Archive for the ‘work’ Category

New Approaches to Job-Searching

April 14, 2010

I’ve tried many strategies to search for work.  As I’ve said before, there’s a ton of roulette in the NLD spectrum job search process.  I’ve been to about 50 interviews, mostly for paid positions, but also some volunteer.  Though I continue to look for actual positions, I now market myself as a research and writing project specialist.  I do this primarily by sending out emails with my resume (that took me several hours to rewrite).

I have plenty of work now, but it’s all unpaid, in the academic sector, where I help professors with their research.  I love locating sources and use bibliographic software to ease the hair-splitting mechanical hell of creating a reference list.  The software helps, but I’m still training myself to be a better computer user.  So I have the unpaid stuff happening, but it really ebbs and flows.  It totally lacks structure, and usually it’s only one project that I do, then I have to find other ones.

Freelancing is tough to manage time-wise.  While I’ll work with it, what I want is a regular pay check and a permanent position.  I deserve these opportunities, but so far all I find are unpaid things.

Ever since I was a kid, I’d just plain worry about my homework and put it off.  It didn’t matter if I understood (many times I did except for math), because I just felt so consumed by general worries.  Today I got asked to do an interview for another unpaid opportunity.

This time I didn’t agree to do the interview right away.  Instead I asked the supervisor to please describe the position.  What I said (through email) is below.  Feel free to adapt it to your employment-searching needs (this gives me an excuse to check email, as it were). First, do your own introduction, then proceed:

I am hoping to find out the following:

Is this internship more on the “frontlines” or more “behind-the-scenes”?

I ask because I have a specific learning disability called [use the best words for how you see your diagnosis].  Someone meeting me will likely see signs of it [add your own words].  Despite this different external appearance, I have found that I do excellent applied work [briefly list your skill areas–research; editing; writing; et cetera].  I understand that the duties of many internships are more along the lines of being a hostess, receptionist or go-to person.  If these skills are what the internship would be centered on, than I probably would not be the best fit, but if it is more applied work, then I would welcome the honor of seeing about possible next steps.  Thank you in advance for your time and attention.

Writing works better for me . . .

July 24, 2009

I’m in the process of accepting that writing is the best way for me to communicate, even though calls and visits are the normal social standards.  In my emails and notes, I feel in control of what I’m saying, v. in social situations or on the phone, I often don’t.  I find that my nervous feelings, and people’s impressions of my nervousness, make things too awkward for me to feel comfortable or understood.  This has always been true for me, but I’ve never recognized it as fully until now.  More later.

Trouble Making Eye Contact Is Not Avoidant

July 18, 2009

I’ve been reading about the chronic trouble many people (me included) with NLD have making eye contact.  I attempt to clear up some myths here, with quotes and paraphrases in purple and my comments in blue:

1) According to O.A.S.I.S. (Online Asperger Information and Support: http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/teachers_guide.html) educator and AS parent Elly Tucker, “don’t assume that because a child is not looking at you, he is not hearing you . . . she may hear and understand you better if not forced to look directly at your eyes.” That’s totally true.  I’m still listening even though my gaze is inconsistent.

2) Tucker also points out that sometimes “forcing eye contact breaks [a person’s] concentration.” A reminder like this can also feel disciplinary or hostile, even if the person is just trying to clarify something.  Many times, people with NLD and related conditions have grown up being harshly criticized.  With less control over our readings of and responses to social stimuli, it makes sense that sometimes we have what seem like over-sensitive reactions.  Sometimes semi-criticism is snuck into a conversation, though, so many times we’re not totally misreading, and more processing things in a different order (i.e., using our left-hemisphere strengths).

3) In 2006, a Cambridge study (http://eideneurolearningblog.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html) focused on the cognitive activities of people when they make eye contact v. when they don’t.  They believe that when people look away, their brains are processing complex stimuli that requires full concentration (i.e., situations that cause social anxiety and/or require memory recall). Often children need some time adjust to a new environment (even the chair for AS subjects interfered with Stroop attention) and we need to remember to give them that time.” (A Stroop test measures how long a subject takes to react to stimuli.)

4) In an excellent short essay (http://specialchildren.about.com/od/aspergersyndrome/a/eyecontact.htm), Luke Jackson, a boy with AS, describes why eye contact is so challenging: “Sometimes it is too hard to concentrate on listening and looking at the same time.This happens to me every time I talk to someone.  Inevitably.  I try looking at their noses or mouths, but am distracted by all else–arching eyebrows, eye blinks, shifting pupils, questions being asked of me, whose turn it is to speak, et cetera.  Social dynamics are really, really hard.

Things that may help:

-Sharing that we have NLD and how we experience it in written, customized notes.

-Just telling someone beforehand that eye contact is really difficult, but we’re still listening even if our gazes shift.

-Going to places ahead of time.

