Mind Shift means Hope.
By the time I reached adulthood, life on the Spectrum had taught me to be guarded and never really, fully hope for anything. I grew up in the age where Autism was thought of as an affliction that required institutionalizing, and no one even knew what Asperger’s Syndrome was; the research wasn’t even translated from German until after I’d graduated from High School. My diagnosis didn’t come until I was twenty-nine years old. By then, I had internalized that I was broken, defective, an outsider. I didn’t fit in with others, struggling to understand the non-verbal cues. I’d struggled to get and keep jobs, worked below my education level and agonized over all the daily social interactions. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, at some point I’d see “The Look”.
The Look is a slight narrowing of the eyes and a tilt of the head, always signaling that I’d done something socially incorrect. Sometimes the consequences were a puzzled query from the other party, offering me an opportunity to correct my unintentional blunder; other times it was immediate ostracization from my coworkers and subsequent sidelong glances until the pressure became too great and I’d resign, humiliated and angry with myself for not “getting it”.
This became a repeating pattern, and I came to believe I’d never fit in anywhere. The social pressures were enormous. I’d spent years learning and mentally cataloging non-verbal social cues, so I could superficially pass for “normal” within limited time frames, but it was never enough. Extended periods of social interaction were exhausting as I expended my energy interpreting and making my best guesses to the nuanced meanings behind neuro-typical conversation. As time went on, I found myself avoiding social situations, even when I wanted to participate, because the emotional toll was too great. For each social gathering, there is a price to pay and I need varying amounts to time to recover and become energized again. Imagine being dropped onto another planet with no frame of reference to interpret the native language. The words mean one thing to you, but something different to them and you lack the necessary parts to replicate the “correct” meaning. Every social situation becomes a minefield.
How does any of this relate to Mind Shift and the Hope it gives me? Mind Shift accepts and accommodates my current ability level and encourages me to stretch those boundaries. It provides a place for me to learn of how much I truly am capable, instead of placing unattainable expectations on me from day one. The expectations of a “regular” job, without accommodations, were a guarantee of failure. I’d work so hard to meet them that all else in my life would suffer: home, friendships, nutrition, sleep, everything. There was no balance. Every ounce of my focus was on meeting the work goals and not losing the job. It didn’t take long before I’d start seeing The Look, and people who were previously friendly became distant. I knew my time in that position was limited.
Mind Shift is different. It’s a place of support, encouragement, safety, understanding, and most of all, Hope. Each day I go to work, I know that I’ll be productive, valued, and given the tools I need to excel and grow. My position at Mind Shift accommodates my current abilities and helps me expand those, growing as a person and employee. Mind Shift helps me realize my potential. What does my future hold? I don’t know for sure, but I do know is that what I learn and contribute at Mind Shift makes me a better person and helps me prepare for that future and the challenges and opportunities it will bring.
Each morning as I head to work, it happens. This huge, crazy bubble of Hope rises up inside me and bursts forth into an uncontrollable smile. I finally fit in.