I am a professional Firefighter with Asperger's

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Autistic_fireman
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05 Apr 2020, 5:40 pm

Hello,

I have been a Firefighter with a government agency for over six and a half years. During that time I suffered immensely. I was bullied, ostracized and given a very hurtful nickname which unfortunately stuck. During recruits I had some assessors who really wanted me gone, they would criticize everything I did and try to make me look and feel stupid. Some of them were nice enough to help me, they weren't all bad, but I felt like even they, thought that I shouldn't be able to become a Firefighter. Regardless, I persisted, I passed every examination and I refused to give up. The day that I walked out of the training college, I thought I had made it. I thought that the worst was over, but I was wrong.

By the time I got to my first station, my reputation had already preceded me. The crews there had asked the assessors at the training college what I was like, and they had not been kind. From the very beginning there were some people at my station who did not like me. The more I tried to fit in, the worse it became. I tried everything from bringing in cakes, to making coffees, to participating in social events, to helping them with their computer problems and much more, but it only seemed to get worse. At times I would try to participate in a discussion around the table, and I would say something that seemed normal to me, but then I would see them exchange not-so-subtle smug glances and I would know what they were thinking.

I would frequently move from station to station to try to 'start over' and avoid making the same social mistakes I had made at other stations. But even as I learned to fit in better socially through vigorous self-analysis and intellectualizing my behaviors. The rumors would always follow me and some people would simply not give me a chance. I felt like I was never given the benefit of the doubt. For instance, sometimes if I made a joke, then it might be taken seriously and be considered 'cause for concern', but if it came from someone else, it was funny. Or if in a discussion about good shows currently on, if I talked about a documentary about a serial killer I saw on Netflix, then someone would start a rumor that I was obsessed with serial killers. It was like, no matter what I did or said, it would be cast in the worst possible light. People simply wanted to believe the worst about me. And this was really hard, because I have always tried so hard to be a good person and I have always been willing to make time to help others. It's the main reason I became a Firefighter, I wanted to be the good guy, the hero.

It became so hard for me to socialize at work without becoming the butt of someone else's joke. I felt like I couldn't trust many of the people I worked with, if I slipped up and said something weird it would just start a string of new rumors, and I was sick of being the subject of idle gossip. It was like I could never win. Even when I did something impressive like built a website for one of my workmates, they wouldn't start talking about how 'clever' I was to be able to code a website, they would start saying that I am a computer geek with no practical skills. If I talked about how I have made money on the stock market and through other investments, then I would be labelled a braggart. If I engaged in educated political discourse and showed that I had an extensive knowledge on a subject, then I was some kind of fanatic.

At jobs, I would make decisions that I thought were sensible but were quite 'out of the box' and this would often upset my peers who relied more heavily on their training. Many times I would suggest great solutions to complex problems and they would be initially ignored, only for someone else to slightly repackage my exact suggestion a few minutes later and then take credit for my idea, whilst I was still there. I had some great ideas, but people didn't even want to give me the credit. It was almost as if their ego's would not allow them to concede that I might have some value, being so different and alien to themselves.

I went for years, not understanding why I struggled so much in my career. Although it didn't stop me from climbing the ranks. What's more, it wasn't that difficult for me, even though few wanted to help me like they did the others. When I first became a Leading Firefighter, I heard some Firefighters in another room grumbling about, how they were 'just giving the rank away to anyone now'. They couldn't even credit me for doing the work to achieve a higher rank, I didn't earn it, someone just 'gave' it to me 'out of sympathy'. Because apparently that's something that Emergency Services organizations do. They promote people to positions of authority because they feel sorry for them.

I could tell so many stories about the things that happened to me, that I suffered through. The reasons why if anyone on here wants to ask me for help in becoming a Firefighter, I will strongly advise them to find another path.

When I was told by a psychologist that I had Asperger's, I think he was surprised at how willing I was to accept this diagnosis. I always felt like I was a bit of an alien. I always felt like I could see things, stark realities that others seemed oblivious to. Like in the matrix when Neo takes the red-pill and he sees the world for how it really is. I never had a choice, I was always living that reality from the get-go. To discover that there is a reason for this, is a great comfort. To find that I share a common condition with some of the people that I have admired most in history, is empowering.