-Using written communication whenever we can.

-Making a polite yet very pointed case for being able to use our talents, not be lumped into activities that capitalize on our weaknesses.


Job Interviews: the “any-questions” part

July 13, 2009

I just got back from an interview, and was trying to think what to blog about.  When they ask (and they will–at least twice) if you have any questions, here are three ideas:

-Ask a question that relates to what the interviewer was just talking about.

-Ask a standard question you’d thought of before the interview (take from a job advice site if you’re unsure, or use the office’s website, or a related resource).

-If the above strategies fail, or you’re at a loss for comments, take the first topic you can think of and make it into a question.  Don’t worry if you hesitate, just put some words together using hows and whys.  Remember that no question is a dumb question.  In an interview, it’s better to fill in conversational spaces with positive phrases, even if you struggle.  If they already know you have NLD, things will fall into place.  It will take several interviews, but you’ll get better each time.  Even the ones that don’t go well are just practice, and there’s nothing to lose.  More later.

NLD and the “not-sure-you-really-understand this” tone

July 9, 2009

When I talk with people I don’t know well, I struggle to read the dynamics of our conversation.  I’ve found that people tend to over-explain things to me, as if I’m slow to catch on.  I call this the “I’m not sure you really understand what I’m saying” tone.  It’s hard enough that I misread social signs.

For instance, sometimes when people are explaining things, I read in hostility or criticism that isn’t really there, and it stills me.  When people’s faces make sudden movements, I sometimes feel scared because it takes me more time to figure out what they may mean.  Sometimes I say things to fill in awkward conversational spaces.  Many times what I say is on-topic but not fully “spot-on.”  This causes people to start explaining like I was born yesterday.

Unfortunately a remark that’s meant to be clarifying sometimes feels insulting.  That’s because I can’t verbalize all that I pick up on.  I can in writing or music, but not in regular speech.  As we know, speech and body language are how people make judgments.  If I could, I would primarily communicate through writing and music, but that’s not how the world works.

In an office, the employee with NLD should be put in charge of the projects that take advantage of his/her strengths, such as written communication, research, and listening.  Employers need help with these very important skills, but interviews don’t usually give people chances to show how well they work and what they’re good at.  So when people use the “not sure you really understand me” tone, it’s hard for me not to feel slighted.

Even though my reaction is irrational and not really helpful, it has an element of accuracy.  I am hurt that people don’t see my intelligence or talents, especially when I see and praise their wonderful qualities.  People with NLD have a beautiful capacity to be very kind to others, and to contribute excellently to communities, to be peaceful.  These skills are the basics of a healthy society, but too often social mis-perception interrupts the execution of these compassionate values.  This shouldn’t be.  Ignorance needs to be a thing of the past.  I will try and briefly reconstruct one of the conversations I’m talking about.

SOMEONE ELSE: “So we’re trying to do this program to help feed children . . ..”

ME: “It sounds like a good idea.”

SOMEONE ELSE: “Yes.”

ME: “Maybe the focus of this program relates to homelessness.”

SOMEONE ELSE: “Yes, but what we’re trying to do is help children through school breakfast programs . . ..”

ME: “Right.”

The tough-to-digest phrase is in bold and italics.  It could be just explaining something, but there’s also that zing of “this person doesn’t really get it.”  I may not be describing this that well, but I hope this begins to put into words what I’ve seen happen. I couldn’t remember a real conversation, but if I do, I’ll blog it.

Having NLD and Dealing with Criticism

June 8, 2009

Criticism happens to everyone, but it’s more complicated when someone has a learning disorder like NLD.  First, we often have trouble reading nonverbal information, even if it’s just accepting a compliment or saying something funny.  Second, negative feedback is easier to deal with when you can respond to it on the spot.

Since NLD makes improvising really hard, sometimes we have to mull over the criticism, put together the pieces, check out the problem with someone else who understands our NLD issues, and then respond.  We go through all these steps in a state of doubt–did I say the wrong thing; was I wrong; what if I had done or not done xyz; how much credibility do I really have; did I get my point across; does so-and-so recognize my needs; did so-and-so consider my perspective; did I consider so-and-so’s perspective, et cetera.

As these and other questions swirl around, much of my confusion remains, I feel a keen sense of inertia (and being stuck), great stress, (sometimes) sadness, and frustration.  Then I ask myself the question many who are unaware of NLD ask: if I’m so smart, why do I keep having these slip-ups?

I tell myself to have compassion, and that mistakes are just ways to learn.  Still, NLD makes it all much harder.  Instead of clearing up things on the spot, I must wait until I can reflect (read: dwell) on an issue, and sometimes ask for a second opinion, before I know the best way to respond.  As I dwell, the problem feels worse than it is, and I worry unnecessarily.  I cannot overstate the importance of making sure all with NLD have safe outlets to vent to, like mentors who are social coaches.

