Different, Not Better
From Andrew Owen, Oath Critical Operations Engineer and co-lead of Oath's Neurodiversity employee resource group
I have Autism.
I am a Critical Operations Engineer at the Lockport, New York BF2 site.
My name is Andrew Owen.
I wrote it backward like that because it can be tempting to see someone's Autism first and let that color everything else you learn about them. Now let's go back and start at the beginning...
As a child, I was diagnosed with ADHD, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified), and Dysgraphia. As an adult, that PDD-NOS diagnosis was revised to Asperger Syndrome. With the 2013 release of the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), PDD-NOS and Asperger Syndrome have been folded into the Autism Spectrum.
Growing up, I was a very outgoing person and very extroverted. However, in social situations, I struggled because I was too domineering without realizing it. Often, I would unintentionally cut others off and speak over other people. I also began to realize that I tended to have a very different perception of things. I was very black and white, whereas others saw things in between. You were either my friend or my enemy. These social Issues only became more pronounced as a teen. I was highly intellectual and always wanted to share with my peers, however, I didn't understand why they shied away from me. Often, my attempts to interact with my peers lead to increased bullying and ostracism.
As an adult, my diagnosis was revised. Whereas there really wasn't much info on PDD-NOS, there were many strategies and therapies available for those who have Asperger Syndrome. I began researching the condition, and found many self-help guides and attempted to integrate a lot of what I read into my daily life. I found that this drastically improved my social life, however, the cost on my brain was high as it required a constant increased level of focus. At this point, I was succeeding more and more in social gatherings, but my grades in college were suffering as the majority of my cognitive wherewithal was sourced to areas other than studying. I had to find equilibrium.
My autism has also impacted my professional career. I was let go from a previous job because they found out I had trouble understanding customers' feelings and issues unless they came out and directly told me. This resulted in a five-month long search for employment. During that search process, I worked with OVR (Office of Vocational Rehabilitation) in the state I lived in at the time (PA). My OVR coordinator encouraged me to do the one thing that scared me the most: be upfront about my disabilities. My ideal work environment would be one that understood the way my mind worked and celebrated the unique abilities it brought to bear.
When I came to Yahoo for my onsite interview, I found a level of acceptance I was not expecting, and thus felt somewhat comfortable revealing my diagnosis in my interview. I consider this the number one thing which attributed to my success at Yahoo and continues to do so here at Oath. My managers have been willing to work with me, as they see that my challenges also come with their own unique set of perks.
Some of the benefits which I feel I bring to the team:
- I am an optimistic individual who is often able to look at each situation and look at it in the moment without the baggage of previous occurrences.
- I have a laser focus on anything that engages my interest. This often leads to subject matter expertise on those topics I can deep dive into.
- When I have a topic that I have focused on, I become very detail oriented.
- Due to living in a world of mostly absolutes, I often have unique opinions and original thoughts on projects.
However, these benefits come with a few detriments:
- I can come across as cold, heartless, or unempathetic at times, even though that's not how I feel inside.
- I am quick to speak my mind, even when things may best go unsaid.
- Often, the need to have correctness and order around me can lead me to correct others, often in a way that can appear unintentionally condescending.
- Focus can be very difficult, especially for tasks that are tedious, repetitive or of low interest.
The message I want to share is this: Autism has blessed me with incredible intellect and abilities; however, these great strengths come with their own unique challenges. I would encourage all people to be aware that Autistic individuals are everywhere and could reside just a few desks away, but they often feel they can't be as open about their difference. Maybe it's that colleague who won't look you in the eye when they talk to you or the coworker who likes to talk about one topic ad nauseam, or the shy quiet member of your team who just churns out a massive amount of code but rarely talks to anyone. Please realize that these individuals may also have autism. What appears to be abnormal socialization may actually be autism in disguise. If you are willing to give them a chance, you may find some of the most loyal friends you could ask for. But whether they are autistic or not (never make assumptions based on observed behavior!), assume good intent, and give them the space and understanding to be themselves.
At Oath, we're all about celebrating Minds of All Kinds. Our Neurodiversity employee resource group is on the forefront of how we live our Commitment to Inclusion every day.