Tantrum or Meltdown?

As a parent of a nearly 6 year old autistic girl, I can personally say from experience that one of the harder things for me, personally, is identifying the difference between a tantrum or a meltdown. Especially since these two behaviors need to be treated totally differently.

A tantrum is happening as a result of things not going her way and needs to be disciplined. Parenting 101, we all know this, right? Basic stuff. Important to make sure that I raise a decent human who isn’t entitled and will play well in society with others.

A meltdown is different. It can look like it’s happening because something didn’t go her way (but it’s actually because things didn’t go as she planned they would) but the basic gist of it is that she doesn’t have the coping skills to handle that things aren’t working as she expected them to. Discipline isn’t the way to handle this. She needs to know that I am here to support her in whatever way she needs.

I always think of nuclear meltdowns…

From the outside, this can look the same, if you don’t look too closely. Screaming, crying, flailing limbs. Generally unwillingness to engage in questions.

Now, I will add in the general caveat of this is my kid, and the standard “if you’ve met an autistic person, you’ve met one person with autism” statement before I go too much further. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that some of these methods can be applied to other autistic children to help differentiate.

For Little Miss, when she is throwing a tantrum, usually I can ask her yes or no questions and get answers. Depending on just how upset she is, I’ll probably only get “no” but she does respond. If we’re in full meltdown mode, we often won’t get any response at all, maybe just head shakes. I will sometimes ask if she wants some quiet time in her room by herself, regardless of if I have identified if this is a tantrum or a meltdown yet, and she’ll either say yes/no or nod or shake her head, and we’ll proceed from there.

If she wants time in her room, then I’ll take her to her room and give her a hug and tell her I’ll check on her in a few minutes. After about 3-5 minutes by herself, I’ll go in and check on her, and she’ll usually be back in a better mood. At this point, if it worked, it doesn’t really matter if it was a tantrum or a meltdown if she’s feeling better, we’ll talk it out and move forward.

She’ll usually cuddle one of her many plushies

If she didn’t want time in her room, that’s fine too! I’ll ask her if she wants a hug. And move on to other relevant questions based on what’s been going on (did the dog get her toy, daddy not listen to her, neighbor kid break her toy, etc). If nothing is working at all I might stop talking and just stay around/near her but stop actively giving her attention.

Like pretty much all child behaviorists will tell you, I have found that when I stop actively giving her attention, if we are dealing with a tantrum, then the tantrum will stop entirely. She will start trying to re-engage me with play. Once she regains my attention, she will start up the tantrum again, and then I know how to proceed.

If it’s a meltdown, the removal of attention won’t do anything to stop the behavior, because she’s struggling and the attention wasn’t what she was seeking. Once I have confirmed that this is a meltdown, it’s time to start trying to isolate what caused the meltdown. This can be tricky sometimes, as it isn’t always the most straightforward thing to an adult mind, but once you find what it was, you can start coming up with coping mechanisms.

One of the most recent gigantic meltdowns that we had in our house was because our wee lass had made plans with some store bought cupcakes in our house that she hadn’t told us. There were three left in the house and she had already assigned them to each of us: there was a specific cupcake that was hers, one for me, and one for her daddy. We also had some cookies in the house, and she wanted to offer a cookie to the neighbor kid’s mom, but daddy misunderstood and gave the neighbor mom a cupcake.

Not just any cupcake. Little Miss’s cupcake. Now Little Miss’s plans of evening cupcake time with Momma and Daddy were ruined because there weren’t enough cupcakes for all three of us and only Momma and Daddy had cupcakes and hers was gone. She was absolutely distraught.

It took a good chunk of time to figure out what about this situation was so hard for her. Daddy was willing to give up his cupcake for her, she wasn’t going to have to go without a cupcake. We had offered the neighbor mom the cupcake already, so it would have been pretty rude to not give it to her. We explained all of this to Little Miss, but she was still so completely upset.

