Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Gig Economy.

"The Gig Economy"

It's here, and we're not escaping it unless suddenly (and hopefully) people manage to band together to make insecure work illegal.  As an Autistic, this is something I and indeed all Autistics should and must be concerned about, considering the already mounting pressure upon us to get into a workforce that already is not geared for us. Listed below are a few reasons.

1: There are no routines in the Gig Economy. 
Casualisation of jobs does not allow for a sense of structure to be created. Whilst Neurotypicals crave excitement and flexibility, many Austistics (such as myself) tend to prefer structure, peace and order. The lack of a fixed routine of working days makes it very difficult and indeed frustrating for adult autistics to plan out their daily events. Casualisation also requires a person to be on-call, all the time, every time. In Australia, Casuals need a minimum of two hours notice in order to create a new shift, or to cancel a shift. Part Timers require a minimum of twenty-four hours notice. Now, whilst this difference in time might not seem like much, for someone with Autism whose schedule, plans and routine is almost concrete in nature once plans are set, such a volatile schedule could leave a person feeling distressed, worried and overwhelmed. As such, performance will suffer as a result of an irregular schedule.

2: There are no salaries in a Gig Economy
Salary pay is important for Autistics as it allows us to safely regulate our finances. If we are in the know as to how much hours we are capable of working, and in turn, how much money we will get as a result of working said hours, it will allow us to create more concrete, stable plans in terms of our social lives, our working lives, and our financial lives. A full time Salary is more beneficial to an Autistic predominantly due to the fact that salaries allow us to budget our finances better. We have $2,000 this month to work with, $600 of that will go to rent, $500 will go to bills, $400 to food, $200 foe fuel, and the remainder to fuel our hobbies and interests. If we end up working 22hrs one week, and then 28hrs the next week, we'd have to figure out a way to live from week to week, month to month, as opposed to being able to lay down concrete groundwork for our plans.

3: The Gig Economy derails the job application process. 
Surprisingly, in my observation Job Applications have become a lot more competetive, and more socially focused than ever before. In a Job Interview I went in to today, the interview was conducted in a compact room, with at least twenty other people. The interviewer was an austentacious salesman of his product, and aimed to please the go-getters, those who revelled on instability. I came in just to apply for an administration assistant's role, but in the room were sales role competitors. I was told that in this role alone, there would be about 2750 people applying for this one role, and that today alone, there were 235 people being interviewed. I know, this sounds like a staggering set of statistics, and I am well in the knowledge that most, if not all of the people are equally qualified to me, otherwise I wouldn't be here alongside them. This leaves every possible method of weeding out the competition on the table. Bad Social Skills? Gone. Sensory Overload? Gone. Not even a government mandated employee disability incentive could save me from getting the axe in a situation like that, due to my lack of an ability to "Sell" myself.

4: Everybody has to be a salesman. 
Selling ourselves is the hardest thing us Autistics tend to deal with when it comes to the employment process. In this hypercompetetive world where there are too many people applying for a single job, it's often difficult to stand out of the crowd. Autistics tend to prefer to be modest and honest with themselves and err on realism as opposed to selling a story that is shrouded in some form of lies, even if those lies tend to push to sell ourselves. Selling yourself is indeed a truthful form of lying, but it is still a lie, pers sais. It's ignoring your realistic shortcomings and hiding those shortcomings from those who wish to get to know you. In the same regard, nobody tells you what a product cannot do within its own functional context, they only tell you what it can do within its functional context. For example. They tell you that an iPhone has a particular set of features. But they do not tell you that the iPhone lacks a lot of useful features that some people may prefer. The iPhone lacks a Heart rate monitor, and a curved screen, and a customisable interface. But, you do not see Apple saying "The iPhone is not as customisable as a Samsung phone". this latter response, a more realistic response, is how I would respond to a situation when asked to compare iPhones and Samsung Galaxies against eachother. This as a result makes me a great interviewer, as I can logically make decisions about hiring employees that have the appropriate skillsets, personality and traits I desire without seeing the face value of that sales pitch, however most interviewers tend to get into this particular role through social promotion, rather than through the aquisition of those skills, making most interviewers focus on social prowess and the initial sales pitch as opposed to the functional capabilities of the employee prospect.

5: The working environment has changed to a more social paradigm
Working in an office is no longer what it was in the movies in the 70s. As businesses build up their employee numbers, the days of individual office spaces are gone. Now, many people are stuffed into a single office space, with no barriers or walls, no boxes, no separation. This leaves us open to visual and autitory stimulation which may distract us from our work. Job Stability may help us to prepare and get used to this sort of environment and reduce the impact of open plan working environments on people on the spectrum, however we perform best when we have the ability to adjust our own environments. As such, working from home or telecommuting is ideal for Autistics, however such roles are quite difficult to acquire as they are more desirable by Neurotypicals as well, who wish to not have to commute to work. Those who are on the spectrum who are lucky enough to land themselves some form of office job, are very much likely to suffer less than those who work in consumer fronting environments. Although, like anything with Autistics, there are always exceptions to this rule.

