Maude got in touch with us when she saw our platform in the press. We thank her for this spontaneous, lively and interesting exchange.

Photograph of Maude

My educational and professional background
I started my Matura in a public school, but the follow-up was not what was announced. So I started an apprenticeship in the field of biology. This did not go well. This was followed by a rather complicated period, with several academic and professional failures, while I had to deal with my health problems.
I was often left out without understanding the reason during my school years. I was devalued a lot by my school and family environment … I ended up with a severe lack of self-confidence. I was convinced that I was stupid, capable of nothing. I had the impression that I could not see any professional perspective that corresponded to my profile. Overall, my academic and professional successes depended for a long time on an understanding and caring environment. It was only when I learned to free myself from the opinions of others that I was really able to take control of my life and improve my academic and professional performance.
I took some time out to look after my mental health. This break allowed me to find my way. I started an apprenticeship as a bookseller, rather late as I started it at age 25. I continued with a second training as a librarian. It took me a long time to find my first job. Today I work in a library and an archive.


My challenges in the professional world

I mostly encountered problems with social contacts and codes. I was criticised for not saying hello when I should have or saying it when I shouldn’t have, for not having the right attitude when I walked in the corridors. Sometimes colleagues would get angry without explaining the reasons. For me, it was incomprehensible.


Time for a diagnosis
I was diagnosed with high intellectual potential. So I started going to HPI groups, it was a bit better than with purely neurotypical people but it wasn’t completely fine either. My friends in these groups suggested I look into autism… I think they discussed it with each other before talking to me because they all seemed to agree when they told me (laughs). They gave me concrete examples of everyday situations that had made them aware of it. For example, I was reading a lot of books to learn non-verbal language, and that was one of the things that made them wonder, because normally you don’t read books to learn this kind of thing, it’s something that happens by itself.
So I started to look into it, but I didn’t start a diagnostic process immediately because I didn’t think it would help me personally, but I was personally convinced that I was on the spectrum. It was when I had problems in two of my jobs that I wanted to have a real diagnosis so that I could apply for invalidity insurrance support.
The diagnosis allowed me to be more free to talk about it. During the whole period when I was self-diagnosed, I also talked about it but people didn’t believe me, they told me that the problem was perhaps elsewhere. People who had known me for fifteen minutes took the liberty of telling me that I wasn’t autistic when I had been thinking about my functioning for years. Maybe I didn’t always think about it in the right way, but I know myself better than people who have known me for an hour (laughs).


To talk or not to talk about my autism…
I talk about my autism depending on the context. If I’m with a group of people with intellectual disabilities or autism, we talk about neuro-atypicality and it inevitably comes up in conversation. I don’t talk about it as much with people who don’t come from that background, unless I feel completely confident. I also talk about it a lot on social networks, so I imagine that colleagues know about it. It’s not something I hide, but I don’t automatically put it on the table either.
I wish autism was no longer a secret… If we don’t come out of the shadows, mentalities will never change.


The support of Invalidity insurrance
Thanks to Ii, I received coaching to help me find a job. Ii registration takes a long time and in the end, I had found a job before I got affiliated, but this coaching was very useful to stabilise my social relationships in the job in order to keep the job. My coach explained to me in a concrete and detailed way everything that comes into play in social relationships and codes. I was able to understand why my colleagues had reacted the way they did, and why some of my reactions were not correct in their eyes. This person explained to me how to socially analyse everyday situations.
When you are an autistic person, you need to have an experience by understanding it to learn from your mistakes. Many situations that were very difficult for me to handle and understand became easier thanks to the explanations. In a way, I “added data to my internal disk”.
These aids are absolutely useful and necessary, and I am convinced that the money that is spent on coaching is earned back afterwards because they are keys for life. Autism is not a disabling condition that prevents us from progressing, it is possible to progress and evolve if we are given the tools we miss. Once help is given, once clear tools are given, progress can be very important and these people can be reintegrated into the world of work, which is a real benefit to society.


Managing my life on a daily basis…
My coach helped me a lot to acquire discipline in this domain. I live alone. Learning to pay my bills once a week, cook every day and get my daily routine running has helped me to feel better mentally. I am easily distracted and a simple message on my phone can make me forget what I was doing. I don’t have a problem with planning or structure, but sometimes it’s hard to maintain for a long period of time.


