I am an autistic entrepreneur. That is a sentence I couldn’t have uttered that long ago. As far as the entrepreneurship part goes, I’ve run a business that I founded in 2013 called Autism Personal Coach. With the help of so many others, my company has turned into a business that is stable and growing ten years later. At Autism Personal Coach, we coach autistic adults and teens to get their needs met and desires fulfilled. Now in terms of my autistic identity, that’s something that I’ve more recently learned about. I first self-identified, then through professional assessment learned that I’m autistic in the last year.
I think, at least for me, learning about my autism has prompted the question, “I’m autistic, now can my life improve with this new information?” Ever since I can remember, I have been on a quest for self-growth and learning that I’m autistic has felt like a lightning bolt in terms of the speed I’m learning about myself. It’s been a framework to understanding myself. That framework has allowed me to understand that being autistic for me is about understanding and honoring my limitations. When I understand and honor these limitations, I have the opportunity to live a life beyond my greatest expectations.
As an entrepreneur you have to work hard for your business to survive and thrive, there really isn’t any way around that. However, I know in particular as an autistic entrepreneur it’s so easy to become burnt out no matter how much you love what you do. All of the hustle and bustle has made me realize that if I don’t honor my sensory needs, I’ll be of no use to my clients, staff, and to myself.
I used to have so many meetings in the community: networking meetings, meetings with my staff, meetings with clients, meetings with those that were interested in learning more about our coaching services. If someone requested a meeting I would almost always say yes and not think twice about it. Every time I go into the community, the amount of energy it takes me to drive to an appointment and deal with all of the sounds, lights, and visual stimuli just completely drains my energy.
Since truly understanding my sensory needs for the first time I’ve had to advocate for myself. I have either dramatically cut back on these meetings or found other ways to connect with people that didn’t involve me going into the community. I must honor the limitations of my sensory differences.
One of the biggest realizations I have had since learning I am autistic is understanding my communication needs. I have discovered that processing information in spoken conversations and responding to this information is not only difficult, but incredibly draining. Due to processing things at a slower pace than most people, I need more time to formulate a response and that’s quite often impossible in these conversations because the demand of our world is to respond and respond quickly when talking with someone else.
Even if there isn’t an expectation to respond to someone, it still is exhausting, so much to take in. Then take that a step further in work conversations where I have to process the information and stay focused enough to give coherent responses. These challenges are why I have had to advocate for myself and make a few changes that have been incredibly helpful.
I have moved to more conversations with my staff that don’t require spoken language. An example of this is that I have started using Google Chat in meetings with some of my staff more often. I also am constantly using subtitles during Zoom meetings to conserve energy and stay focused and responsive to the person I am communicating with in these meetings. I must honor the limitations of my communication differences.
Learning about my autism has led me to be a much more successful entrepreneur. When people think of advocating for yourself at work to get the accommodations needed to be successful, I believe they rarely think about the boss or leader of an organization having to do so. However, I’m here to tell you that on a daily basis I have to advocate for my needs at work.
What that looks like for me is explaining my sensory and communication differences to my staff, clients, and all of those people who are interested in our coaching services. I have to not only explain those differences, but also ask for accommodations to allow me to better help them.
Every single time I advocate for my needs it’s a scary process. I worry about judgments and acceptance from others due to my low support needs and the lack of understanding that our society has about that. Almost every single time I don’t want to advocate for myself, but I always go back to why I’m advocating for myself.
Every time I advocate for myself and get what I need, I’m able to help so many other autistic people get what they need. That inspiration is quite often enough to push me forward to honor my limitations by allowing others to know what my limitations are. I am so excited to know that I am autistic and see where understanding and advocating for my limitations will lead me in the coming years.