6: Nobody actively seeks our skills. 
Autistics are at a whole, creative, analytical, detailed and precise. We currently live in a world of fast pace, fast turnaround work, which leaves very little room to allow us to pursue our active ideals. I am fortunate enough to be an experienced Graphic designer, however the lack of stability in this industry forcibly causes us to have to live from check to check, which in turn hampers our performance in this industry. We perform well in roles that allow us to solve problems, analyse issues, and create new things which benefit a company. Sadly, not a lot of these roles do exist, and those who do occupy these roles aren't nessecarily better experienced people, but rather better salesmen.

In turn, the Increasing level of instability in working life is rather shocking and the onset effects to those who are Autistic are paramount. Suicide rates amongst Autistics are on the rise due to a lack of conducive environments, a lack of understanding when it comes to methodology, a lack of consideration of a lack of social ability during employment, and a lack of willingness to adjust environments for those on the spectrum. We Autistics need to band together to provide a better solution to this huge stop-gap issue. We need to support those who support decasualisation, support policies to ban and restrict casualised work and support policies to improve union bargaining powers and the power to withdraw labour and strike. Sadly these rights are being stripped in Australia, and something must be done to protect the rights of all workers, as well as the rights of those who are Autistic.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What even is Normal Anyway?

"Why can't you just act normal?" 

This is something that gets asked of me a lot, especially as an Autistic person. I often don't speak or act in line with what the the standard protocol of society dictates upon the general populus. I say this, because my present girlfriend, asked me this particular question. It triggered some pretty interesting, but also pretty distressing debate about what normality is.

In fact, my initial response to this question was pretty simple.

"What is normal, anyway?"

I mean, by its textbook definition, Normal is defined as a standard which other things are compared to, or the net average of the population. However, if by "normal person" you mean the subset average of all people on the planet, you'd end up with a mid to late twenties, chinese man of Han descent. Now, if you factor in the fact that I am a white male, from Australia born to a pair of English settlers, I'm a pretty unique case, right? Well, not entirely.

See, from my observations, Normal is a term used to describe the stereotypical normal person in a given cultural context. We have to look at this topic through ideology, the idea that every individual, despite their best efforts to escape it, are unable to escape the notion of ideology. To me, normal is what I am, how I define myself. My stimming, my mannerisms, my childlike wonder, my aloofness, my literal nature and my technical prowess, are all normal parts of what makes me who I am. Ideologically, my model of a normal person, is a 20-something, Socialist-leaning Autistic man, who has an interest in computers, cars, robots, and science. But in the general scope of Australia, this is not the average. In fact, just the mention of the word "Autistic" puts me in a pretty slim category, a one in forty-eight category here in Australia. Being diagnosed at a fairly young age, this puts me even deeper into the thick of improbabilties... About one in every 10 Autistic adults were diagnosed as children. As such, I got a lot of support when I was a child, and therefore am one of the luckier ones. However, I was also raised at a time when the belief was that Autism simply grew out as you got older. 

The point is, I am, despite being a cisgendered, straight, white male living in a wealthy country, far from the norm in societal context.

My personal worth, as someone with a reduced vocal communication ability, hindered by the amount of processing it requires for me to deal with everyday conversations, is quite high to myself... But to the general populus who value social skills above all else, and the ability to get your point across as the number one benefactor which leads you to successful and stable employment, the crucible of what allows humans in modern society to survive and in some cases, thrive, this pushes me further down the ladder. It often presents us with a rather difficult dilemma.

To Declare, or not to Declare. That is the question. 

We could after all, place a mask upon ourselves. Hide our Autistic traits, be social chameleons. That is, those who have the spoons to do so. However, there is only so long that a person can actually do this before it hinders and damages their social skills even further. I experienced this recently after the rather tragic breakup from my previous partner... The pain of which I still feel to this day. I had been putting on a brave face for well over 17 years, since the age where I started to be able to string a sentence together properly and communicate my points. The age where I could just start to understand what these funny things called "Jokes" were. The age where I realised that perhaps throwing that chair at a teacher really wasn't such a smart idea. I had to learn to mask my traits in this particular environment, but this lead to many screaming matches with my mother.

"No mom, I don't want to go to school. It's too hard." 

No, the work was easy, don't get me wrong. I was in TAGS and PEAC and all the talented and gifted courses you can think of... I blitzed through my classwork. I suddenly had a rapid burst of language intake from years two through seven. I spoke like an adult by the time I was twelve. I was already reading instruction manuals for cars at six, and teaching my father, a qualified mechanic, how to rebuild carburetors that weren't actually supposed to rebuilt.

"No dad, set the main jet to two-and-a-half turns." 

The difficulty was, I had to learn not to show that intelligence. Or rather, I didn't feel it was right to. After all, if I was smart in class, and I did all my work, when the kids noticed me, they'd see that Anthony, the "Psycho kid" had already done all his schoolwork, and his homework too.

