Today, I am somewhere mid-career. I have chosen to continue my professional path with autistic people and their loved ones. I’ve changed jobs a few times, grown up, started a family of my own, and created a work-family. And I still find that my work fills my soul.
I am exactly where I want to be.
Yet, it seems like people leave the field of autism for all different reasons; some commonly transition into workplace issues, sometimes educational pursuits, but too often I hear the same story. It’s the stories of fatigue, dissatisfaction, feeling disempowered, not enough hours, too much driving, too hard, and burnout, or wanting something different. Often, clinicians reflect and determine that it’s time to leave the autistic community. To those people and everyone in their first job within the autism community…
Stay. It’s worth it. Here’s why:
1) Human interactions are good for us.
Robert Waldinger is the head scientist of the longest running research project on human behavior at Harvard University. His findings are simple, human connection is good for us. Connection brings true happiness and life satisfaction. My role as a therapist is to create connection and in turn, I get the health benefits. Plenty of workplaces have human connection but none as deeply emotional as being part of a child’s life. There is the simple joy of connecting with children. There is the heart-swelling feeling of being part of a child’s development; watching them move through life. There is the comfort in our future in knowing that our world reaches our future generation. There is the earnest feeling of knowing that our work matters. There is nothing more important than connecting with a child.
2) Doing good creates happiness.
Clearly you should leave the field if you can’t approach other human beings with kindness and empathy. There are other jobs that may suit you. But for those of us that want to push some good into the world, the autism community could use some support. Guess what? Doing good things for society is also good for us. Dr. Richard Davidson, neuroscientist, contends that when we are generous with others, we actually change our own brain circuitry wiring for wellness. Our brain creates neurochemical rewards when we treat another human-being with loving kindness. For me, I have an opportunity to show up and be kind each and every day. So often, people ask me ‘how do I do it?’ suggesting my job is hard. I get so many internal rewards from the work that I do, it would almost be hard to imagine not doing it. Doing good has certainly created my own happiness.
3) It’s fun.
Stuart Brown, researcher on play, shares with us that play is not just for children. Play is essential for happy and healthy adults. For me, I get to play everyday. From making marshmallow shooters, to a competitive battle of Catan, to water balloon fights; my days are filled with children. Because of that, I get to keep my inner child alive. I love this about my job. Sometimes when I’m munching on Oreos and playing Jenga with one of my awesome clients, I immediately feel gratitude for the work that I do.
4) Necessity of experienced voices
I feel like the universe had my back when she handed me my first job in this field. I’ve since created my own path, becoming a sort of specialist in the field. We’ve all heard the bit about how it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert. Whether this number is accurate or not, it does seem to suggest it takes us some time to become competent at most things that have any level of complexity to them. Becoming a competent clinician takes a bit of time to develop. So many people leave the field before allowing themselves to mature in their work. Those feelings of discomfort when we don’t know what we are doing are often ones that we want to escape. Yet, if we can lean into that feeling, tell ourselves that it's okay to experience this discomfort and keep learning and growing; we all benefit. The autism community needs experienced people. We need more competent clinicians. We need clinicians that have grown their clinical skills over a few years or decades. We need experienced voices that are willing to take on what is currently happening and create positive change.
We are all different and many of us have varied experiences in any one career. I hope that if you are struggling with burnout, fatigue, or unhappiness at work that you take a moment to attend to all the ways that your work is supportive to you as a human being.
How does your work fill your soul?
Clearly, I know that all autistic people are not children. The intention of this blog was not to write about the diversity of the spectrum but to discuss one aspect of my current job.
