There’s a new girl in the office and her brain is weird.
One of the labels my weird brain has acquired is Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified — PDD-NOS, for short. This is an outdated term for autism, but I still harbor fondness for it because it includes the word “pervasive.” My disability is indeed pervasive, affecting all areas of my daily life — including my work life, and including [my current] internship. Being Autistic changes the way I interact with the professional world, in ways that have been — until now — Not Otherwise Specified.
I actually really like working in a formal setting. I like my Senate staff ID badge. I like suits and pleats and zippers. I like taking the metro to work, I like leather shoes, I like taking my belt off and before I go through the metal detector and putting it on afterwards. I like going places where only staffers can go. I like feeling important, or at least feeling like I am a part of something that’s important.
I like the actual work that I do most of all, but due to some things in my office being classified I can’t really blog about that in great detail, so instead I’m going to discuss the aesthetic that surrounds the work that I do, which I believe is called professionalism. On the whole, I like professionalism. I am working to get professionalism to like me.
When I was in eighth grade I was told that I would not be respected in high school, in college, or in the workplace if I couldn’t sit up straight and look someone in the eye. I was told that I’d better master “attentive classroom posture” before I moved on to advanced literary analysis or interesting job placements. Since then, I have utterly failed to overcome my autism and associated hypotonia, repetitive behaviors, and non-standard communication — through sheer force of will. I am an intern with the United States government, but I still do not display appropriate “classroom posture.”
As I explore my career options I am trying to figure out what my Autistic professionalism looks like. I’m working toward a new standard of professional behavior — not a lax standard, but an accessible one. You’ve heard of business casual; this is business-NOS.
Business-NOS is when your stim toy matches your suit.
Business-NOS is elbows on the table, head in your hands.
Business-NOS is being floppy at work because you’re going to be floppy anyway and you may as well get some work done.
Business-NOS is flats only because you don’t have the gross motor skills to walk in heels. It’s trying heels anyway because you believe in the dignity of risk.
Business-NOS is networking using only scripts and echolalia.
Business-NOS is stimming and spinning in the Senate building, flapping in meetings, rocking in hearings, headphones everywhere.
Business-NOS is a standard of professionalism which does not require eye contact, stillness, or median abdominal strength. Business-NOS means putting your passion and energy into your work, not into trying to look normal. Business-NOS is knowing you do good work, and not buying into the lie that someone like you couldn’t possibly do the good work that you are doing.
This is what my professionalism looks like. How about you?
A version of this essay was originally published at AAPD’s Power Grid blog.