"God I wish I was as smart as him. Screw it, let's chuck a coin at his head. Time to draw some blood."

I'd get pelted with the jagged edge of a 50c coin, the blood spilled down my head. My mask cracked. My world went black, and when I came out, I was in the arms of a teacher, the other kid, a total mess of blood, crying with an icepack on his nose. I later found out that I had broken it in two places after I had decked him. I cried. I didn't want to do this... It hurt so much, the Drugs amplified every sensation of pain I felt. I didn't have the words to tell Dr. Christie the meds weren't working.

But it's this stigma. The meltdowns, the violence, the pain we feel, that stops others from assuming we were our own sense of normal. We are freaks, to them.

I would come home, crying my eyes out. My heart was in so much pain... I wanted to say sorry to the kid. I didn't mean to hurt him. That little monster wasn't who I was. Or rather, it was, but the other side of me that I wear that mask to hide... Doctor after doctor, soon came past and shook their heads.

"He's just got an attitude problem, Bump up the Ritalin." 


Now the sunlight was so painful I had to shield my eyes the second I walked outside on a winter's day. Every nerve was on fire. I wanted to rip my skeleton apart. I wanted to rip everything apart. No child, at the age of twelve, should ever think like this. No child at any age, should feel like this.

"Mom, I wish I was never born. I'm a monster."

This stigma, this problem, this lack of care by Neurotypicals, and their inability to understand that there will and always will be outliers to their norm, is exactly the reason why we are often faced with this decision whenever we sit, legs stimming and shaking like an earthquake, bass pounding through our heads, sound rippling through our mind, as the hubbub of footsteps and rain pour on the street outside the cold, air-conditioned hell that was to become my next workplace. I would get called in to the boardroom. This time, I did declare. The manager, with his Mercedes-Benz haircut, his designer suit, and his square jaw, stares me down. 

"So, you're Autistic, you say?"

Yes sir. I am. I might not look like it, but I assure you, the differences I have between myself and the other workers is only down to the way you guys have to communicate to me. I don't like loud noises, or non-informational conversation. I don't like people looking over my shoulder, and I don't like being given long lists of tasks. All you need to do, Is make a few minor tweaks to the way you work.

"...is there a way you can be more... Normal?"

Of course, I could hide who I am, but expect me to become so burdened and stressed by this behavior of working two jobs at once, one as a Graphic Designer, the other as an Actor playing the character of a Neurotypical Graphic designer, that I might fall asleep a little too much, being late for work, and end up eventually becoming so depressed that I would attempt to erase the pain by forcing someone else to take agency on my life. Whether that be staring down the CircleRoute bus, smacking on its window, screaming for the 8 ton monster to run me over, or letting the streamlined nose of a 2014 Toyota Corolla, doing 80kph down Broun Avenue, do the work for me. 

The point is pretty simple, workplaces need to do more to embrace our mindsets. This is why so many of us end up in IT jobs. Networking environments are quiet, closed off, safe spaces away from the noise and the hubbub. The white noise of Server fans may calm some of us, for others, it may be an annoyance, but the management rarely come in, so wearing headphones in the room is generally fine. I could fix problems as they arise. I could set my own deadlines. I could do things exactly according to the rules, because there really is no other way.

We make great technicians, scientists, musicians, researchers, programmers, engineers, astronomers, you name it, we're in these fields. Sitting in our darkened rooms, perfecting our crafts. None of these things are normal to the social human. They're considered "Antisocial", and it's these crafts, these tireless labours that bring forth the might of Facebook, the wonder of SpaceX, the power of Google, the beauty of Apple, to the real world. Minds plinking away in dark rooms, in their own little universes... Creating wonderful things, even if they aren't destined to be great.

My ex partner, told me this very important thing. It is something I still remember to this day.

"We scientists, are not in the business of success. We are in the business of failure. We fail, and fail again, until we find something successful, but I embrace and love my failures. I show off my scars and my mistakes. But, every mistake I make in science, brings me closer to understanding God."

She was religious, by the way.

The point is, we Autistics are brilliant, dilligent workers. We thrive on finding better ways of doing things. Easier and inventive ways. Ways which no NT would ever understand or come up with. Our rooms are messy, because that is how we understand the space. Our minds, aloof, because they are always finding new ideas and telling new stories and finding new things to be passionate about.

While others talk about the issues of the world, Autistics are doing all they can to solve the issues of the world. 

"So what's the solution. How do we get more Autistics to work?"

I am going to end by saying this. Accept us. We may not give into office drama. We may not talk about the things you like or the things you adore. We may be obsessive, we may be a little confronting with our bluntness and honesty, but these are all things that Neurotypicals value from workers. We are driven, dedicated to the task, focused, efficient, and reliable, given some minor workplace adjustments.

One day, I hope to be able to declare that I am Autistic, and that reason will be the reason that I can hold up high in saying that that was the reason why they accepted me, for this is who I am.

Anthony John Bean. 27, Autistic, and still alive, despite all the shit that's happened.

Have a good night.