Quite suddenly I realized that it wasn’t even about the cupcake at all. She just wanted to have us all sit down and have a little time together with the cupcakes. Her plan was for family time, and since the cupcake was gone it meant that family time was also gone. This broke her whole heart into a million tiny pieces and she had a full blown meltdown.

So, we talked it over, I gave her a million hugs, and we made a different plan for family time. It’s all a work in progress, but hopefully Little Miss picked up a new coping method. It won’t be her last meltdown. But with careful navigation of her big emotions we can help her navigate them and learn to express them better.

Alexithymia Club

There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.

Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.

Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.

Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.

It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.

For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.

I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.

I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?

Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.

There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.

Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.

Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.

Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.

For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).

I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.

Covid Life and Coping

Like pretty much everybody else in the current fun times that we are experiencing, the covid struggle has been both a blessing and a curse.

I am grateful to work for a fantastic company and I have been working remotely since March. Also, I’m introverted, so that helps a ton with the whole trapped in the house thing. I do have a husband and a smallish child though, so that does hinder the whole autistic introverted thing just a wee bit. I usually need an absolutely exorbitant amount of me-time. Kiddo usually wants an absolutely insane amount of momma time. And we are all pretty danged stressed by the current state of affairs in the world.

I started out pretty okay. I wasn’t particularly optimistic about this. I actually had no faith whatsoever that this would only be a few short weeks and then everything would go back to normal. In fact, I told all of my friends that this was going to be a long haul in early days. As soon as I realized that Italy was getting overrun and they had cases with no known travel, I highly suspected that we were pretty much done for here in the States. Travel was still a free for all here at that time. It was already game over and we didn’t even realize that the game had started without us.

So, overall, I started out pretty strong. I didn’t have a mad dash to buy a million rolls of toilet paper, I didn’t need to stock up on dried goods. I just finally actually did some home improvement projects I had been planning for, well, a while, and just never got around to because I could never find the mental energy to do them.

Put in some ceiling fans. Got my bar for my kitchen looking all spiffy. Kid hates virtual pre-k. Bribe her with chocolate to at least try and participate. I don’t pride myself at being the best parent with that, but hey, at least I did something.

Yeah, I’m not a great photographer, honestly.

Then summer hit. And everything kept lingering on. I think that we all know that this is when the Covid fatigue really start to hit us. It was beautiful outside, and the spread seemed to stop being so scary. I was walking my dog as much as I could, taking my kid outside. We went hiking.

I still hit an autistic burnout. I couldn’t handle anything. My brain was done. I was done. I couldn’t handle doing my job. I couldn’t handle existing. Couldn’t handle doing anything.

That was the roughest spot for me. I should have known it was going to happen. But, I didn’t want to use PTO to just, sit at my house. And some delusional part of me still hoped that by fall/winter we might be able to have some sense of normality.

It turns out that when I attempt to run entirely too many months in a row being super mom, rock star employee, a proper wife, take care of my pets, take care of my mental health, and finish my masters all while there’s something as small as a global pandemic and and some massive political unrest, I might kind of lose the ability to focus just a wee bit. Who’d’ve guessed?

So yeah, I hit the dreaded autistic burnout. I couldn’t function at all. I lost all social skills. Couldn’t make eye contact with a cactus. I had a phone interview during that time period and it was quite literally the worst interview I’ve ever had. Asked if there was anything I could clear up at the end and she was like “nope, I think it was okay, especially if you haven’t interviewed in a while and you’ve lost some skills”…

Ouch. Let me go get a band aid and some burn cream or something.

Since then, it has been a hard climb back up from that bottom. The time off from work helped a lot (again, very, very grateful that I work for a super understanding company with flexible benefits). I have had to make sure to take time to just relax. And to be totally honest, stim my poor little brain out.