I read an article yesterday about 'working with people with Aspbergers'. In this article it puts in dot-point form the worst possible job conditions for someone with Aspbergers.

• Requires multi-tasking or responding to frequent interruptions

• Involves quick decision-making

• Is high pressure

• Is unstructured and rapidly changing

• Requires lots of social interaction

• Involves managing other people

• Demands high rates of speed

This is my job description to a tee. I have spent almost half of my adult life, working and going up ranks in one of the worst possible jobs for someone with Asperger's. There is a reason why it has been so hard for me. Yet I have never given up. I have been dragged through the depths of despair and experienced stress, humiliation and depression. Yet I have refused to give up.

Last week I told my coworkers that I have Asperger's. I feel it is pertinent to stress that when I have been referencing incidents of bullying and ostracization, that this was mostly due to a handful of bad eggs. There are some really great people in my organization who no doubt are kind and generous, but may have fallen into the trap of believing the hyperbole of Fire Brigade rumors. 'Coming out' to them was quite difficult, and time will tell if it was the right decision. However, I feel optimistic that perhaps with understanding, may come acceptance. And with acceptance, trust, and with trust, friendship.

The reason I have come on here today, is that I believe that this is the beginning of a new chapter for me which I would like to share with you. Be it to inspire, to commiserate or to simply let you know that we are everywhere, even in the most unexpected of workplaces, and our struggle is uniform.

Thank you for reading.


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Skilpadde
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05 Apr 2020, 5:48 pm

Hi, welcome to WP!

Autistic_fireman wrote:
I read an article yesterday about 'working with people with Aspbergers'. In this article it puts in dot-point form the worst possible job conditions for someone with Aspbergers.

• Requires multi-tasking or responding to frequent interruptions

• Involves quick decision-making

• Is high pressure

• Is unstructured and rapidly changing

• Requires lots of social interaction

• Involves managing other people

• Demands high rates of speed

yep, that list seems right to me. All those things would be a nightmare to work with.


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CarlM
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05 Apr 2020, 6:48 pm

Welcome to Wrong Planet :D. Please keep us report back on your outcome of your disclosure.


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AnonymousAnonymous
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06 Apr 2020, 7:28 pm

Welcome to Wrong Planet! :)


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aquafelix
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07 Apr 2020, 7:07 am

Hi, and a very warm welcome to Wrong Planet.

Thanks for sharing your story, Even though it was long I was engaged for the whole thing. You must have really worked your butt off to develop some pretty hardcore strategies to manage all those factors to your job which are like toxic poison for most aspies. You haven't just survived, you have excelled in your chosen field. However, I wonder about the cost of your success and how tired you might feel at the end of each work day having to do all those mental gymnastics. I hope you are able to make time to just block out the world and just allow yourself to be autistic and recharge your batteries. Its good to have ambition, but I have concerns that such a performance at work has limits. Autistic burnout is a real thing with real consequences.



SharonB
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07 Apr 2020, 8:00 am

Welcome!

I wish workplaces would find the "niche" for people's strengths, instead of demanding uniformity. There are strength-based duties for a doctor with ASD, likewise for firefighters and in my case a professional. Twice I was in organizations with leadership that recognized that and was arranged for mutually beneficial job duties. Unfortunately three times I have not, including now. Now it's like what you said. I have spent two years exploring this - I stopped the majority of the "unconscious" bullying, but the organizational "less"ness remains and my skills are not being used (b/c they conflict with current measures).

So my job description doesn't match me either ---- this particular leadership is not interested in my "potential". So in this "divorce" they get the house, and (for a third time) I have to pack up my things and leave. Wishing your outcome is better in place. If not, I have to believe there is a good fit. I'll be finding mine within four months. I have to --- I don't want to merely survive, I want to thrive!



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08 Apr 2020, 12:50 am

How magnificent you are Autistic_Fireman!
It is admirable to have such dedication and determination despite the personal challenges
you deal with on a daily basis. What immense courage you have! It is people like you who make me feel that life is worth living.

Welcome to WP and thank you for joining us!


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08 Apr 2020, 5:35 am

Welcome to WP

Youve certainly had a tough career trajectory and must have a lot of resilience to be able to keep going through all of that. Impressive.

