Learning Social Skills from the CEO of the Sluis Academy as an Autistic Adult

Many of you may know that as someone on the autism spectrum, I needed to improve my social and communication skills, so my parents decided that I should try out some sessions with the CEO of the Sluis Academy.

The program was supposed to help special needs children with their social skills. A friend introduced the CEO to my parents.

I was studying at BCIT during that time.

For the first session, he came to my home. He taught me what to do when socializing. I learned that when socializing, we should gradually introduce something we want to talk about rather than be too abrupt. I was reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact. One technique of eye contact involves looking near the person’s eyes but not in the eyes.

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Eye contact.

I also had at least one Skype session with him.

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Using Skype on a tablet.

For one of the next sessions with him, we went to a restaurant nearby. That meant I could practise my social skills with the restaurant staff while they were serving by doing small talk with them. I was also reminded to keep my back straight and have eye contact while I was talking. He did it in a way that was clear enough, but without interrupting.

 

If I remembered correctly, the restaurant session was the last session with him. For the next meetings, one of his employees visited me to train me for job interview skills. I practiced with some common job interview questions. I had a few sessions with her.

Special Education Program During my High School Years

During high school, I was in a special-ed program.

Before high school, people knew that I needed supports from SEA and tutors. I often went to the resource room.

Starting high school, I went to the Learning Assistance Life Skills program. The school was a little further away since the closest one didn’t offer the program.

They taught us how to be independent by teaching us academics, social skills, travelling by public transportation, field trip planning, and cooking. Sometimes peer tutors, who were students in regular classes, helped us out.

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Learning Assistance Life Skills classroom.

The field trips included museums, shopping malls, bowling, swimming, hikes, restaurants, and cinemas. Some of them were half-day, and others were all day, depending on the time needed.

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Bowen Island.

We learned cooking as well, including planning, shopping, and preparation.

Some of us were enrolled in classes outside the program. I took chemistry, physics, math, and communications classes. I had support from tutors, and through asking my teachers questions. Other students took woodworking, sewing, and cooking.

We had PE with the students from the Life Skills program. The PE class was different from regular PE classes because it needed to accommodate people with disabilities. We had warm-ups and stretching and played sports, including basketball, handball, volleyball, and California kickball.

Some of us took both our PE class and regular PE, which I did for my last year. One advantage is that you’ll become very active if you take two PE classes.

We were encouraged to participate in after school activities. I went to the TLC Special Needs Program at a community centre, and Special Olympics doing basketball and aerobics for a few months. For the last two years there, I tried out cross country running and track and field.

We had work experience, including grocery stores and department stores.

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Serving meals in the community lunch program near our school.

The program also covered transitioning to post-secondary education, including tours at colleges. After graduating, I went to the Food Technology program at BCIT. What I needed to do was to pass a communications exam.

Updates on my Employment

After almost a year of getting support for employment, I was hired to work at a company that installs taxi equipment.

If you know me on social media, you’re probably aware that I’ve been sharing autism posts, which is an easy way of supporting those on the spectrum.

I was getting support from Jobs West and other sources. I was in their employment discovery program and received assistance with writing resumes and cover letters and other job search activities.

Some of the jobs that I applied include bike shops and electronics companies.

I showed my job coach some of my LED projects. One good reason for sharing your hobbies is that it can sell and communicate your strengths.

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Custom made sunrise simulator without its diffuser.

During spring, while I was waiting at a bike shop, I was hired on the spot. My bike had electric horns, so the mechanic chatted with me. I think he wanted to install the horns on his bicycle. I worked there for the summer.

During the fall,  I volunteered at Bike Kitchen for a while overhauling hubs and truing wheels.

Around December, I applied for an equipment installer position and was hired, installing taxi equipment. I also used noise cancellation as I was sensitive to noise there. Once in a while, my job coach kept in touch with me.

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My toolbox at work.

It’s now almost a year of working there.

Updates on Using Noise Cancellation for Sensory Overload at Work

I’ve been using noise cancellation to concentrate better at work and would like to give an update about it.

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I used them frequently so that two pairs of earmuffs broke!

Even on the first day of my most recent job, I used dual hearing protection. My goal was to block out music playing and other noise sources, which tend to affect my concentration.

Around this August, the reconfirmed my need for hearing protection. My supervisor noticed that I was easily distracted when the music was playing. That day during lunch, I even took the time to handwrite a letter, pointing out that I thought I needed excellent hearing protection.

After lunch, I was repeating the tasks and time them. For a long time, I was taking 45 to 60 minutes to complete it even when using only ear muffs. When I did the simulation with dual protection, I was able to complete it in less than 25 minutes! My supervisor was even surprised that I was faster doing the simulation compared to doing the real work.

One issue with regular earplugs is that you can only wear them for so long. I decided to try custom-fitted non-vented earplugs from Nextgen Hearing. I reasoned that being able to work was well worth the cost even though they were quite expensive.

The non-vented ones offer the most attenuation. What they did was put silicone in my ear canals to get an impression. They took around a month to arrive.

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dB Blocker non-vented custom-fitted earplugs.

Once they arrived, tried them out, and the good news was that I could use them all day.  However, there were a lot of vibrations, so I went back to disposable earplugs. They’re probably better for protecting hearing or jobs that require little movements.

So far, I have other options, including turning down the music and not wearing regular earplugs all the time. At work, I’m now using dual protection to concentrate during more time-sensitive tasks and using just earmuffs when it’s less busy.

