When I was little, I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up – an inventor. Aside from wishing to make this world a better place, the psychology behind it was simple: scientists were smart, respected for their abilities, and took on issues that were quite difficult to solve. Back then, I viewed myself as the dumbest girl in the whole world with nothing to offer. So in my eyes, achieving this admiral dream would redeem me in a sense. That is, I could be viewed as an equal. While the end goal has morphed over the years, the sentiment behind it hasn’t.
My journey to employment has been rather tricky so far. In the K-12 school system, I worked tirelessly to achieve good grades. In fact, I had to put in at least twice the effort as everyone else in order to produce those results. But it came at a cost; I can’t tell you how many times I grew frustrated to the point of tears while tackling my homework. Things just didn’t make sense. I wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until I was 16 years old, and with ADHD until I was around 24. As a consequence, I had to navigate the world on my own. On the other hand, I gained a valuable skill in independence – learning to figure things out without the help of others.
During my time at Oakland University, I started to devote some of my energy to internships. Since I decided to study 2 majors – Environmental Science and Japanese (my 2 passions in life), these experiences were varied. On the environmental side, I spent a summer learning about invasive plant species and how to clear them out across various easements. As for the other major, I dabbled in translating Japanese comics and then later wrote articles for a tourist blog while studying abroad in Japan. Towards graduation, I tried and failed to score positions in the Japanese-related work field. I was able to get some interviews, but my luck ran dry from there. After some deep thought, I decided to go back to school to further supplement my science-related education. That resulted in studying at Lansing Community College for an associate’s degree in GIS, otherwise known as geographic information systems.
For the past 2-3 years, I put my all into building up my experience portfolio while still taking classes. First came an 8-month unpaid internship with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Then came a seasonal position with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). And now I currently work with the Department of Transportation (MDOT) as a water quality student assistant that’ll end once I graduate. These positions haven’t all been smooth sailing. The challenge I found across the board was issues in communication. Sometimes I misinterpret things or have trouble recalling certain details. But as someone who’s pretty adaptable, I’ve found ways to mitigate my weaknesses. This ranges from asking my superiors to be very direct and precise with what they want from me, to recording discussions that I can revisit later if needed. I’m also not afraid to ask questions or clarifications. That way, I’m much less likely to make mistakes. The somewhat difficult part of having these adaptations applied is wording them while still keeping my disabilities a secret. In my experience, telling someone early on means the beginning of the end. Instead of someone saying they need you to do this or that, the dialogue changes to ‘CAN you do this’. Essentially, the person doubts your capabilities before they even know you. In order to bypass that prejudice, I pretend to be a neurotypical at all times while proving my worth through the work I put in. Only then after showing what I’m capable of will I possibly take off my mask.
All I want in life is to be a productive and contributing member of society. To me, that means securing a permanent full-time job. Sure, I could take the easy route and spend my days relying on Social Security Disability. But that wouldn’t be who I am. I refuse to depend on handouts if I have the ability to work. Besides, that’d be a pretty boring and unfulfilling existence. At this point in my journey, I’m just a step away from my vision, but I need someone to give me a chance. Then I can finally tell that little girl from years ago that she isn’t worthless or stupid, but rather intelligent with all the potential in the world at her fingertips.