Probably the best thing I did for myself in the fall is I upgraded my desk from a normal office desk to a sit/stand desk. I almost never sit or stand still. The normal office desk and chair station works, of course, but with the sit/stand I can get more comfortable in pretty much whatever position I want. Along with it I got a sit/stand wobble stool as well as a wobble board to stand on. Basically I have the ultimate fidget all day in whatever way you want desk now. It’s fantastic. Let’s me get all kinds of stimming behaviors out while I’m working.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that a lot of other stuff didn’t fall to the wayside as I’m struggling with the wreck of garbage that everything in these disastrous times have brought to us. I have a list as long as my leg of all of the things that I am behind on and need to get done. I find myself saying “I don’t have the mental energy to…” on so many things lately.

But, I have found, that I’m not the only one in this boat. My boat may look a little different than yours. Maybe yours is a little bit steadier, or maybe you’ve hit a couple more rocks and are struggling to stay afloat as well. Maybe you’ve seen some smoother seas lately. All I know is that it has been rough seas for so many people this year and that even those of us who have seemed to have it so much easier than others this year (myself included in this) have struggled to keep it together.

After the storm blows through, the greens of the plants always looks so much greener than they ever did before. In the eye of the hurricane there is quiet. We can and will persist, I wish all of us the best through what is hopefully the last bit of this long haul of this covidian nightmare.

The Road to an Autism Diagnosis for my Daughter

The road to diagnosis can be a little long and weary, but it is worth it

My daughter received her autism diagnosis at five (and at the time of writing, is two months shy of six). It didn’t come particularly easily, per se, but I had braced myself for a much bigger challenge. I definitely cried and let the relief settle in after I had the piece of paper with the diagnosis in hand as I realized that I could set aside the armor and steel I had prepared for a lengthy battle.

Signs During Early Development

From birth to the first year, she was mostly like any other baby. That’s pretty much the story of any autistic baby, of course. She walked around 9-10 months old. She was doing everything early or on-time. Way ahead in gross and fine motor skills for her age. Basically, not showing any delay whatsoever.

Pretty much the only red flag in this general time range is one that is even fairly common in neurotypical babies. She would hit her head with her hands to self-soothe. She would also lightly bang her head on the floor to self-soothe. She liked soft toys and sleeping on her stomach.

18 month appointment happens. Same story, generally nothing of concern whatsoever. She’s still on par, though perhaps a little too average in the verbal development category compared to the rest of her development range, where she’d always been generally ahead.

No hand flapping. Her physical stims are different. She loves sand and had a sandbox that she was in most days in this time period. We also had a ton of sensory toys for her to stim with constantly available just because they are super common for babies and toddlers. She understood me pretty well. Complex directions? no problem. She was as behaved as I’d expect a toddler to be. She was very attached to me.

The 2 year mark has an expected minimum vocabulary of 100 words. I wrote down every word that I could think of that she had ever said, regardless of whether or not she used them regularly. Every word she ever said equaled out to precisely 100 words, so it was okay… right?

At this point I already suspected that I was on the spectrum (though I hadn’t really done too much voicing it to others yet, I still needed time to really finish accepting it internally first) and I knew it could be genetic, so I was keeping my eyes out for pretty much any sign from here. She said short sentences here and there, but not frequently. She said phrases. She had words. But it wasn’t quite right… I had to remind her to point to things so that I could understand what she wanted. We had so many meltdowns because we couldn’t understand each other.

At 4, pronouns were still mixed up constantly. Pretty much never used the right one. They were also pretty difficult for her to understand. She also never referred to herself as “I” or “me” until after she was enrolled in public Pre-K, so around 4.5. She had always referred to herself solely by her first name.

At her 4 year appointment with a new doctor, she did not cooperate at all. She generally refused to answer their developmental screener questions, answered their questions with the same question (which is an autism red flag at this age, yet the nurse just assumed she didn’t know the answer to the question), and also just didn’t even participate in either the vision or the hearing test. She can be a very difficult child with strangers as she will refuse to engage. Another yellow flag.

