Meet Matt, a forty year old autistic man with a passion for computers. He planned to get a career in computer networking, but things didn’t go as planned.
When he was young, Matt’s parents refused to subject him to any kind of compliance therapy, which was commonplace for autistic children. One of their cousins was an autistic adult who talked about the horrors of compliance therapy and its real outcome. Knowing this, they opted for therapies that were beneficial, such as occupational therapy and horseback riding therapy.
Matt’s parents wanted him to be the best version of himself that he could be, and he was indeed a happy boy. All throughout school, Matt received good grades, but he struggled somewhat with social situations.
His struggles with social situations were mainly due to three things. He had sensory issues that ensured that maintaining eye contact was a painful experience. He would either have to look away almost immediately or risk sensory overload, occasionally causing him to have a meltdown if the overload was severe. The second struggle was with social expectations that were not written and were known by all but himself. Nobody would tell him when he broke one; they either shunned him, got mad at him, or even bullied him. Matt’s brain was not wired to understand these unwritten expectations. The only way he could learn them was if they were written down. The third struggle was with body language. He could understand very obvious body language, but struggled heavily with subtle cues. Like his struggles with social rules, not understanding subtle social cues got him shunned and bullied by others.
Despite this, a few people were willing to overlook Matt’s struggles and befriend him. They kept him safe from the bullies, and helped the other kids understand that Matt wasn’t breaking the unwritten rules on purpose. As a result, some of Matt’s peers that formerly disliked him due to the misunderstandings befriended him now that they knew that he genuinely struggling instead of doing it on purpose. Some of them invited him to hang out with them on a frequent basis, despite Matt often being unable to communicate his interest to hang out the way everybody else could. He would get very frustrated when people wouldn’t invite him to hang out, thinking they were doing it on purpose because they didn’t like him. By his teen years, he understood that it wasn’t his fault why it kept happening; it was because he communicates differently from his peers and that he can misunderstand people and assume something just like how other people often misunderstand him and assume things.
He also struggled with sensory issues, but only mildly. Sounds like the fire alarm and sirens were the worst. He had a meltdown once in elementary school when a fire drill began due to the loud buzzing sound of the fire alarm and the flashing light it had.
About two-thirds of the way through his freshman year of high school, he began dating a longtime friend of his named Camila. She was very beautiful with long black hair, smooth dark skin, full lips and beautiful brown eyes. To Matt, she looked like a goddess and he loved her sweet, fun-loving personality. He soon fell in love with her, and they became high-school sweethearts.
Camila’s parents were accepting towards the relationship as they had known Matt for years and knew that he would never harm her. Camila’s parents avoided giving Matt subtle cues and hints, and once it became a habit, started to do the same with their daughter.
During their senior year, Matt and Camila were surprised to find out they were Prom King and Prom Queen when they went to prom. Approximately two-fifths of the student body wrote in Camila and Matt’s names for Prom King and Queen. It got publicized in the local newspaper as well as a few national newspapers. However, the media said that Camila asked Matt to prom because he otherwise would have to go alone, a lie very obvious to those who knew the couple.
After high school, Matt decided to attend a local university to pursue a degree in computer networking. It was one of the top-rated universities in the state he lived in. The change from high school to college was difficult at first, but he got used to the level of freedom he had. He was rarely ever bullied, and if one did bully him, it was nothing worse than being called a name. A few of his high-school friends attended the same university as him, which he was happy about as he could continue to socialize with them on a regular basis and still hang out with them. He continued to date Camila and they often visited each other during weekends and went out on a date every Friday night.
He enjoyed many of the classes, and for extra hands-on experience with computers, he built a brand-new high-end gaming computer and bought a few used computers so he could practice creating a computer network. It took him six years to complete all the required classes and a few elective classes to get the necessary amount of credit hours to graduate, and when he did he did so with a 3.8 GPA.
The university had a program that helps people with developing the skills needed to successfully get a job. He took advantage of the program and learned the do’s and dont’s of creating a resume, how to dress for an interview, and did quite a few mock interviews. He took these skills and applied them once he started to apply for jobs soon after graduation.
After he graduated, he moved in with Camila, and was hopeful that he would have a bright future ahead of him. Over the course of a month and a half, he put in a dozen applications. Five companies called him in for a job interview.
For each interview, he dressed appropriately, yet during each interview, his sensory issues hindered his ability to make eye contact, and the accompanying sensory overload made it harder to answer questions such as “Tell me about yourself?”. As his anxiety rose, his answers became shorter and he had to look away from the interviewer numerous times to cope with the sensory overload to avoid a possible shutdown. He was surprised he was struggling, as he didn’t struggle that much during the mock interviews in college. At first, didn’t realize that his struggles were because of anxiety and his sensory issues getting worse because of it.
Soon after each interview, each company called him and turned him down for the job, even during the final two interviews, which he disclosed his autism. Each job he was interviewed for was filled with a bubbly, extroverted person who was less qualified than him, but had zero issues navigating job interviews.
Six months and two dozen applications later, he was still jobless. The last interview he had was a panel interview. Barely two minutes into the interview, he overloaded and had a major anxiety attack due to the number of interviewers there along with the overwhelming social expectations. He knew once the anxiety attack started that he wouldn’t get the job, so it was no surprise to him when they turned him down.