Love this! I am currently back in college, finally pursuing my degree (I am an autistic adult, and I have an adult autistic son as well as an 11 year old autistic son…I left college to care for my children, but am in a place where I can now go back and finish what I began nearly twenty years ago. I am majoring in Psychology (I’ll have 2 Associates degrees by the end of next Fall and will transfer to CSU San Marcos the following semester…if I continue to stick to my ed plan), and though I don’t know exactly where a degree in Psychology will take me, I had to start somewhere, because I know that my passion is helping others to love and accept themselves as they are, and I just really enjoy seeing others be successful, happy, and grow. After two decades of full time parenting coupled with full-time volunteering within various capacities in the nonprofit sector (40-60 hour weeks in some of those positions, which I loved, but unfortunately, were unpaid and I had to decide to do something that would help my family maybe own a home one day, save for retirement…and not have to rely on disability payments to survive – which can be a struggle), I found that even with experience, a degree is necessary to gain employment doing what I’m best at and to do what I love – helping others (particularly my autistic peers, the disabled community, marginalized populations, while also educating mainstream society in the process).
I have met so many wonderful people who aren’t autistic but have a heart for serving our community with respect and dignity over the years, and each time I’ve seen one of these amazing people move on to other endeavors, it makes my heart heavy, because there is a tremendous need in our community for people who, to quote one of my childhood heroes, Mister Rogers, like us just the way we are. 🙂
Without people like you, Jenny, and other remarkable individuals who want to assist us in creating a better world for all of us to live in by promoting Neurodiversity, love, acceptance, and societal inclusion, we would have to struggle even harder to make ourselves heard. We would not have the ability to tell our stories in spaces where love and understanding drive the narrative, allowing us all an equal voice in the conversation…or those who pour their hearts and souls into building conferences that grow and evolve because our voices and perspectives matter. We wouldn’t have allies outside of the autistic community that value us as whole human beings…and afford us not only respect and consideration, but genuinely want to help us build bridges that connect us to the world we live in, rather than objectifying us or expecting that we change who we are to conform to standards we had no part in setting with regard to societal expectations…and some of the painful stereotypes that have come with it.
I can only echo the message you have delivered…if you want to see how rewarding it can be to impact the lives of individuals you work with through love, compassion, and understanding, we need you to stay.
Going back to college hasn’t been easy…and there have been so many times I’ve second guessed my decision…even now, I’m not entirely sure where I will end up once I’ve obtained my Bachelor’s in Psychology. What I DO know, though, is that this is where I want to be. This is my community. People like Jenny have become like extended family to me. This is where I belong. I remind myself that this is only temporary, and that the harder the work may seem, the bigger the reward will be at the end.
I think it’s likely the same for those working with us…looking in from the outside. What may feel overwhelming or difficult now is temporary – and completely natural! It’s always a little more challenging to enter a world you might not be accustomed to, and there may be days when you question your effectiveness, or wonder whether you’re on the right path.
If you’re here because you’ve got love in your heart and a desire to help others through positive support and acceptance…you’re in the right place…and we need you.
One day, you’ll look around and be able to see the results of your hard work. People will tell you how much you’ve helped them (or they might not…but there will be enough who do that will remind you of why you chose this path), and it will feel amazing.
Thank you for sharing this, Jenny. I know I’ve told you before just how much your work means to us as a community…and I have always admired your dedication to providing a comprehensive view of the autistic community by providing a platform for us to share ourselves and our experiences with others rather than speaking for us (or eliminating us from the conversation altogether!).
We appreciate those who work hard to get to know us and those who value us as whole human beings. We need more of that, and if you’re inclined to stay the course even when it feels challenging, I promise you won’t regret your decision. 🙂
Sorry for rambling…I tend to do that when I feel strongly about something!
This is truly a touching piece and indicative of the heart, passion, love, and devotion Jenny has for helping autistics thrive in all areas of life. She and her staff at Family Guidance and Therapy Center are indeed one of a kind and top notch in every way. They have shown me how to have fun and enjoy life to the fullest knowing that when we show our authentic selves to the world we reap rewards and accolades beyond our consciousness and the falseness of this life. Jenny and her staff enable me to grow to be a loving father to my amazing autistic son and to be a proud autistic myself. Keep up the great work as I surely believe you will. Lastly, at the Family Guidance and Therapy Center autistics indeed have a home and voice.