Straight From the Source – Finding Confidence in My Differences
If you told me five years ago that I would be a practicing social worker, I wouldn’t have believed it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to become a social worker. Rather, I felt that it would be something that I couldn’t do because of my Autism. To be entirely honest, I took to heart some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions people have about Autism. I felt like I could never support others because my eye contact is fleeting. From a young age, most kids learn that good eye contact is one of the most important skills for social interaction. My interests can also be rather specific, and I really enjoy sharing about them, but sometimes I have a difficult time telling when others want to change the subject. In all my years receiving Autism-related services, I had not once met a clinician with Autism. Since there were no models, I worried that people must not want a social worker who has Autism. It was during my time in undergrad that I met someone who had similar differences who was pursuing a career in social work. With that person’s support, I came to the realization that I would take a chance on my dreams and become a model for others who might wish to follow suit. I earned my undergraduate degree and applied for a master’s level social work program.
My early career assumption was that I would pursue employment in the realm of immigration or refugee services, but my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to interview at one Autism-related agency. That agency was Milestones Autism Resources. “Milestones serves clients with Autism and I have Autism, maybe this could be a good fit,” is what I told myself. I called Beth Thompson and within a week I had an interview. I arrived far too early than what might be considered professionally appropriate, the dress shirt (that my mother encouraged me to tuck in) was untucked because I found it to be too uncomfortable, and my interview consisted of an abundant amount of oversharing. Yet from the moment I walked through the door to the moment I left, I felt welcomed. I knew then that Milestones was where I wanted to complete my first year internship. I celebrated with my family when Milestones offered me a position as their Graduate Social Work Intern.
Working with Beth and the Milestones team, I learned that I didn’t need to feel disadvantaged in social work – in fact, it was a valuable asset in that my Autism, as well as my treatment history, offered me a unique insight into the experiences that my clients may have. Milestones also gave me a platform to take pride in my story. At the Milestones 2015 Annual Benefit Dinner, I shared my experiences as a person with Autism to an audience far larger than I could have imagined. My mother cried tears of joy and the crowd gifted me a standing ovation while I walked off stage – only to be redirected by my colleagues at Milestones to “get back up there and take it in!” From then on, I moderated panels at the Milestones conference, shared my experiences with audiences, and hopefully inspired others to share their own stories.
Milestones instilled me with the confidence to seek opportunities as a Direct Practice Social Worker, providing clinical mental health services to clients. Recently, when Milestones offered me a full-time position, I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye to my clients, but that it was an excellent opportunity to advocate, teach, and provide quality service to others. Whether or not my clients found me to be “weird” as I had feared, is something I never quite found out. However, I did find out that I could support families in reaching their goals, that I am capable, that I have a voice, and most importantly that I can use my voice to inspire and empower others. Milestones taught me that I can become a great Social Worker. We should not let our fears that others will not embrace our differences hold us back. I am happy to be a member of the team at Milestones Autism Resources and perhaps more importantly, I am honored to have the opportunity to use the skills that I have developed to support others in reaching their goals.
Hear from Nathan and other self-advocates in the video above.