I went into Nursing as a young man, something that requires a lot of interaction with others and managing people. I found that the structure and discipline (which was far greater in those days) was comforting and the need for interaction helped my develop my general coping strategies for this in other aspects of my life. I loved the processes and procedures - managing people was the hardest thing and caused me much stress over the first 10 - 15 years. Glad I stuck with it though.


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Autistic_fireman
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08 Apr 2020, 7:06 am

Thank you all for such generous replies.

I must admit, at times it has been sheer agony. I often look back and think, I can't remember the last time I wasn't consumed on a daily basis by stress and anxiety. I think I learned to push through it in order to get things done. I also lost a lot of time in grand-strategy computer games, and other distractions.

>Skilpadde
"yep, that list seems right to me. All those things would be a nightmare to work with."

They can be, but they can also be a lot of fun. I've always enjoyed compelling drama, and being able to see things on a regular basis up close and personal that most people would probably never see. The best part is, you get to help! The other night we got to help a father of four who'd had a heart attack. His kids might get a second chance to tell their Dad how much they love him, and what he means to him, because of the things we did there together.

>CarlM
"Welcome to Wrong Planet :D. Please keep us report back on your outcome of your disclosure."

I will. I also realize that my experience may help others to overcome obstacles that have prevented them from finding success in the work place. I think this is a unique opportunity since I only recently got diagnosed. The diagnosis has allowed to categorize my social problems into an established psychiatric profile/structure. With the help of my psychologist I will be looking to try the associated strategies and give an honest honest appraisal of their effectiveness in delivering the predicted outcomes in my particular workplace.

>aquafelix
"I have concerns that such a performance at work has limits. Autistic burnout is a real thing with real consequences."

Believe me, I have not been successful in seamlessly blending with my workplace environment. Despite my best efforts, eventually my veneer would crack and I would say something completely out of place.

I am not sure if this is an Aspie thing, but I was a really good actor when I was younger, and I am a really good orator. People always ask me to do speeches, and I have been told on many occasions they looked forward to hearing me speak. In the short-term, I can act like the coolest mofo you've ever met, I even have the bad-ass job and stories to back it up. I am the life of the party... But, its only ever a flash in the pan. If those same people saw me the next day with a hangover, I would be a completely different creature. My charm completely dissipated, my conversations racy, divergent and incoherent.

I guess what I am getting to here... I'm already taxed to the max, my wick is burning red hot at both ends. As 'cool' a path as it might be, I've realized its not the one for me. But I have a daughter due in one-month and s**t is getting real, real fast. So right now, I just need to keep pressing on and maybe once the dust has settled (whatever that's going to look like), I'll be able to start searching for my true calling.

>SharonB
"I don't want to merely survive, I want to thrive!"

I can definitely relate to this. To me it seems like we 'Aspie's' are brilliant, but in our own special ways. Divinely marked for greatness. But it seems like in this reality there is so much energy lost in the very seeking of that path. If only exceptional minds were held in the same reverence as exceptional athleticism. What a bizarre world where a professional athlete can make over 100 million dollars a year, but the scientist who cures Covid-19 will probably be lucky to clear 100k. No, it is not us who are backward. They may be the majority, but they need us so much more than we need them.

>Teach51
"It is admirable to have such dedication and determination despite the personal challenges
you deal with on a daily basis. What immense courage you have! It is people like you who make me feel that life is worth living."
Thank you, that's very kind, I really appreciate compliments like that and I can tell that came from the heart.

I don't feel like this is where I want to be forever but for now it pays the bills. To be perfectly honest, part of the reason I haven't left is because I am incredibly stubborn. I refuse to give into bullying. I have heard of many others in my organization who have been bullied out, but I am obstinate. I know if I give in, then others will suffer. They will simply move on to the next target.

>Velorum
"I loved the processes and procedures - managing people was the hardest thing and caused me much stress over the first 10 - 15 years. Glad I stuck with it though."

Thank you, this gives me a lot of hope. I also struggle with managing people because I am not good at 'banter' and dominating normative social hierarchies. Regardless I think that I am really great manager. I have always tried to be the kind of manager I would have liked myself, I never put subordinates down, I always tell them I am available to help, I get them to do drills designed to build their confidence and I look out for them, I have their backs.