The Autism&Uni website
I really like your website. What I would like to find on a platform like this, in addition to what is already there, is advice on integrating into the world of work [note from the redaction: this content has been created for Maud in the mean time, see the lApply for the first time and How to prepare for a job interview chapter ]. It took me a long time to find a job after I finished my studies. I didn’t know how to pass a job interview, how honest I had to be and how to mention my weaknesses for example. It is also important to know that you have to be open to the person, without going into too much explanation.

I would also have liked to find advice on how to behave with colleagues. For example, saying good morning to everyone every morning, or remembering everyone’s first name, was not intuitive for me. There are specific social codes in the world of work that depend on the environment you are in.


Autism and working life …

People with ASD have many qualities that are interesting for the professional world: honesty, reliability, precision in the tasks to be carried out and respect for instructions. This last point can be a handicap for people with ASD because we tend to take what is asked of us literally, and even overdo it to the point of mental overload. I understand instructions well when they are given to me but I tend to forget them. So I write everything down in a little notebook, whether it’s my tasks for the day or instructions I’ve been given at work. I then put ticks when it’s done and it allows me to arrive at the end of my day having done what I should.


An anecdote…

I have difficulties with face recognition. In my current job, my colleagues all have very different physiques, which helps me a lot, but it hasn’t always been the case. It helps a lot to have a face card available in the workplace. I remember it took me 3 days to realise that there were 2 different people when I was convinced they were the same woman. This leads to misunderstandings on a social and relational level.

I remember a teacher who I asked 4 times in the same week to remind me of her first name. Most people look the same to me. My trick is to remember their glasses, their voice, their hairstyle. In order not to take the risk of greeting the same person several times during the day, I have taken the habit of giving a small smile and a nod when I pass them in the corridors.

I remember going to a party, and the woman who held it was very nice but … she talked a lot, very loudly and without stopping! I got saturated after 20 minutes but I forced myself to stay, I couln’t say anything, until I exploded! In retrospect, I think that if I had just said that I leave because I have a headache, everything would have ended in a better way. But at the time I didn’t know I had the right to listen to myself, because these things were no problem for anyone else.


Neurotypicals and their habits
It got better with the pandemic, but kissing and shaking hands are very unpleasant for me. I hate it when people come too close to me. I don’t like innuendo and ambiguity. Not saying things clearly is really unpleasant and I prefer people who will tell me when I am doing something wrong. For example, one of my colleagues used to say, “Oh, you’re already here…”. Instead of saying, “I am not ready yet. Can you wait for me for five minutes?” I had to learn how to analyse this kind of social situation, how misunderstandings work. I wasn’t born with it. Before, every social situation required an effort of intellectualisation and analysis.


I can feel people’s emotions very well. I used to constantly look for validation of my impression when I felt a negative emotion in someone, I would try to figure out if I had done something wrong and if so, what, while continuing to screw up and make the situation worse.

Now I trust my intuition and when I feel uncomfortable with someone, I change my behaviour without looking for the why. I save time and above all energy. I stay myself without asking too many questions about the other person’s actions and thoughts. This makes the discussion more natural.

We often hear that autistic people lack empathy, but I think that we understand the emotions of others very well. It’s just that it’s not in the same way. Our empathy is not cognitive but emotional.

Before, when someone was angry near me, I automatically felt angry. For a very long time I didn’t understand that I was functioning like a sponge, systematically absorbing the other person’s emotion without knowing it could lead to conflict. Now I know that if I feel anger for no reason, it is probably not coming from me and I put some distance from that emotion.


My advice …
First of all, you have to get to know yourself. I have done a lot of work thanks to coaching. I learned to rebuild my self-confidence, to love myself. I really needed it because when you don’t accept yourself as you are, it’s complicated to be accepted by others. When you have heard all your life that your attitude is not right, it’s hard to have a good self-esteem. So once you have regained that self-esteem, everything becomes easier.

Secondly, I would say that it is very important to verbalise when you need something or when something is bothering you. Other people can’t guess it. For a long time, as long as it was obvious to me, I thought it was obvious to others. Now I express when I need something. For example, if the music or the noise from a window bothers me. Expressing our needs may seem counter-intuitive to an autistic person, but it works, as long as we learn to recognise our needs and our limits.

Finally, I would say that it is essential to put the priority on ourselves and not on what others expect of us. Taking care of oneself as a priority allows us to find a balance because by being better with oneself, we will be better with others and we will not go beyond our own limits.


About the author

Interview made and translated by Nathalie Quartenoud

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