Seizing the moment

I am currently sitting in a cafe, my local, a bit of a favourite cafe in fact. The coffee is good the atmosphere is great, and as I sip away at my coffee and let my fingers tap away at this keyboard, I am somewhat reflective of the week that has been.

It really was four long years of feeling defeated and unable to move forward, it really was a period of burnout and a long time to make the connection that burnout was at play. But, that time is over, and suddenly the world seems brighter, more possible, more able to navigate, and more able to survive and thrive as an autistic person in an allistic world.

It’s late Sunday morning, and thoughts are already turning to navigating the next week ahead. Week two. The daily early morning getting up, which has not been a thing, the navigating the public transport system, the what is acceptable dress code in this new corporate environment. It’s a lot to think about, to process, and it does have an impact.

I spent my first week at work essentially doing internal training, something essential to success in my new position, and it has really made me quite tired and worn me out significantly. I’ve had many jobs across my adulthood, in quite a range of industries, but this, this is the first time I have ever been a part of a large corporation. To say there is a learning curve is an understatement. It’s a good learning curve, one I want to successfully navigate, but it is there nevertheless.

I’ve written previously about the four long years, and they were definitely long and hard years. However, as I reflect I am able to see, to realise moments along the way, moments that made a difference, moments that inevitably led to the moment I entered into this new position I have. Moments that put me on an inevitable trajectory back towards success. In reality that trajectory didn’t have to point to exactly the position I have gained, but they did point to change, to success, to re entering career.

Certainly there have been moments along the way that in and of themselves almost felt like they were where that trajectory led to. The moment I was contacted by a publisher to pitch for writing my memoir is one of those. Being contracted by an organisation to develop an elearning platform another. In and of themselves they almost felt like endpoints of a trajectory out of hopelessness, out of what felt like the life of failure my unsupportive parents always said I would result in.

So what is the point of it all then. How do we know what the little moments are, well, the truth is, I think, that sometimes you have a sense of a moment of prime importance, and sometimes you just don’t. Sometimes you have to just go with it, sometimes you have to grasp the situation yourself and make your own moments.

The key I think, is grasping on to the opportunity and doing with it everything you can. Don’t be scared to speak up, lean in to the conversation and contribute. Sure they all sound like buzz words, or cliches, and that is in a sense true, but it is also a fact that it’s true.

In order to do some of this stuff, as an autistic, it is actually got layers on top of it that, allistic people, as far as I can tell, don’t have to deal with. An example of this is the constant self talk I engage in as to the accuracy of my reading of the situation, whether that be a social situation or a body language situation or perhaps a tone of the room situation. That layer is always going on, and perhaps it is going on for allistic people too, but for me, that layer has a processing aspect to it.

It’s a processing aspect that’s hard to explain. As an autistic person, a lot of social stuff, communication stuff is discrete learned stuff, it’s not automatic, it’s not innate, it has to be deliberately learned and applied in some way. Oh for sure, we learn it through multiple sources, formal and informal, but learned it must be. Certainly, learning it is of benefit to us in the greater scheme of life, but I don’t think it ever becomes an automatic thing. There will always be a processing aspect that has to be applied in a situation before we can grasp on to that situation and seize it and make the most of it. It’s hard, it takes focus, concentration, and is intensely tiring. But, I believe, we can do it. I sit now in an employment situation that confirms it.

I have found the most clear way I have been able to describe this layer of processing in situations is to ask you to think about say a social situation between people, one person is allistic on autistic. The allistic asks a question, the autistic is expected to respond, wants to respond, but in kicks an inner dialogue of processing. First is the idea, the question, is this a genuine question, or is it just social chit chat – do they actually want me to answer this question truthfully or not? There is the first pitfall we are prone to, what type of answer is required.

Next comes the aspect of the actual response, once a decision has been made by the autistic person to respond, the processing kicks up a gear and suddenly as an autistic, you find yourself riffling through the drawers of an internal filing cabinet, you might be lucky and find the response you think fits quickly or you might find it takes you multiple drawers or even multiple filing cabinets to find the answer that you think fits. The complexity of the interaction would play a role in that part of it I’m sure.

But here’s the thing, whilst this sounds like a whole extra layer of processing, and it is, it sounds like, the autistic has the right answer, but in reality the right response is almost impossible to find, and that’s because every single human interaction is unique and no matter how many, h0w good, the learned responses are, they never fit exactly the situation. In effect we almost always get it wrong, how wrong we get it kind of plays out in how awkward inept we appear.

In the end, I believe, autistic people, want to be able to seize the moment, take the opportunity to succeed. We are certainly capable in the most part of much more than the general public often believe us to be. We want the opportunity, what we need is support and assistance to grasp it.

An example from my experience was that I had ascertained that at the end of an event, I had an opportunity to say something meaningful. I had processed, and believed, that room was in a place to hear it, I believed it to be important, I dared, even, to believe, it may make a difference for my autistic tribe. The problem was, the event was just about ending, the closing remarks were being made, and I needed a support person to assist me in grasping the opportunity that was there. I was able to to this, a quiet word in the ear of the right person who was able to get me to the front of the room and furnish me with the microphone.

I am absolutely convinced I would have been unable to grasp that opportunity to seize the day in that moment without being able to reach out to that person. That opportunity would have been missed and I would have regretted yet again not being up to the task of grasping on to a moment. But, I did have support, I knew, what I had to say was important, I knew it could resonate and due to the audience amplify into organisations. I believed it would plant seeds that would grow and that opportunities for my tribe, especially the younger people of my tribe, the autistic kids now, the autistic kids still to be born, would be able to negotiate employment options in a better, fairer way that would assist them in competing for employment in a way that was not stacked against them for a start.

I never for a moment felt that when I grasped that moment that it would make a difference for me. I really didn’t, but it did. In the most amazing, unexpected and wonderful way.

To my tribe I say, whenever you can seize the moment you see and speak up for yourself and our tribe. You never know how it will ripple outwards, amplify and change lives for others or yourself.

To those who are not my tribe I say, if you see that we are taking a moment, trying to seize that moment, putting ourselves out there to speak up, know that this takes extra effort, try to look beyond our faltering and awkwardness and tune into the essence of what we are saying. That’s the rub, I guess, It’s just bloody hard for us to do, so when we do it, it is because it is bloody important. So please, do all you can to listen to us, to understand what our message is and when you agree, amplify it.

There are many who like to call themselves allies to autistic people, some are good allies and some are just terrible allies, in fact not allies at all. As much as we don’t actually want to admit it we do need good allies. We need good allies to not speak for us, but to amplify what we have to say. We need good allies that don’t try to be our voice, but that help us to find our voice.

To those of you that want to be good allies, do that, stand with us as we find our voice, and then when we do work to amplify our voice, not speak for us, but to amplify our voice.

The moments are there to sieze, and just like most humans, autistic humans want to seize the moment too. Stand with us and assist us to do just that.

Seize the moment.