and be frustrated with the result for months. I'm still bothered by the time my dad rearranged my packaging materials over a year ago! Really, just don't try to help autistic people put their groceries away, don't touch their belongings, don't reset the clock on their VCR, vehicle console, wall, or anywhere else without telling them. It's not helpful, it's frustrating. (I'm still angry that my mechanic changed the clock in my truck. That one was actually on Eastern time instead of Central for a reason, too... *sigh*)
Another thing... If you ask "How do I look?" and an autistic person says something along the lines of "I think your hair makes your face look fat in that style" Usually it isn't meant to hurt your feelings. They're trying to be nice by preventing you from going out in public looking like that. Don't ask an autistic person a question like that unless you want some honest, objective feedback. Most of us don't understand how to use social white lies correctly.
By the way, my friend who I mentioned earlier? He's legally blind. I have a verbal communication impairment. We have to improvise and innovate a lot to find ways to get our points across, we usually don't agree on anything, and we are actually good friends. So all you "normal" people who think you can't get along with someone because their religion or political beliefs is different than yours? I don't want to hear about it...