Studies show that people with7 autism face two main problems when it comes to employment:
- Finding a job.
- Keeping a job.
You may call me Exhibit A. I am forty-two years old, which means that I have technically been an adult for twenty-four years. In that time, I have held forty different jobs. That’s nearly two jobs a year, and it gets worse when you consider that I miraculously kept one of those jobs for seven years (I had an extremely generous boss). Factoring that in, I’ve held thirty-nine jobs over seventeen years!
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to revisit some of the more entertaining ways I’ve lost jobs, starting with Campbell’s Nursing Home. I was working as a nursing assistant at the time, and in many ways, I was quite good at my job. In other ways, as we shall see, I was very much lacking.
In January, 1997, I joined the Army Reserve, and spent the next four months in training. Upon returning to work, I immediately made myself the mortal enemy of human resources by insisting that I was owed an extra weekend off each month for training. There was, of course, an easy and logical explanation for why I didn’t get the weekend, but being autistic isn’t exactly conducive to communication.
Before all that, I had been the darling of management because I worked seventy hours a week, and my residents loved me. Afterward our relationship became one of mutual seething resentment, and any reason would have been reason enough to fire me. I gave them a good one.
At the time my favorite resident was Mr. Garvin. Soon after I’d begun working at Campbell’s two years earlier, my coworkers started remarking how similar Mr. Garvin and I looked; I could have been his grandson. It wasn’t long before Mr. Garvin decided that not only was I the best nursing assistant in the building, but that when I was on duty, no one else was to touch him. I was to be his exclusive nurse. I never discouraged him because I liked the attention, and it never occurred to me that anyone might see that as inappropriate.
A few months into my ongoing feud with HR, Mr. Garvin became ill, and over the course of a week he got progressively worse. As far as I know, the nurses never did anything in response, despite my frequent reports. I will note that one symptom of autism is an extreme focus on details, and it is likely that I was seeing changes not yet apparent to anyone else. Regardless, I was off the weekend, and when I returned to work the following Monday Mr. Garvin was dead.
My emotional connections to people come in two flavors: pathologically extreme, or little-to-none. Mr. Garvin fell into the second category, so I had no idea how I was supposed to react to his death. Anger seemed appropriate given the circumstances, but I had never learned how to properly act angry. On television, right before moment when all is forgiven and a valuable lesson is learned, there is often a meltdown of some sort. I decided to go with that. When I saw my unit nurse I laid into her, accusing all the nurses of being horrible, uncaring jerks. I don’t remember much else of my tirade, which was audible to way too many bystanders, but at some point, I threatened to kill everyone in the building if another resident died.
The next morning, I had no idea why I was being called to the conference room. I realized something had gone terribly wrong when I found myself sitting across the table from the entire managerial staff, but I didn’t deny it when they asked me about the death threat. In my mind, I had acted appropriately based on the available data, and I thought it was ludicrous that anyone would think I would ever kill them. Management, however, adopted the opposing viewpoint, fired me, and had me escorted off the premises by security (a scene that has played out an alarming number of times in my life).
All this happened many years before I “discovered” my autism, and I like to think that I would handle things much differently now.