Disability? I've got a DIFFability

Last updated 12:00 07/05/2014

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Do New Zealanders accept difference?

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I prefer not to see myself as having a DISability but rather a DIFF(erent)ability.

Sure, I appear 'normal', but as an adult I have been diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome, which is on the mild end of the autism spectrum. Every day I struggle with the things that most people take for granted - talking on the phone with a friend, walking into the local supermarket and shopping, catching public transport, going somewhere new, cooking a meal, or even updating my Facebook status.

It is important to note that autism is a spectrum; if you have met one person with autism, the next person with autism you meet will have an entirely different set of deficits, challenges and experiences.

Don't discount one person's disability because they don't have the challenges you would expect them to have. I have had several people question my diagnosis because I don't match their expectations of someone with Asperger's/autism, this both frustrates and saddens me.

I don't have a job, and sadly probably won't ever be capable of working full time - due to social interaction being extremely exhausting for me.

I am unemployed but not by choice; I have gone for many jobs and tried many different techniques, and while I have frequently made it to the interview stage I never receive a job offer.

Why you may well ask? I have ruled out: lack of qualifications, skills or personal presentation.

I guess that only leaves the fact that I am relatively quiet and appear to be lacking in confidence, due to an (autistic) inability to make eye contact. Unbelievably, even a job shelving books in a library requires customer service skills! And potential employers make the (incorrect) assumption that I am not capable of meeting their needs in that regard.

Unfortunately, in my experience, if you are brave enough to disclose that you have a disability in your job application, don't wait for a call back. Sure there are equal employment laws, but in the current employers market when there is an oversupply of 'normal' people looking for a job, who would want to hire a potential liability?

Also, in terms of employment (and life in general) having autism has made me a prime target for bullying (sadly this is all too common among those on the spectrum). In my previous place of employment, employees bullied me and multiple managers for well over a year despite the intervention of numerous agencies.

As my disability is invisible and I appear 'normal' there is an expectation that I should be able to do all the things that 'normal' people do. Even with knowledge of my disability, people don't always make allowances for my differences, and I am placed into unpleasant situations that I don't have the skills or abilities to cope with.

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Because we live in a social world and autism is primarily a social disability, even those who are 'high functioning' struggle to survive without a reasonable level of support and understanding.

Next time you see a child having a 'tantrum' in the mall, stop and consider before you look down on the mother who cannot control her child. Maybe the child is not crying over a lolly, maybe they cannot cope with all the lights, sounds, movement and smells within the store. That child could easily have been me.

Earlier I referred to myself as having a DIFFability, that's because while there are many things I will always struggle to do, there are also things I do naturally that others study for years to achieve.

For example, how many people do you know that can read at over 1000 words per minute? I could by the age of nine and with full comprehension. Because of my gift, I have been introduced by others as "a genius" - a title I hesitate to take.

Living in New Zealand with an invisible disability is not all bad, there are many out there who accept difference without a blink, those who understand and want to help, and for those people I am extremely grateful.

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