A year from now, I turn thirty.
A year from now, many people my age are married, with a kid or two on the way. At the very least, they are living on their own, and supporting themselves. Living with your parents is okay in your twenties, but your thirties? That’s just too long for me. I want to be out on my own, doing my own thing, and much as I adore my mother I think I’ve had enough.
Yet I have the sinking feeling that I will still be here, still be living at home and cobbling together part time jobs, and damn, but I’m sick of it.
I’ve been looking for work for five years now. Five years! I finished my master’s thesis in the fall of 2007 and started interviewing for positions that fall. I’ve since gone on dozens of interviews at human services agencies, political organizations, and the like, but not received a single job offer. In the meantime, I babysit and do personal care work, supported by my mother and the wonderful state healthcare system.
Don’t get me wrong -- I am very happy, and I am grateful for everything I have. I do not live in poverty, I have a warm, caring community of friends, but it just gets so very tiring when everyone else has a regular job and a regular income, and you do not. It gets so very tiring when you are asked for the millionth time, "so what do you do?" and you have to explain that you’re still unemployed. It gets so very tiring when you interview for a babysitting job that you could have done at age twelve and the mother inquires why you’re looking for babysitting jobs if you have a master’s degree.
I had my first paid, non-caregiving job this past fall when I did part-time work on a ballot question, but the election has come and gone and with it my hopes. I keep sending out my resume, but I get no responses. I know that even if I do get an interview, there will be ‘something’ off about me, something undefinable that makes people think, I wouldn’t fit in.
I’ve been through the state agency for people with disabilities. They tell me that I interview fine, that my resume is good, that they don’t understand why I don’t get hired. I don’t, either, but I’ve long since given up on getting any help from them. Even if I have a disability on paper, to most people, in practice, I’m just weird.
What I’m looking for is out there, I know it is, but what I’m looking for is people as much as a place. People who will understand and accept me as I am, who will see how my strengths outweigh my deficits, who will pay me enough to live on, enough to move out on my own. People who acknowledge that interacting with people is very tiring for me, and who give me some space and solitude for office work. People who understand that I do, in fact, have something valuable to offer, and who give me the time to show them this.
The trouble is, many of the entry-level jobs out there I can’t do. Working at a group home would be great, but the new people always get the late-night shifts, and I can’t function late at night. Temp work might get me in the door to a place, but it is often front-desk work, greeting people, exactly what I’m terrible at. Many jobs require you to re-locate, and I’m not willing to even consider that; I have a very secure, supportive community that I need in order to be happy and healthy. I thought that getting my advanced degree would help me, but it turns out to hinder more than aid, precisely because I am so overqualified for many jobs.
I’m very good at what I do now, and please don’t take that to mean I’m bragging, because I’m not. I’m very good at soothing babies and doing personal care. But after this summer, after picking up some contract work that required me to research and write and analyze, I want more more than ever. I want to challenge my brain, create new paradigms, collaborate on ideas, change social policy.
And I’m not alone. I know many people on the spectrum who are willing and able to work, but who just don’t fit in at traditional jobs, who need a bit of a tweak, a bit of support, to do well. Unfortunately, our society does not give out these supports freely, perhaps because they are so undefinable. Wheelchair-accessible office and bathroom -- those, you can measure with a ruler. An office community that accepts and values neurodiversity -- much harder to measure, much harder to find. It would be easier, of course, if Americans did not value your economic labor so highly as to exclude almost all your other achievements, if they did not equate your earning potential with your life potential, but………
I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know how to find a ‘real’ job any more than I know how to do higher mathematics. So I just keep on doing what I can, volunteering in my field, reveling in the infants I care for, and making my life the best I can, how I can. It is all I can do. It is all anyone has ever done.
Postscript: I deliberately chose to not reveal my field or location due to the fact that I wanted to emphasize how very common my problem is. I am not looking for job leads or suggestions by writing this; I am looking to publicize the fact that my story happens all over the country and will continue to happen, even in states with much-better-than-average disability services such as mine, unless something is done. What that is, I don't know, but it's past time we thought about this, not just for my generation but for the generations to come.