Outside of that, her speech was a little garbled and mispronounced and pretty much unintelligible to anyone aside from me (even my husband had trouble understanding her most of the time) until she was about 4. Suddenly around 4 she was speaking in super clear sentences that most people could understand. Around 4.5 she was mostly caught up to her peers in terms of overall pronunciation and verbal ability.

General Behaviors

Personally, I can tell that she does still have a small delay in how much she is still able to communicate compared to her peers, but it is a small gap and it is pretty hard to detect. It seems like she is able to read some but is having a very hard time communicating what reading means when we try to get her to reproduce reading verbally. Even now, pronouns still get mixed up quite often. Heck, even I still mistaken mix up pronounce quite a bit, honestly. Too many pronounces get hard. I can honestly say that I recently struggled at a certification test that I feel confident on the material because I can’t say with confidence who the “they” they were referring to in a number of the questions actually was.

She has also always been a very well behaved child. This seems to be one of those things where people either know what I’m talking about with an autistic child or think I am out of my mind. Yes, she throws tantrums (and has meltdowns and shutdowns) and yes, she acts like a kid and doesn’t always do what I’d expect and she makes messes. But generally, she’ll listen to me and she’ll abide by the rules, so we haven’t run into too many big issues.

She absolutely interprets rules as something that are written in stone. It’s definitely more Ella Enchanted than Pirates of the Caribbean. If I offhandedly mention that she needs to stay in her room after bedtime because she needs to try and go to sleep, it used to mean that she’d be crying and screaming at her door begging to be let out so that she can go potty (potty training woes). Door wasn’t locked. She just knew that the rule was “don’t leave the room after bed time” and momma had done a very bad job of explaining that there are exceptions to that rule for pottying. It took a few times of explaining that there are indeed exceptions: if you need to potty, if you’re scared, if you need momma or daddy, if you feel sick, etc.

She was pretty late to realizing the emotions in the animated kids shows. Started calling them out to me about a year or two after her neurotypical peers would have been saying what those emotions were.

The final nail in the coffin was when we took her to Sea World so that she could see the animals (she has a Special Interest in the ocean, which is only partially my influence, and partially the influence of the Octonauts). She loved feeding the seals, seeing the exhibits. I even bought special seats at the shows so we could get closer and see them better so she could enjoy the shows too! I wouldn’t have tons of fun because the shows are so crowded and super noisy and the way the sounds bounce of the water and the cement is awful, but as long as she is happy, I’ll be happy.

Before the shows started when there were only a few people in the stadiums and the trainers were showing off the animals, she was absolutely enthralled. She would tell me all about the orcas, or the penguins, or the seals. She’d get so excited watching them swim. Correct other people calling the orcas anything other than orcas. She was having a blast. And then more people would trickle in. And all the voices at once would start to echo. And she’d start to not like it.

Don’t let my kid catch you calling these “killer whales”

And then we’d add in the microphones and music. And even more people. And then her hands would go over her ears and she’d grab my hand and be begging me to leave. So we’d leave. And never even watch the show.

I’m not totally keen on the ethics of Sea World anyway. It’s cool. I just wanted her to have a good day.

That particular day was especially eye-opening to me as she is an only-child, I am a youngest child, my husband is a youngest child, and I was never a baby sitter. I had a special interest in psychology, so I have read more than my fair share of child development books. Which is most assuredly not the same thing as actually seeing the difference between your kid and their peers up close and personal like that.

So many other kids were enjoying everything about the insane noise and echo and screams and shouts and music and whale water spouts and splashes and insanity of the orca show. Mine was the only one dragging us away from it.

Just like in the office meeting of 100+ people across multiple rooms and two physical locations when the virtual meeting rooms got left unmuted and everyone was talking at once, I was the only person head down on the table top with hands over my ears trying to become one with the desk.