I am currently sitting on about 6 and a half, perhaps after 15 I haven't found something better, people will begin to accept me as part of the furniture. Either way, my wife and children come first, and there's nothing I won't endure for them.


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ACuriousCreature
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09 Apr 2020, 9:35 am

Hey forgive me if my reply isnt too... structured but I've been sleep deprived the past few days and even on my best days writing isnt my strong suit.

I wanted to say I've volunteered and worked for an organization that provides services to autistic people from children to adults providing services out of the hundreds of autists I was the only one interested in a similar job, I was attempting to join the military specifically infantry and I wanted to deploy after seeing certain combat footage released I absolutely loved what I saw the soldiers doing for eachother and wanted to join so I could drag as many back home as possible/replace a less qualified person so that less people would have to die. I say this because I love your story and from what I read you seem to have a lot of similarities with me in terms of skillset and that oh so useful stubbornness, unfortunately however at the age of 17 I found out due to a near death experience that I was severely physically disabled due to a rare disorder which made me decide I couldnt join as I would no longer be capable of remaining an asset to any team however due to circumstances/previous networking most of my social circle are law enforcement or combat veterans of various types that although I havent been able to serve with them I have gone through..... very intense training with them as well as joining in their PT sessions I get a long very well with them for anyone who doesnt know interacting with any person in the military is brutal even for an NT you are required to have thick skin (racial slurs are used as genuine terms of endearment as well as horrible nicknames) the way you know you're disliked in that social circle is if you're being very routinely "hazed" or if everyone around you stops calling you names, I mention all of this because I am very impressed firefighters (in America at least) tend to be much more like a college fraternity in how they clique and their insults are a lot more sincere I've spent weeks in training exercises with broken body parts surviving in the woods with no food or sleep doing ridiculous training exercises, but frankly, at least with the firefighters I've met I would never have the patience with those people to do that as a career not to mention the normal challenges that most ordinary people dont understand like the "dark" humor and other asynchronous social aspects of the job far beyond what I've seen many NTs able to handle.

Much respect to you for pulling through at your work I was never comfortable talking about that aspect of my life your story resonates strongly with me.



aquafelix
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09 Apr 2020, 9:47 am

Autistic_fireman wrote:
I am not sure if this is an Aspie thing, but I was a really good actor when I was younger, and I am a really good orator.


. . . and the Best Actor Award is awarded to . . . . . . (ruffling sounds as the envelope is opened)

Autistic Fireman!



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09 Apr 2020, 3:19 pm

Hi and a very warm welcome to you :)! I know of an Aspie fireman here in the UK(he’s also dyslexic). Not an easy path, but good to read that it appears to have made you stronger, in spite of the hell you’ve experienced. Good to have you with us and that you’re ready to take on a new chapter... (from a fellow Aussie).



Autistic_fireman
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09 Apr 2020, 5:48 pm

ACuriousCreature wrote:
I was attempting to join the military specifically infantry


I tried this as well with the Army. I completed an aptitude test, the results of which determined what roles you would qualify for. I unlocked all of them, and I had I not already been gainfully employed, I probably would have done a trade through the army. Instead I applied to be an Officer. I came undone in the selection process though; the way they decided if you had leadership qualities was through a series of problem solving activities with a group of other people all going for the same position. I tried to contribute where I could, however I didn't feel confident taking charge when I wasn't yet certain that I had the correct solution for the problem.

Ultimately, I thought the exercise was arbitrary. There were some people there with army experience who understood what the exercises were because they'd completed them previously. Naturally they were able to confidently take charge. Others who were in the same boat as me, made themselves heard by giving unnecessary orders to the rest of us, even though they had no idea what they were talking about. After the exercise I faced the panel and they asked how I thought I went, I said I thought I went well because I had demonstrated common sense. They disagreed.

After that, I pretty much gave up on the army. But I think it was a good thing, what I had seen there, I was not impressed by. Existentially, the Australian army seems to have lost its way; it has become very politicized and corporate in design. My grandfather went to military prison for punching an officer, my other grandfather was demoted for throwing another officer who was a notorious bully into the air-base dam. I could see myself doing something similar and getting in a lot of trouble.


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