Perhaps it’s common for people with NLD to have friends older than us because they tend to want to share their life experience.  I have a number of friends my age, but when a problem confuses me, I tend to ask my friends who are parents because having children sometimes results in great respect for learning differences.  I feel much older than my age due to my life’s difficulties.

NLD and the Complexities of Misperception

June 7, 2009

Social perception is, as we know, a two-way street. We put out signals and other people read them, and vice versa. Throw in NLD, and two large problems can develop. First, we with NLD have trouble reading social cues on the spot. Second, a person communicating with us may misinterpret our behavior and then respond based on the misunderstanding.

For instance, I often appear very nervous and very distressed-looking, when in reality, I’m not nervous or distressed. When I tell people I’m not nervous, they generally don’t believe this and keep asking me if I’m OK or why I seem apprehensive. Needless to say, it makes social interaction all the more awkward, as if it wasn’t already troublesome enough.

The best thing I can suggest to deal with this isn’t possible all the time, but here it is: use written communication as much as possible. Tell people about having NLD before you meet with them in writing. An earlier post has a sample work/school letter (search blog for “sample work/school letter”).

NLD Angst

June 3, 2009

When things get really hard–either a bad day or chronic problem–I tend to get NLD angst. This feeling involves the following emotions, give or take:

-Frustration from being misunderstood

-Anxiety that society is largely biased against the things people with LDs do well

-Fear of what I don’t understand, but am still responsible for

-Apprehension of not knowing what to do next, but being required to respond (or not respond)

-Worries about challenges of social-relating (i.e., I don’t network easily, and it’s tough to make friends, much as I try to pretend it isn’t; a lost friend is a quandary for anyone, but doubly or triply challenging for someone with NLD, who will require more time to find new friends)

-Worries about rejection (again, a larger problem for individuals with NLD due to having trouble responding to an event)

-General knowledge that one side of my brain is not caught up with the other side

When I was growing up, I didn’t know I had NLD, so I suffered in my social relating but didn’t know why. If I could help parents, teachers, and children, I would say this (and will add to it in future posts):

-Involve child with other kids as much as possible, but not to the point of overwhelming them

-Watch for signs of fatigue, anxiety, and social overwhelm

-Teach child it’s OK to not attend every social event

-Teach child how to begin and end conversations, and that it’s OK to make mistakes

-Teach child how to explain themselves

More later.

A Different Form of Different

June 3, 2009

Because not many people know about NLD yet, it is a different type of different.  I was thinking how the word “different” is often used to describe someone’s difficulties, but it stops at that point.  It usually doesn’t look at the complex interchanges between a person’s talents and struggles.  Much less our talents.  NLD is perhaps an unusual LD because it’s specifically a problem with visual-spatial skills.  Maybe this is one reason the general public has such issues with perceiving NLD people.  It’s a totally new LD to most, and not yet a completely official diagnosis.

At the same time, I don’t explain my NLD to everyone.  I only talk about it when I have ongoing discussions with (for instance) someone I volunteer with.  If I just deal with someone once, I can’t bring myself to go into it.  I think another problem is we’re often very good at certain things, and find ways around things we’re bad at.  So sometimes teachers have been like, if this person is so bright, why do they struggle with the “easiest” things.  I like the following quote.  I’ve never known who said it, but it could have been Einstein:

“Why is it that the difficult things are the most simple, and the simple things are the most difficult?”

NLD and Meeting New People

June 2, 2009

I just made the decision to return to school.  I’d looked for work for the past year.  Despite a great resume and more interviews than I care to count, I could not find a job.  I know our economy’s living out a horror story, but my fields have vacancies here and there.  For these I applied, faithfully, in my city, and many times was asked to come in.

Unfortunately, each time my NLD was perceived as too awkward and/or I suffered from expressive language difficulties (writing is so much more comfortable for me).  I got used to the standard interview questions, and spun my responses.  I did get better at interviews than when I began my search, but I’m just not a natural at selling myself.

I’m not comfortable being scrutinized or cross-examined.  Whenever possible, I avoid situations where people try to cross anxiety-provoking lines, where I feel like my boundaries are not respected.

It’s harder for me to say no because of NLD.  That doesn’t mean I don’t say no, just that it’s twice as uncomfortable.  Deciding between making an excuse and a point-blank “no” is always a tough call.  A call that would easier to make if my visual-spatial skills helped me navigate, but of course they’re generally not reliable.  So my right brain tries to catch up with my left brain, but it’s a big challenge.  It interrupts and halts my speech and makes me seem awkward.

The best advice I have is this: tell people you have NLD before a professional meeting and work with people you already know if possible.  So often it’s not possible, though.  It is my hope that in the future, society will learn to respect and celebrate learning differences.  Until then we must advocate as much as we can, but also not get exhausted or overly stressed in the process.