After Sea World we still had a couple more rounds of processes before we got her to the pediatric neurologist. Her pre-k teacher told my husband that she didn’t think that the kiddo was on the spectrum. I went to the parent teacher conference a few days later and she was trying to assuage my worries, not even realizing that what she was telling me was actually just helping to confirm that the kid is already picking up masking tendencies. “She has her playground friends. She has her music friends. She has her art friends”.

In a study by Laura Hull in 2017 they researched some what masking is as well as what it does to people who mask (i.e. if they feel stressed, etc). They found, and corroborated with prior research, that (especially girls with autism) tend to mask their traits by sticking close to their friends and flitting in between different tasks so as to avoid detection of their autistic traits. When I was elementary school age, this translated directly to me having “playground friends” and “music friends” and “art friends” because my brain basically didn’t really register that they could still be friends in other places.

The next step was her doctor, again. He was fantastic and I made sure to express my worry of having to jump through a million hoops and be her personal warrior to get her properly assessed and diagnosed, so he made sure to refer me to a pediatric neurologist that he had experience with, in network for my network. My experience with her was as wonderful as could be expected and we left that appointment with a diagnosis in hand and a whole weight lifted off of my shoulders.

Behavioral and Cultural Fit Interview Questions

Cultural fit questions are so much tougher for autistic individuals than the knowledge based questions, am I right? So much more anxiety-inducing and if you’re anything like me, you probably lose way more sleep over wondering if you messed these up than you ever did on your actual field-relevant questions.

I definitely know that I nailed my cybersecurity related questions on my recent interviews, but the vagueness of culture fit and behavior related questions can be so thoroughly nerve-wracking. The worst part about it, at least for me, is that I leave the interview feeling fantastic about how I did. And then everything starts to sink in and by about an hour, maybe two hours later, I’m convinced that I didn’t even resemble a human.

So, let’s get to it and tackle some of the questions that stress us out the most, shall we?

Do you prefer to work alone, or with a team?

Now, I always will tell you to answer questions honestly. And, if you love teamwork, good for you, definitely go ahead and answer that honestly. If you’re like me and definitely prefer working solo, this can be a harder question to answer, as it can come across negatively.

My personal favorite wording that I’ve come up with that sounds better is “While I do prefer to do my actual work independently, I like to have a team available to lean on and ask questions and bounce ideas off of”. Basically “I do like to work alone, but play well with others”.

What we’re trying to avoid is trying to sound like you’re too arrogant to like working with others or that you can’t handle any criticism or just generally can’t play well with others. This one can definitely be a struggle for autistic individuals, since we typically aren’t the greatest at first impressions, so we might seem a bit standoffish or short. If you prefer individualized working styles, come up with a phrasing that highlights that you still value your team in some fashion.

What about this role do you think will challenge you?

This is typically looking into how much you really investigated the position, make sure you still have the posting available and have assessed it compared to your skills and have a good idea of where your weaknesses are compared to your strengths. Don’t be too afraid to be honest about it, just don’t simultaneously undersell yourself at the same time!

I don’t honestly come across this question too often, but it stumped me really badly when I was asked it the first time because it was super unexpected for me, so I wanted to throw it in here. My personal opinion on this question aside, it’s a great opportunity to showcase how you want to continue to grow your skills in the position that you want. If it’s a chance to increase your coding skills? Highlight that. Chance to increase your public speaking skills? Perfect opportunity to mention that. Leadership? You get the gist of it now. This shouldn’t be anything that is at the core responsibilities of the position as you don’t want the interviewer to start to wonder if you’re really capable of doing the job after all.

Questions about the company’s core values/How you identify with the core values.

A big part of this is going to be about proving that you researched the company a bit and are interested in the company itself. For instance, some of Amazon’s leadership principles include frugality and always learning and remaining curious, so you’d want to point out that you have a thirst for knowledge and prove it through the fact that you are always looking for new courses on Udemy to pick up new skills while they are sale.

How do you handle when you have multiple situations come in at the same time that all need to be handled?

