Frontline Initiative: The Diverse Voices of Direct Support Professionals
Being Autistic is a Strength in My Work
Being an autistic adult does have its advantages. I understand why the students that I support thrive in a structured school like Lionsgate Academy , in Shoreview Minnesota. This charter school is inclusively designed to address the unique learning needs of students on the autism spectrum as well as students with other learning differences. My personal experience provides me insight that someone who isn’t on the autism spectrum may not identify or understand.
I started my career in this field with part-time and seasonal work with the Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM). I worked with AuSM as a social skills instructor and a camp counselor for a few years after high school. It was through these experiences as a camp counselor at Camp Hand In Hand for children and adults, that I had a transformational experience. I realized that I wanted to work people who were like me. I wanted to be with my people.
Working at camp and in a school for children and teens who are autistic is much like the role of a direct support professional (DSP). In the camp or school setting, one uses similar skills to a DSP. We all support people in a variety of ways, from social support with relationships, self-regulation, decision making, and skills in daily living such as cooking, finances, self-care and so much more.
When I was growing up and went to school, I was in general education, and it was miserable for me. General education did not provide sensory and regulatory support that would have made school less taxing for me. I am happy every day when I can support the growth and autonomy of campers or students in settings that address their unique needs.
Working at places where the leaders and the staff understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been extremely important to me. I know that I can explain to my co-workers that I may need to take a break if a situation gets too chaotic or over stimulating. When I do share with co-workers how being autistic effects my life, I feel respected and comfortable talking about what I need to be able to do my job. For example, when I was growing up and went to school, I was in general education, and it was miserable for me. General education did not provide sensory and regulatory support that would have made school less taxing for me. I am happy every day when I can support the growth and autonomy of campers or students in settings that address their unique needs. My impact on the people I work with is huge. My presence helps them feel the way I want to feel as an autistic person: loved, accepted, and able to grow.
I can relate to the students or campers with ASD in ways that my neuro-typical co-workers aren’t always able. I can identify and understand from my own personal experience how and why a situation may be difficult. I can understand why they may need a break or need more information to understand the situation. Being able to connect with people on this level is a win-win situation for everyone.
Being autistic is a real strength when it comes to my job. Advocating for myself helps my co-workers and supervisors understand more not only about me but about those we support.