In regards to my impending reward.

One of the most common responses that I get when I tell people that I work with individuals on the autism spectrum is, "Wow. That must be so rewarding." This comment is generally accompanied either by a congratulatory pat on the back or a serious look of something like genuine awe, mingled with pity.

Although I do appreciate that these statements are meant as a sign of respect, I never know exactly how to respond. Sometimes, when I cannot be bothered or because a verbal essay is really not appropriate to the conversation, I take the easy way out. A small smile, brief nod, and a, "Yes, it is." Other times I actually try to describe why I do what I do.

Let me start by explaining why this type of statement gives me pause. First, the idea that something would be "rewarding," in my mind, indicates that I must be receiving some sort of personal benefit or prize, if you will, on a regular basis, for the work that I do. Unfortunately, in my line of work, this is just not the case. In regards to the material, I am certainly not receiving any kind of monetary compensation that would suggest that I do anything other than show up for seven hours every day. My pay is, if you will, on the small side. I know you think that yours is too, but let me just say that every person who has had the privilege of learning how much I got paid two weeks ago has greeted the news by slowly lowering their jaw to the floor. This is due to many, many factors, such as my job being a new one, my school having lots of holidays, and union regulations, so I am not complaining.

I am just saying. It's real low.

Aside from the pay-related, I don't really know of any other prizes out there for people like me. We don't get a trophy at the end of the year. And bonuses? Ha! I'm not holding my breath. In fact, there really are very few awards, sources of recognition, or honors for people who are working on the front line. Those tend to go more to the (admittedly very hardworking) scholars who are doing the research and bringing the prestige and notoriety to their respective universities. So let's just rule all of that out right now.

Then there are the supposed emotional rewards. The thrill of seeing our clients achieve something new after weeks, months, or even years of hard work. The warm and fuzzy feeling we get from a hug or that all too rare, "thank you." The knowledge we have that we are contributing to something larger.

Relying on this type of reward in my line of work would be a mistake. People who do what I do spend a lot of time laying groundwork for something that may take a lifetime to develop. We might work with an individual every day, for a year on a specific skill and, particularly with students, we may never get to see the result of this work. That privilege may be saved for the teacher they have one, two, or ten years down the road. If we are lucky a parent might send us an email describing the types of changes that our work has produced in their child at home. If we are really lucky that child may be able and willing to visit us in a few years, and tell us about it themselves, but the reality is that we cannot expect any kind of reciprocal action.

Physical affirmation is also not to be counted on. What if the person that you work with is hyper sensitive to touch? Try giving that person a hug and you are more likely to end up with a runner or a black eye. This is not to say that all individuals on the spectrum dislike touch. I know many that enjoy physical contact, but it tends to be on their terms, and relying on your daily snuggle to get you through would not be advisable.


What I really want to talk about in this post, though, is why I do enjoy my job so much. I prefer not to focus on the so-called "rewards" because, aside from being unrealistic, I really feel that this lends itself to the idea that there has to be some type of compensation (other than general pay to live) for what I do. This focus suggests that all of my pain and strife is worth it because of what I receive in return, and furthermore, that in order for someone to be able to spend so much time doing this kind of work, well, there must be some kind of prize at the end of it all. I think this is why, for so long, I have felt a sense of unease in responding to this type of comment, and it has taken a long time to wrap my head around what I was feeling.

Long live the King.

I do my job for the same reason that you do your job.

I love it.

Seriously. I am 100% absolutely in love with the work that I do and the people I work with.

The people that I get to work with are cool. They are knowledgeable, talented, curious, compassionate, and endlessly interesting. They see the world in fundamentally different ways (no two the same) and I am so used to seeing it in one, socially constructed way that I find their perspectives to be novel and insightful. Their different ways of thinking and being encourage me to think and be different. We encourage broader thinking in each other and I feel that in some ways, in this job I am more able to be myself than anywhere else.

These people are funny! SO FUNNY! My god, I mean, do you laugh at your workplace? Because I do! Every, single day I laugh so much, and I don't need to rely on the internet for my daily dose of humor because it is right in my classroom. Or on the bus, or at the farm, or in the office, or, lord, on the underground, in a very contained subway car from which there is no escape.

They are also strong, the people that I work with. So incredibly strong. The things that they put up with, the feeling out of control, and the ability to keep going is inspiring. I aspire to this type of perseverance. They try so hard. Harder than you or I could ever imagine. They are trying every day to follow rules that are like a second skin to us. And this trying is not just in the classroom or during scheduled sessions. It is at home and in the community and every day and all the time. It is their lives. And they struggle. But the next day they wake up and try again.

My job is also challenging, just like yours. Man is it challenging, but guess what?

I like that.

If you didn't know, I do thrive on a little bit of drama. No comments from the peanut gallery (or any ex-boyfriends), thank you very much. I mean, talk about someone who chose performing arts related activities for over a decade. I prefer strong emotions and self-expression to bland, contentedness (which is probably much healthier mentally, I admit), and that is why this job is perfect for me. There is always some kind of excitement in my work environment. Emotions are usually running high and it is my job to help people to cope with this and to learn how to constructively utilize these feelings.

This leads me to another thing about my job. Just like your job, my job has allowed me to develop new skills. I have had to learn to think on my feet. In my workplace anything can happen, at any time, and to the best of my ability I need to be ready. This is an ongoing learning process, but looking back, I can clearly see how I have grown. I am also way more patient than I ever thought I could be. I think about how I used to react to kids that I babysat, and how I react to my students now and it is a world of difference! This has also been a slow climb, but I am proud to see that people are now pointing my own patience out to me.

So that's it. That is why I love my job. For the exact same reasons that you love what you do, if you love what you do. I get to work with interesting people, I enjoy the daily tasks and responsibilities, and my job has made me a better, and more competent person. No one is patting me on the back every day on my way out the door or sending me a $50 gift card in the mail (trust me, I would love that). No one is putting a gold sticker on my chart or bribing me with promises of riches to come.

I just like what I do. I just think that I get to work with awesome people and I choose to do that. I choose these people. Because I like them. And that is enough.

Love.


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