Saturday, 15 November 2014

Autism-unfriendly Autism event

Four interviews later and still I'm unemployed... employment support for people with AS won't accept me because I'm not disabled enough, and mainstream support services aren't terribly helpful at addressing my Asper issues with interviews. This doesn't surprise me at all. I have five applications to complete by the end of the weekend, so I'm procrastinating by doing laundry and blogging.

Toward the end of September, a few days before my job ended, I was invited to the launch event of some software that I was in a pilot for. This software essentially breaks down webpage text into simpler words, or replaces metaphors or idioms with the meaning of the phrase. Perhaps not so useful for myself, since I generally have no problem understanding written text (unless I'm too stressed, in which case I'll do something else), but some others at the launch event said that they or their family members with autism had found it helpful. The pilot studies took place in 2013: as I remember it, I was given original texts and texts which had been processed by the software, and asked to complete comprehension questions on them in order to show if the software improved understanding. I might also have had to answer questions on how easy I found reading the texts, I can't quite recall.

Anyway, I headed to the event after work one day, thankfully the office building where the launch was to be held was a short walk from where I usually took the train. Once inside, there was some confusion as to where exactly I was going since security staff weren't sure where the event was, but eventually I was in the right place. I was greeted by the experimenter, then left to find a seat in the small room. There were a handful of others talking in small groups, and a photographer who took lots of photos with the flash on. This startled me when she took them without warning: I can get quite jumpy when I'm tired or stressed. I was socially tired out from my day at work, so I sat down at the back. After ten minutes or so, the experimenters, software developers and people who funded the project joined us, and there followed presentations on different aspects of the project. There was a break where people huddled by the snack table - I'm never sure how to approach snack tables, will people move in a line or do I barge through, when somebody cuts in front what do I do, and all of this in a tight space didn't help. There followed more presentations, then some networking at the end.

At this point I was too stressed by the crowd to talk much,which unfortunately led to one of the main researchers talking to me sl-ow-ly when she addressed a group I was standing with, which is something that really insults me since I have a high level of education and am perfectly capable, when not overly stressed, of having a good conversation. I left as soon as I deemed it to be socially acceptable.

What I suppose hurt and angered me most is that this is a project run by people who take a keen interest in autism and Asperger Syndrome, who consequently should know how it can affect us. To then put us in a small crowded space, to then expect us in this environment to be able to have normal conversations and be able to follow buffet procedures with no guidance, and for there to be sudden flash photography, is it any wonder that I felt overly stressed out at this. To be spoken to like a small child when I felt overwhelmed - I didn't expect that from professionals in the field of autism. Especially not at an event about autism, to which people on the spectrum were invited.

When I finally left, I felt that I'd run out of social energy. I slept on the train back, trying not to cry about how hurt and tired I felt. Perhaps I won't attend future events run by this group.

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