After year of getting nowhere trying to find a job related to his college degree, Matt started to apply for jobs at fast-food restaurants and a couple of retail stores, and a fast-food restaurant soon hired him. He was only paid minimum wage for the job, but he was happy to have a job at long last. For once, everything seemed to work out. To avoid the discrimination he faced in the past, he never disclosed his autism again, deciding to put on a mask so that he would appear to act just like everybody else. He hid his social struggles as he studied a lot about body language, social rules, and boundaries over the years.
The mask served him well for about a year, when his co-workers and boss figured out that he was different from them. It was due to the fact that his mask slipped off a few times revealing a couple of his natural traits each time, mostly after he was switched from flipping burgers to working the cash register. His boss started criticizing his deficits, and his co-workers decided to avoid him as much as possible and gave him looks of disgust and fear whenever he was around. It didn’t take long before he was fired for “not being a good fit”, when his mask slipped more often due to the stress and anxiety from being treated badly.
Matt was devastated and heartbroken after being fired for being autistic. He knew they couldn’t outright say the reason they fired him due to anti-discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination. But he knew, those that were prejudiced would find an excuse and word it in such a vague way that nobody could tell that discrimination was happening. All his hard work to get a career in computer networking went to waste, and his recent goal of earning money for a living wasn’t met for long.
After a month of recuperating from the stress and anxiety, Matt started to put in applications again, but after four years of being turned down for jobs, he gave up entirely, knowing nobody would hire him. He broke up with Camila after being in a relationship with her for sixteen years, feeling very guilty about his career plans exploding in his face. He feared he would become a burden to Camila if he didn’t end the relationship. He would have asked her to marry him if he kept the fast-food restaurant job for over a year.
With his relationship with Camila now over as well, he went onto disability benefits just to pay for the basics such as food, water, shelter, and clothing to avoid becoming homeless. However, due to the limited monthly payments he got and due to moving out of his hometown, he had to live in a apartment in a bad neighborhood in an unfamiliar city.
Nobody in the apartment complex accepted him. He never bothered to disclose his autism due to the hostility he felt from the other residents. Most shunned him, however, there was one person who felt nothing but contempt and hatred towards Matt, and decided to periodically bully him. He would even occasionally provoke Matt to the point of meltdown, and then say the most horrific things imaginable to him while he was melting down. His parents, still living in the same house they lived in since he was born, offered to let him move back with them. Matt said no, stating that he “didn’t want to be a basement dweller who sits around doing nothing while playing video games and refusing to get a job”.
Things got so bad for Matt in the apartment complex, that he stopped doing the things he loved, fearing others would not want him doing those things. He gave up his car after it got vandalized as he couldn’t afford to have the damage repaired. In fact, he often was unable to think straight, which meant he had trouble stopping the anxiety. Out of fear his friends would abandon him if they found out about his current life, he stopped contacting nearly all of them, and removed most from his friends list on social media sites. He stopped going to family reunions out of fear that they would cast him out as soon as they looked at him. The only way he would contact his parents was via text messages. Instead of telling them what was going on, he lied and said things were going far better than they were. He did so because he was afraid he would get in trouble for what was going on. His abuser threatened to get him in major trouble with the law if he did tell to anybody what was going on in the apartment complex.
Once a very handsome young man, Matt was now in his thirties. Skinny with a few bruises on his face along with untidy, messy hair, his appearance was a far cry from his appearance in his early twenties. Most of computer equipment he collected over the years, which he used to help himself learn computer networking, was destroyed. In fact, he rarely ever thought about his passion for computers anymore. The mere thought of his passion would cause negative thoughts to form in his head which would remind him of his failed attempts to get a career in computer networking, and that he had to completely hide his true self if he were to get out of the current situation and get a second chance in life.
It was due to those negative thoughts combined with his fear and anxiety that prevented Matt from getting out of the situation with the person who hated him, who hated him turned out to be somebody who wanted to join a local street gang but was refused entry. He soon became almost completely nonverbal due to the extreme anxiety he was now dealing with. The situation between the two of them got so bad that Matt was encouraged to commit suicide when he started to deal with suicidal thoughts as well.
Fed up with Matt not contacting them in any way but via text messages for three years, his parents paid a surprise visit to Matt’s apartment. They knocked on the door, but Matt wasn’t there. They used a spare key that Matt gave to them, to open the door and entered the apartment. What they found was a very untidy apartment full of broken computer equipment. Many of the other items in the apartment also appeared to be damaged. They knew that Matt loved his computer equipment and would never destroy it. It was at that moment that they knew something was terribly wrong. They guessed something was wrong, but that was the first sign that confirmed their suspicions.
A few minutes later, Matt appeared, and the man who hated him began to tease him and called him a very nasty name. Matt enters the apartment, and freezes in fear at the sight of his parents. At that moment, his parents put two and two together and realized that he was being abused by the man who just taunted him. They tried to call the police, but Matt refused to let them, which alerted the man in the other apartment. Immediately, he began yelling and threatening to charge Matt with everything he had done before even entering the apartment, only to discover Matt’s parents there.
