Autism Interview #80: Braydon Keddie on Succeeding in the Workplace

Braydon Keddie is a former journalist turned blogger/photographer and currently works as a caretaker. He blogs at Confidence with ASD. Brayden is also a part-time student in Building Environmental Studies, and self identified movie fanatic and comic book geek. This week he shared some advice on positive autism advocacy and succeeding in the workplace.

How long have you had your diagnosis? How have you developed a positive autistic identity since then?

I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome not long after I turned 12. My parents and I spent a lot of time during my childhood kind of playing detectives, trying to follow the pattern of my behaviour and where it was coming from. I took things very literally when they were said, had a lot of challenges in school, and didn’t have an easy time picking up on social cues.

There were two big things I had to do to gain a positive autistic identity. The first was accepting Aspergers as part of who I am. I wasted a lot of my adolescence trying to fit into social circles and pretend like Aspergers was something I could just “grow out” of, like it was a phase or something. If you are on the spectrum, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You just have a different way of looking at the world and learning.

The second thing was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I can empathize with anyone who wants to stay in their comfort zone, especially when they have ASD. Staying away from things that are scary or challenging is instinctive, but can keep you from seeing how strong or capable you are if you stand up to what you are afraid of. You just have to take it in small steps and let those lead to bigger steps.

For example, I used to have a phobia of snakes. One day I was with some friends at the mall and we walked by this reptile exhibit. They had this small orange snake they were passing around to kids, and I thought to myself, “That thing is freaky. But if a little kid can reach out and touch this thing, so can I.” I walked up to the animal trainer, and before I knew it, that snake was draped over my shoulders.

The key is looking at your fears like a ladder, stepping up one moment at a time. You can climb higher and higher until you look down and you’re not that afraid any more. And yes, that applies to a fear of heights as well.

Tell me about your blog. Who is the main audience? Individuals on the spectrum? Parents? Both? What inspired you to write about autism?

I started my blog because for the longest time I was looking for a mentor. Someone who understood the way a person on the spectrum thinks and reacts to the world around them. Up until I was halfway through college, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself due to my diagnosis. That’s something I wanted to see different in others on the spectrum.

I hope to build some confidence in people with autism and bring awareness to their neurotypical family and friends.

Whether you are high or low functioning, you are on a journey. Everyone has a dream they want to pursue, and I believe you should go after what you want. Even if you don’t get it, the lessons are worth learning.

You have some great advice on your blog for individuals on the spectrum seeking a job. Can you talk about your personal experience searching for jobs, interviewing, or maintaining successful employment? What have been your obstacles? What are your successes?

When I started searching for a job, I was very nervous. Even when I was working as a grocery store cashier, I felt like a big responsibility was being put on my shoulders.

The first challenge I had was actually the first step; the interview. Employers are looking for someone they can trust, and for those of us on the autism spectrum, we often have difficulty looking people in the eye. Especially when meeting them for the first time. For the life of me I will never understand why that’s a thing for us. But there’s still techniques to get through it.

During job interviews, I had to breathe calmly, slowly, and concentrate on the bridge of the interviewer’s nose in order to give them the impression I was even attempting to look them in the eyes. And it’s very important to smile. They are looking for an employee, but it has never hurt to show a little personality on a first impression.

Some of my favourite jobs were the most uncomfortable at first, because they forced me to start conversations with people at random. I used to work as an event photographer for a newspaper called snap’d and had to ask as many people as possible if I could get their picture taken. A few people would be difficult to work with, but I wanted to do a good job, so I just moved onto the next person and kept my optimism up. I’ll never forget one day a recurring business we worked with asked for me personally to come and cover their event. My boss said on my days off people would be asking, “Hey where’s Braydon?”

Whether you are looking for a job or currently working, I highly recommend spending time developing your skills. This could be anything: photography, building, drawing, or even reading. Even if it’s a hobby, it helps build you as a person when you are pursuing something that interests you.

How can autistic employees self advocate in the workplace without the fear of retribution or prejudice that unfortunately sometimes accompanies the revealing of an autism diagnosis? 

If you are an autistic employee, it’s important to remember that your employer didn’t hire you because you are on the spectrum. They hired you because they saw potential in you and a future at your workplace.

I have made it a good practice of speaking privately with my employer or supervisor not long after getting the job and letting them know about my Aspergers. I tell them what my learning style is and that I want to be able to do the job right.

When I’m taking on something new at my work, I need to be shown a few times in front of someone more experienced. Otherwise things can get miscommunicated very quickly, and I don’t want that. You have to ask yourself, “How do I learn best?” Then it’s up to you to explain that to your employer.

Just remember, even your boss had to start somewhere at their job. They didn’t learn everything they know now on the first day. So give yourself room to learn. And yes, that even means making mistakes.

You’ve written some helpful articles to teach autistic individuals how to navigate the NT world. What is important for NT parents, caregivers, or peers to understand about the autistic experience that will also make it easier for autistic individuals navigate the NT world?

Deep down, people on the autism spectrum are looking to be supported for who they are. More often than not, we are aware that we are different from most neurotypical people. We just learn and process life differently than the rest of the world. We are trying to grow. And having people believe that we can grow can be the difference between success and failure.

What mistakes do neurotypical autism advocates make?

I think the most common mistake I see in a lot of neurotypical advocates is that they think a lot of autistic people are the same. We have a lot of similarities, no doubt; social anxiety and habitual routines just to name a few. The truth is, because we belong to an entire spectrum, the way we are wired can be very different.

When advocates are really trying to get to know someone on the spectrum, treat them as an individual first. Where are we strongest? Where do we need to grow? What are we scared of? What are we excited about? What are our dreams?

When you start to see these traits in a person, you start to see how you can help them best. Maybe they are absolutely okay with being on the spectrum. Maybe, like I was at a point in my life, they are trying to just be accepted as a person on the spectrum.

Who is your greatest ally and why?

Probably my greatest ally has been my dad. From the moment he figured out that I was on the spectrum, he made every effort to try and learn more about it and about me. He had a lot of patience for me when I was frustrated with life and would find a way to put confidence back into my soul. He taught me to work hard for the things I want and to keep my dreams alive.

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