I am in mostly ticket-related type situations due to the types of positions I have had, however this can relate to a variety of positions as well. It’s typically somewhat related to basically determining how you’ll prioritize in a moment of stress. My typical answer for this is to basically always get an idea of what each situation needs and then do a quick triage assessment and go from there: anything of total urgency comes up first, or anything that can be resolved in a few seconds might take the lead just because we can get it out of the “queue” immediately before moving on. Perhaps there is a customer that is of more importance with a super important issue that we can delegate, etc. Basically the concept of get a triage assessment going so that we can properly assess a proper order to handle all of these situations.

Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer/client/coworker.

The main purpose of this question is to get an understanding of how you de-escalate an angry customer or situation. The best method is to say that you’ll hear the person out and attempt to resolve the problem and mitigate any issues that you can. It is important for the other person to feel listened to and reassured that they are heard, otherwise you will never be able to make any progress toward resolving whatever the issue is.

It’s pretty easy to shoot yourself in the foot with this issue, if you say that you’ve never dealt with any difficult people ever it’ll sound like you’re lying. If you pick a situation where there was absolutely no fault on your end and communicate it poorly, it could sound like you place all blame on the other party and accept no potential fault and you may not take criticism very well.

As an example, very early on my career, I had a very bad secret shop done on me while I was working in a coffee shop in an airport, way before I even knew I was autistic. The secret shopper walked in, high energy, practically yelling hello and waving. This behavior was entirely out of line for normal behavior in an airport so my assumption was that he either knew someone in the shop or he knew my coworker and was addressing them. And then.. Nobody responded to him. My coworker and I looked back and forth between him and each other clearly confused. The secret shopper, perturbed at not being replied to, quite excitedly addressed us again. I basically lost the draw between myself and my coworker, so I went and took his order (and was the lucky one to get the score from this secret shop).

Needless to say, this secret shop was poorly scored because of this first impression. A couple years later, I used this situation in an interview for another coffee shop as a time I had messed up and what I had learned from it. I also did not stop talking when I saw the interviewers eyes go wide as soon as I told her the score I got. I did not stop talking as I continued to watch all of the negative body language as she watched me continue on to explain how he had completely caught me off guard because I didn’t know how to react to this situation that was so entirely unexpected.

At that point, she had basically entirely stopped listening to me and already decided not to hire me. Yet, I was thinking if I just got to the actual apex of this story, the entire point here that I could actually save myself. I had learned from this situation and never scored lower than a 95 on a secret shop again. No luck. I did not get hired at the coffee shop. I don’t think I even got a actual rejection from said coffee shop, just the application black hole. Don’t be me. Don’t pick literally your worst example with a redemption story arc.

Tell me about a time that you made a mistake at work and how you resolved it.

This is a big one, for quite a few reasons. They are looking for you to obviously tell how you handle making a mistake and how you go about fixing it. This is a very straightforward question for me, because I have no issue whatsoever with admitting that I make a mistake and owning it. My general process is to immediately admit that I make a mistake and let’s get this fixed.

My advice for this particular question is to start keeping a situation in mind for it, should it come up. It’s started becoming common especially in tech companies, I don’t know about how common it is outside of tech companies, but just keep a couple of good situations ready to fire away. Nothing over the top bad, but nothing too minor. A typing error does not count as a mistake at work. Be willing to admit that you, too, are in the category of human and, unlike many others, you are willing to admit that you make mistakes, even semi-big ones.

At least it’s kinda hard to kill important documents with coffee now that everything is in the cloud now, eh?

How could a manager best support you?

This is one of those questions where I’d like to remind you that an interview is going both ways. This is a very good question to answer honestly. For me, personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated. I work best when I’m allowed the opportunity to set my own goals and know what my expectations are for my role. I will perform pretty dang well when I’m left to my own devices and allowed the freedom to figure out how to meet all of the requirements of the in and outs of my role. Feel free to give me nudges back to those if I start to veer off to one side, but generally let me have the freedom and I’ll be a happy worker. I personally don’t thrive very well under a manager who wants to manage the nuance of all of my individual goals as well as the fine-tuning of my daily schedule and effectively micro managing my day.

