In my first ever job after leaving school, I worked at a local bakery.
I hated it. The owners didn’t treat their staff well and regularly abused their son, who was one of the bakers in front of the entire staff and customers.
“Shit for brains” was what he was called.
It was a noisy place, and all of my memories of it are of anxiety and fear.
I have anxiety now just typing about it.
The lady boss was a gaslighter.
She would show me the ‘right way’ to do things and then walk in whilst I was doing those same things the way she had shown me, only to tell me I was doing it wrong.
Being young and autistic, I NEVER spoke up for myself.
I went along with all she said, even though I knew she was mistaken.
And deep down, I didn’t question whether her treatment of me was wrong, because my self worth was extremely low and I was absolutely terrified of authority.
This is common for young girls on the autism spectrum (I can only speak about this because I was one).
Her husband would get me in the car to take me across town to another of their bakeries to work after lunch.
On the entire trip, he’d lecture me about my ‘endeavour’ within their business.
Was I trying hard enough? Was I taking pride in my work?
It would go on and on and on and on.
As I type this, my entire body is tensing up and sadness is creeping in.
I would sit, powerless, surrounded by the noise of the bombardment of their criticism of me.
I was 15.
I told anybody that asked, that yes, I loved my job.
Because that’s what I had learnt people do.
They just work at whatever they can to earn whatever they can and put up with whatever they do.
It was a different generation, people generally didn’t strive to work in businesses they were in love with.
Being autistic, there were many concepts I didn’t understand.
A customer owed $3.50 for an order and she gave me a five dollar note and a fifty cent piece.
So in my mind, she had given me too much. I had no idea that she just wanted a straight two dollar coin back so she could minimise the change in her purse.
And so I told her she was giving me too much.
She was kind and patient and tried explaining, but the owners walked out and proceeded to humiliate me in her presence.
“Kristy, you need to wash your face in cold water before you come here. Do you not understand basic math?”
I didn’t understand the questions.
Oh boy the anxiety and the physical responses to remembering this!
I was a target for them.
They were annoyed by me.
There was one event that occurred a few times and I can actually understand their frustration.
I want to share it because I want others to understand the autistic brain.
One of my jobs was to take a cardboard rectangular tray and fill it with small, square apple slices.
The boss would tell me to make sure I left enough space at the bottom of the tray to be able to get the slices out, so they weren’t squished in.
And I could NOT stop my brain from forcing me to set those apple slices in a pattern that pleased my brain.
My pattern seeking brain.
I was so afraid of those people.
Yet I could not fight the urge my brain had to load those apple slices in such a way that they filled the entire tray, with no space to get them out.
They were frustrated by it and so was I.
I had no control over it. It put me in the firing line.
I woke in the mornings not wanting to go because I knew that I would do it again and I would be in trouble yet again.
I want people to consider this, very seriously.
I am what society likes to deem “high functioning”.
I drive, I speak, I have a social network, I don’t have food aversions, I have university degrees and I run my own business.
And it means nothing.
I still have an internalised bucket load of all the characteristics of autism, and many of them are absolutely in common with those of us who society term “low functioning”.
You may not visually see our internalised autism, but it’s there.
Eventually, the owners stood me down.
I was asked to clean out the cool room in the middle of winter along with other various jobs that I now see were with the aim to force me out.
But I was there because I believed I had to be, I didn’t realise I had the option of standing up for myself and to be honest, for a large part of my life, standing up for myself terrified me.
I cleaned out the coolroom (meticulously I might add-of course).
And I went to lunch.
I’d left the cool room doors open.
The pain of making such a huge mistake is something I can’t express to you.
The internalised self hatred. The feeling of being ‘fucked up’.
Knowing I was intelligent but in many ways naive..
In reality I’m an autistic person who needed help with many things.
Executive functioning being one of them.
I see this regularly in medical surgeries.
GPs, Doctors, people who have studied for years and have a great skill set struggle in other areas..
Executive functioning being one of the greatest challenges.
In the end, I was heartbroken to lose my job.
To have to go home to my Mum who was a single parent of three and feel as though I was a failure.
And rather than feeling the relief of not being abused anymore (I didn’t know I was being abused),
I feared for each and every position I would take on after that.
Work was a minefield of potential for saying and doing the wrong thing.
I did go on to land myself in my current field.
Early childhood, primary and secondary teaching, childhood behavioural and family specialisation and now here.
And it’s easy. And I love it. And it’s where I’m meant to be.
And those owners?
He went to jail.
They were breaking into houses all over town and stealing jewellery, laundering money..
And I was surprised.
Because with all the evidence of who they really were, I still believed I was the real problem.
Please support your autistic children to know they are worthy and should be treated well.
Please support them in finding employment opportunities that work for them.
And make it a priority to have a healthy relationship with their employers. An ongoing relationship of openness and honesty.
I didn’t know I was autistic, nor did my parents.
And I wasn’t in the habit of talking about my problems because I didn’t want to be a let down; a failure.
Connection with our children is seriously crucial.