A conversation with some other moms with spectrum sons reminded me of my early experiences in the workplace. My first real full-time job was working as a secretary for an intellectual property law firm outside of D.C. I started out as a temp, then got hired full-time to be the primary secretary for two younger lawyers as well as the backup for the entire firm. For the first few months, I was regularly in the office until 7, 8, even 9 at night, trying to get all of the days’ assignments completed. I had been told that my job was salaried, with no overtime, but I had also been given a logbook so that extra hours could be taken as comp time. I dutifully filled it out every day. Poor Brian would get off work and be waiting for me to finish and go home. Finally, the office manager took pity on me, and explicitly told me that finishing all of my assignments every day was not expected of me.
Yes, I had to be told that it was okay to leave some work unfinished for the next day. I’ve had problems with that in my personal life, too. I use lists and routines to help keep myself in order (or else I’ll do things like forget to brush my teeth or wear a bra!), but then I get stressed about not finishing everything every day. It’s kind of a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation. In the case of work, though, I had just gotten out of school, with the expectation that an assignment is to be done that day, unless it explicitly has a later due date set. I just assumed the same was true in the workplace, and it never occurred to me that there might be unspoken rules here that were different.
It never occurred to my supervisors that I might need to be told those unspoken rules. Rules like:
- Don’t do your job too well.
- Don’t wear a shirt with the shoulders cut out.
- Don’t try to take any personal days too soon.
- Don’t keep your desk too neat.
- Don’t try to help the firm if it falls outside your job description.
- Don’t try to learn new things if the skillset is above your pay grade.
- Don’t make jokes.
- Don’t complain loudly when your food is eaten out of the break room refrigerator. Especially not by mass email.
I don’t know if those are all the rules, or if that’s exactly how they go, but based on the times I got in trouble, got lectured, etc., those are the rules I broke.
There are other places where this has tripped me up. At least in the workplace, my first office manager in particular learned that I needed to be explicitly told what I’d done wrong when I broke one of the unwritten rules. There seems to be a whole set of unspoken rules regarding interactions with other women and other mothers that trips me up on a regular basis. I’ll get shut out of groups without the slightest idea what I’ve done wrong, and nobody ever comes back and says, “Look, you can’t do [x, y, z] around us, and that’s why we’re now going to shun you and never speak to you again.” They just skip to the shunning. Kind of like high school.
Things are getting better. The neurodiversity movement, TV shows like the Big Bang Theory, the push for mainstreaming autistics, even the spread of the goth subculture, all of these have contributed to a little more understanding in society at large of those of us who don’t get or follow those unwritten rules. That could just be the subset of our society that I currently move in, which admittedly has a high density of geeks, nerds, and spectrum issues. I’d like to think, though, that somebody getting thrown into the workplace as an aspie today, with a diagnosis and an understanding of how they see the world differently…I’d like to think they’d have an easier time than I did.