So, again, you are also interviewing the company and team at the same time as you are being interviewed. If the manager that you would thrive under is not the type of manager that is interviewing you and not the type of team that is interviewing you based on your answer, so this opportunity doesn’t work out. That’s perfectly okay! It wouldn’t have been a situation you would have wanted to stay in long.

How do you deal with a disagreement with your boss?

This is similar to the earlier question about the difficult customer/coworker situation, where it’s basically about making sure that you can handle it in a reasonable method. Pretty much everyone has had some kind of disagreement with their boss in some fashion. For me, my example for this question and the next are effectively the same, so I’ll give it with the next and just a general answer here.

Basically you’ll want to provide an example of what the situation was, and how you handled it. Ideally with a conversation with your boss where you spoke it out and how you compromised and reached the agreement.

Have you ever disagreed with a company policy? What did you do?

Again, basically to see what kind of behavior you’ll do and how you’ll approach the policy and what kind of action you’ll take. My example that hits both of these questions was when I was working at a chat center, we had a new head honcho who came in and wanted us to change our process for starting up and closing chats and every single agent using the exact same entrance and closing script so that no matter who the customer was talking to, it looked exactly the same.

So, y’know, the policy was now that the customer should expect a robotic response and closing rather than a personalized greeting and closing from individual agents. My boss expected me to fully back this horse to our team since I was the team lead. Problem? I whole-heartedly disagreed with the entire policy. I thoroughly believed that utilizing the robotic scripts would harm our agents stats because they had personalized opening and closing scripts (the last things that the customers saw before they received surveys) that added some additional flair that seemed (in the past) to have dramatically increased the positive survey totals.

Handy dandy robot chat agent, reporting for duty!

Boss-man wanted me to be positive about it and jazz it up a bit to the team because he knew the team would follow my lead. If I wasn’t so hot on it, then the team would be even less likely to want to follow this new policy. Turns out that was just the right amount of fluffing up my ego, so I agreed to test it out when I would take chats to help out and would jazz it up to our team in spite of my personal feelings.

It turned out that using the required scripts had no real impact on my personal stats and didn’t seem to alter the frequency of my surveys. As a result of my willingness to work with the boss-man through my disagreement with the policy, our team were the earliest adopters of this new policy when compared to other teams on the floor. And it turns out that it did not negatively impact our team’s overall stats, which was my main concern with this policy.

Other good examples for this question would be where you approached a policy and found that the policy was lacking so you found evidence the policy was lacking and got the policy changed or revoked. Basically anything other than “I pretended the policy didn’t exist and repeatedly broke it”.

Handling Job Interviews

One of the most common questions I have seen come up with autistic folks is how to handle job interviews. It’s pretty obvious that it’s one that we’d struggle with, we know that first impressions aren’t always things that we excel at. And sometimes we aren’t the best at answering the questions that people are actually asking instead of the question that they asked.

Yeah, I’ve totally bombed some interviews myself. I’ve stimmed so hard in spinning chairs that I’m pretty sure that the interviewer thought I was on drugs. Or showed up massively under dressed because I didn’t realize that the slacks and a polo shirt was absurdly casual for a mall department store women’s clothing section. Despite the fact that my mother used to work in one, I’d somehow never really picked up on the fact that those ladies are usually dressed up pretty damned nice?

Once I found “my” field, I’ve typically done much better. I fit in pretty well in the tech world and I definitely answer questions about my knowledge well enough to make up for the fact that I am always fidgety and questionable in a lot of the skills that everyone is told not to do in interviews because it makes you look awkward and everything else. I also gave up on a lot of the advice giving to neurotypical individuals for job interviews because I can never fake it well enough to make it work for me. I can mask pretty damned well, but I can’t do it super well in a highly anxiety inducing environment, and I’m willing to bet many other autistic individuals also struggle with this as well.

