Neurodiverse Like Me

How SAP’s Autism at Work program helped me find employment and feel less alone in the workplace.

In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, we’re having a month-long series highlighting the voices of SAP employees participating in the company’s Autism at Work program. The first installment in the series is written by Carrie Hall, an Information Developer at SAP SuccessFactors in South San Francisco.

I remember receiving an email back in March 2014 from my mother that included a news clip about a program at SAP called Autism at Work.

The thing is, in 2014, I hadn’t been diagnosed yet.

At the time, I hadn’t had a full-time permanent job since 2003. Most of my employment came out of contract work, with a majority of my employers being someone I had known or worked for in the past.

This was because I had difficulty being employed by people I didn’t already know. I knew I had a great resume and good skills, but I didn’t interview well.

The thing is, in 2014, I hadn’t been diagnosed yet.

My mom’s email was a way for both of my parents to bring up the idea that I might be on the autism spectrum. They explained that a possible reason behind my difficulty getting a job was that I didn’t pick up on non-verbal cues.

Having heard my parents’ side and finding that a lot of what they were saying made sense, I decided to get tested for autism. And finally, I was diagnosed in September 2014.

Following my diagnosis, my mom found two vendors that worked with the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) and with SAP in order to help me become a candidate for Autism at Work. I took special personal skills training course with Evolibri, a vendor of DOR, and worked with SAP and other companies that helped with the placing of people with autism into jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area. They also referred me to Expandability, a company that organized the training for SAP’s Autism at Work program in California. Even if I had to trek from Antioch out to Santa Clara or to San Jose, it was definitely worth it.

I soon submitted my resume to Expandability, which was then sent to SAP. Then, in early 2015, I went to the Autism at Work orientation. There, Expandability explained the program. This wasn’t the first Autism at Work orientation, but my session and group were a bit different from previous ones. Unlike the group before us, we were getting two weeks of additional training. These were mainly personal skills courses, which allowed us to work and spend time with our potential teams.

After the personal skills classes came the robots.

Specialisterne, a Danish company that specializes in using the characteristics of people on the Autism spectrum as benefits to the business market, created Lego Mindstorm Robots which were used to test readiness for a job. Basically, the robots were used as a way of assessing how well we were able to solve problems and our different analytical skills.

A Lego Mindstorm Robot used in training

From the beginning, I was told that there were only eight positions available through the program and at the time, a majority of the positions related to quality assurance. Despite my lack of experience in the field, I was willing to be a tester since I had grown attached to SAP and truly valued during my time at orientation and training.

I remember anxiously waiting for that phone call from Expandability to see if I would be one of the lucky eight.

When the call came, I found out that I wasn’t one of the lucky eight.

I was number nine.

I learned that one of the program managers liked me so much that she asked managers from other teams if they had any openings that matched my skill set. As luck would have it, there was one.

I was number nine.

It was a while before I found out that I would be become an Information Developer. I was told that out of everyone there, I was the best fit for this position.

Information Developers are technical writers, but they need to have basic knowledge and understanding of project management. Before being hired with SAP, I’ve actually written training materials for technical staff and some project management background from previous jobs. So this new role required both skill sets.

SAP SuccessFactors in South San Francisco

Did I have issues being able to “pass” for neurotypical?

Yes, at first.

Neurotypical is a label for people that aren’t autistic. So, to most people I appear to be neurotypical since I don’t fit the stereotype of being on the autism spectrum. Because of this, even though my co-workers knew I was on the spectrum, they would occasionally forget and wonder what my problem was.

Being able to “pass” is something I’ve experienced within the deaf community. I’m hearing impaired. I speak so well that people don’t realize how significant my hearing loss is.

It wasn’t until I met other folks who went through the Autism At Work training with me that I felt less alone.

You could say that it’s the same thing with being on the autism spectrum, in that it’s not until I have issues with a co-worker or get frustrated that people realize it.

It wasn’t until I met other folks who went through the Autism At Work training with me that I felt less alone. They’re able to pass as neurotypical too, and in them I found some kindred spirits.

I love being at SAP. I’ve been with companies that claim that they offer opportunities to people with disabilities to find out later, they just wanted tax breaks. It’s nice to actually not only see a company that actually “walk the talk,” but to be a part of one.

Autism At Work Trainees — April 2015, Carrie Hall is featured in the middle
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