Importance of Clear Instructions for an Autistic Person (Car Wash Example)

Here’s an example of why clear instructions can be important for an autistic person. I’m using car wash as an example because I’ve hand washed them before.

If I’m told to do a good job washing a car, I might spend too much time removing tough stains and cleaning hard to see or reach areas.

Instead of making sure that the wheels of the car look clean, I might spend more time trying to make it barely able to stain the towel.

Instead of just spraying hard to reach surfaces such as the vehicle roof, I might put extra effort into those areas.

Instead of removing objects by hand, I might put excess effort into vacuuming tight spots such as the spaces between the seats or under them.

If I feel that I missed some areas, I might go back and carefully look for hard to find stains rather than see the whole car as a clean car.

You can see problems with this.

One of the reasons I feel the need to tell others that I’m autistic is that explicit instruction is necessary. It’s easy for me to be distracted by irrelevant details, take things literally, and miss non-verbal social cues, which may be used as feedback.

The earlier clear instructions are given, the better.

It’s a little clearer to say “make sure that the car looks clean” or say “you don’t need to clean where it’s hard to see” rather than saying “make sure that you do a good job” because I have a better idea of where to focus. I’m more likely to see the car like their friends see it.

I can misinterpret “do a better job,” as pay even more attention to details rather than do what’s relevant.

If told to work faster, I might scrub even harder or faster.

Questions to ask might be, “does the car look clean?” while standing at a distance from the car.

Things that I might try include: watch people do the work, read articles about it, watch videos about it, ask for feedback, and ask questions about what’s needed to be done.

To avoid repeating the same mistakes, I’ll have to remember to focus only on relevant details for my next car wash.

 

 

Job Hunting Challenges of an Autistic Person

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In my last article, I mentioned that for people with autism, getting a job isn’t very easy. I want to share my challenges with job hunting, and what I learned from it because I hope that soon, it’s easier for us to get a job.

Interviews were never easy for me. I remember that in my first few interviews, I was too quiet and took a long time to answer their questions. I feel that my job interview skills have improved somewhat from practicing, but there is still a long way to go.

Interview questions can be vague, and autistic people can misinterpret the questions. Some sample answers don’t seem to make sense. One example is, “What is your weakness?” It’s easy to give an answer that disqualifies you. When someone says he likes to finish his work ahead of time, it sounds more like a person’s strength.

An autistic person can be too honest in answering questions. One example is “how fast are you at working?” How do we know the answer when we don’t have enough experience? If they find out that I don’t work very fast, wouldn’t I be disqualified?

At an interview, I was asked about my education before. I wasn’t sure how to sell myself because my studies seem unrelated to the job. At BCIT, I completed a program called Food Technology. When you first hear the name, it sounds like a cooking class. Much of the program was about producing safe food products, testing food for safety, and testing food for quality. In a few of the courses, we did have some cooking experience.

One thing I learned was that you can frame your answers and still be honest at the same time. I think it would be helpful during job interviews.

I went to employment agencies for support. They help people write resumes and cover letters and answer interview questions. Some agencies even have you answer questionnaires to discover your interests.

Unfortunately, not enough interviewers are trained to detect the skills of autistic people. I think interviewers should test how well autistic people will perform on the job.

Friends and family friends can help autistic people with employment. Sometimes, they introduce me to summer jobs.

Some companies hire autistic people who can be talented in working with computers. Last summer, I was hired as a technical assistant and gained lots of experience with MS Excel.

I have yet to discover how to have a positive first impression. One article says that in an interview, a hiring decision is made in the first five minutes. Some studies suggest that first impressions are formed within a fraction of a second. That means we should be aware of how we present ourselves even before the interview.

Since autism has affected my ability to get a job, I’ve been getting help online and paying more attention to how I act, whether in public or during interviews.

I’ve even attempted to learn to smile in public places the whole time and get feedback from a pocket mirror. In my recent job hunts, I’ve been practicing smiling while handing out resumes to businesses such as retail stores and restaurants. It seemed to make the staff friendlier and happier.

My goal is to be perceived as approachable enough that the interviewer becomes interested and accepting. This should make it easier to get the job, and the autistic applicant less nervous.

In conclusion, I think people should be hired based on what they can offer the company rather than first impressions. After all, how accurate are first impressions alone?

Why Adult Autism Awareness is Important

I’m writing this article to promote autism awareness because I recently learned that according to a study, only 15% of autistic adults are working. This applies throughout the autism spectrum.

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Employment rates for autistics compared to those of other types of disabilities. Source: http://www.slideshare.net/marjoriemadfis/autism-employment-and-yes-she-can-inc

Autism is pretty common. About two percent (1 in 68) of the population is autistic. Relatives, friends, friends of friends, classmates, or college grads may have autism spectrum disorder. I am autistic, too, and I’m learning how to have an excellent good first impression.

Autistic workers can have skills that benefit employers which include:

  • Deep interest and focus on particular subjects
  • Tolerating and even preferring routines
  • Being able to concentrate on tasks that appear boring
  • Attention to details

To pass a job interview, an excellent first impression is required. Interviewers look for social cues to predict how confident, friendly, interested, and honest the person is. Autistics often have a hard time with eye contact, facial expressions, and other social cues.

A job that doesn’t require very much talking or social interaction is most suitable for those with autism. The workplace will be improved if we are hired because there would be a wider variety of skills.

If you know someone who has difficulty finding a job or a company looking for those skills, you can help by sharing this.