General advice:

  • Make jokes when you can
  • Be honest
  • Ask questions to be sure you understand their questions

To expand that a little bit further and clarify. I deal with stress by trying to make myself laugh, which translates to I usually crack some kind of joke during an interview, which will usually make my interviewer laugh. Everybody likes to laugh, so it kinda warms them up to me. If this isn’t your nature, don’t try to force it, but if it is, this can definitely work in your favor. Don’t try to stifle it just because you think it might not work for you. I’ve definitely made some jokes that your traditional career help office probably wouldn’t recommend in interviews that I’ve landed jobs from (self-deprecating jokes, Big Brother jokes, etc) but it generally works for me. General standard caveats of nothing off color.

Honesty definitely needs a clarification. During a job search, pretty much everyone and their mother’s dog will tell you that you need to embellish your resume and skills in order to land a job. I don’t and I won’t. Embellishment is a waste of mine and everyone else’s time. I do list skills on my resume that I am working on, usually in a section clearly stating that I am learning/in classes for and during interviews, when asked about these skills or what I have done with these skills, I always answer with “I have limited experience in a working environment, however, in my personal lab/in this project at school/etc I did XYZ”.

The worst thing about misunderstanding a question is that you may not even realize that you answered a totally different question and didn’t even answer what was asked and have a grey cloud hovering around you now. I can’t even tell you how many times I have had an HR/initial phone screen wherein I was asked a yes or no question which I answered in the affirmative and had nothing else said and they moved on to the next question and I’d then be black holed and I’d never hear anything again.

I was entirely confused until I saw an internal documentation at a company for a posting that we had with a similar question for the recruiters to ask potential candidates and what to look for and it was looking for examples. A yes or no question. And they were supposed to provide examples. Why ask a yes or no question and then expect a full answer with examples?

It seems obvious in retrospect, but it still kind of blows my mind because a yes or no question has a short answer of yes or no, not “Yes, examples a, b, c” especially in a short screening. So never worry about asking for clarification to be sure that you are actually answering the question that the interviewer is expecting you to answer. No need to sell yourself short because you answered the wrong question.

What is a Special Interest, Anyway?

A special interest is sorta like breathing.

Okay, well, not really. But you know, sorta. Honestly, I had a mom that pretty much let me roll with my crazy ability to focus on whatever I wanted because I never really stopped getting shit done (well… we’ll ignore the fact that my room was almost never clean as a kid and teen. Except for that, I got my school work done, okay…?). So, generally I was pretty much always allowed to pursue my special interests. I was never really held back from them.

But when you get lost in something, it’s like time has absolutely no meaning. There is literally nothing else that exists. Just the thing.

It’s kind of like when you first meet someone that you are super attracted to and are starting to fall for them. When all the chemicals are going wonky in your brain and you’ve got a dopamine fix and you think about them all the time and you want to talk to them all the time and see them all the time and eat, sleep, and drink them?

That, only, you know, not another human being. It’s black holes. Or maybe it’s that weird goopy stuff in the bottom of the ocean. Or angler fish. Or blacksmithing. Or… you get the picture.

So when you can’t spend time with your interest and you want to, it’s similar to when you’re crazy about someone and you are basically dying to go spend time with them. Your brain is burning. You’re checking your phone every 2.5 seconds to see if they texted you back yet. You can’t focus at work because you keep thinking about the next time you’re going to see them or the last time time you were together or maybe a joke you’re going to tell them later to try and make them laugh.

Its like lightning is going off in your brain because every single cell in your body wants to go do this other thing and you can’t because you know, sometimes we have to be responsible and do our jobs instead of learning everything there is to learn about how the Monarch butterfly actually completes its migration to Mexico.