A fight breaks out between Matt’s parents and the other man. Matt, long fed up with his abuser’s nonsense, finally found the strength to fight back, and hit the man on the head with the case of his old gaming computer. The man is knocked out and falls on the floor. He then hugs his parents, but doesn’t say a word as he is too shocked and anxious to speak.
The person who abused him was sentenced to forty years in prison for the crimes he’s committed against Matt. He moved back in with his parents, knowing there was nowhere else for him to go. After a year, Matt finally told his parents about what happened, and thanked them for getting him out of the situation he wasn’t able to get out of himself.
Due to the events of the past few years, Matt was diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It took anti-anxiety medication along with counseling by a psychiatrist with an unusually open mind to treat his anxiety. Slowly but surely, he began to act like himself again, but he would never forget the events at his old apartment. He kept having nightmares about being stuck at the apartment with the abusive man.
Matt got back in touch with his ex-girlfriend Camila, who found him at a bus rapid transit station waiting for a southbound bus to go to the grocery store, who had been wanting to get back into contact with and at least be friends if not rekindle their former relationship. One of the reasons Camila wanted to get in touch with Matt again was because she discovered she was autistic herself and recently got her diagnosis. Her autism went unnoticed due to her gender and race. She was better able to navigate social situations and mask her traits than Matt could; another reason she went undiagnosed for so long. Camila’s parents knew she was autistic due to being familiar with Matt, but chose not to pursue a diagnosis as they were afraid bad things would happen to her if people found out that she was an autistic black girl.
After Matt broke up with her, she tried to get into a relationship with other men, but almost none of them understood her and quickly broke up with her. One man who seemingly did understand her, turned out to be an abusive narcissist. She got out of that relationship after four months.
Instead of taking the trip she was originally going to take, she decided to join Matt on his trip to the grocery store to buy some food that had nearly run out at home. Matt’s parents were surprised when he returned home, that he brought Camila with him so she could talk to his parents. She aged very well, and Matt still thought she like a goddess.
After almost three months, they chose to get into a relationship again, and made a commitment to remain a couple for the remainder of their lives. They soon moved in together. Neither of them wanted children, so they never had any. They got married exactly two years from the date they first reconnected at the bus rapid transit station.
With the help of his parents, family, and his wife, he rediscovered his passion for computers, and slowly got back into his old hobbies, and even got back into contact with some of his old friends.
Camila and Matt’s house had a functioning computer network with an old server, a four-year old gaming desktop with a current graphics card, another used desktop computer, and four laptops being connected to the network.
By the time Matt was in his late thirties, a local business had changed the application and interview process to accommodate autistic people. Instead of interviews, they had applicants do a range of aptitude tests to determine who is the best one for the job. The person who scored the highest highest in all the tests got the job. If that person turned down the job for some reason, the person who scored second in the tests got the job, and vice versa.
At first, Matt was hesitant to apply, given his past experiences with finding work and being fired from the one job he did get. He thought the aptitude tests were just a way to bring autistic people in just to make them go through an interview and have them turned down afterwards. He didn’t apply, but the thought of working in a business that would accept him for who he is never left his mind.
An opening for a computer network analyst and technician came many months after Matt first heard about the company hiring autistic people. He chose to apply, disclosing his diagnosis on the application along with his school history. After many tests, he ended up scoring first and got the job. He was a little hesitant to accept it at first, but he did after reassurance that they wouldn’t require him to hide his autism and that his co-workers would accept him for who he is.
He made a lot of money at this job, and he enjoyed it. There were times he tried to mask, especially at first. However, after the reassurance and acceptance he got when he did slip into his mask or his autistic traits were more obvious than usual, he stopped masking altogether and chose to be his authentic, autistic self.
The workplace had four rooms where autistics could go to recover from overload and have meltdowns in private. These rooms were large, and were nearly soundproof. Only very loud noises like an argument in front of the door could penetrate the soundproof walls. The LED lights inside looked like and simulated incandescent lights instead of fluorescent lights like the LED’s that existed elsewhere in the building. These lights were always dim by default, but each room had a switch that would slowly bring the lights to the same brightness as the lights in the main work areas whenever an autistic person felt they were ready to leave the room and return to their job. Each room was painted a soft, light-green color and there were multiple chairs with padding that matched the color of the walls. On a wall near the door, was information how to cope with sensory overload, meltdowns, and shutdowns.
Matt used these rooms many times, when his anxiety struck him hard enough to hinder his work, or when he was feeling a meltdown or shutdown coming. They were a godsend to him and the rest of the firm’s autistic employees. They were, in fact, designed by an autistic employee when the hiring program was changed to better accommodate autistic people.
Matt had finally found his dream job and was married to the woman he had loved since he was a teenager. He was thriving in his job, yet was never expected to put on a mask or pretend that he wasn’t autistic. All of this would never have happened had a few people decided Matt wasn’t worth getting to know. It was never Matt’s fault that he struggled, particularly in his mid twenties. It was the fault of society due to widespread stigma and misinformation about autism and the voices of autistic people being ignored. Never, ever judge a book by its cover.