August 21, 2013

Skills, Expertise, and Cheese

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about being (or not being) really good at something. With autistic people, such talents are often called "splinter skills," meaning that an otherwise "low functioning" individual might have one outstanding skill. For some that may be true, but autistic people, like anyone, can be good at one thing or at many things. And non-autistic people can, of course, have an outstanding skill that stands out above the rest.

Speaking of skills, I've recently begun looking for a job. A job search is all about highlighting your skills, at least those that might make a difference in the workplace. I got skillz. I can write (see previous sentence) and speak in front of a group. I am good at making complicated products or topics easy for people to understand. I can organize and prioritize and probably some other izes too.

When I was interviewing for the last job I had, my interviewer asked me a question that threw me a bit. He asked me what I was expert at. I was momentarily stumped. Skill is different than expertise. In technology, someone might be a skilled programmer, but not, say, a security expert. She might be a skilled graphic designer but not expert in user experience.

I am a skilled baker and cook, but I am by no means an expert. If something goes wrong, I can't troubleshoot or adjust. I throw out and start over. Someone might be a skilled trumpet player, able to read music and play with good tone, maybe even improvise a jazz solo. But expertise requires something more, something reserved for that top few who really know the instrument. Who don't just read the music (or follow the recipe, or sew the pattern), but who take it to the next level, responding to shifts in the environment or the subtleties of the instrument or something that I'm not expert enough to even explain.

I don't feature my special needs parenting front and center on my resume, though several pieces about my experience are included as writing samples on my portfolio. It is hard to find a job after being out of the workforce for a while, and I don't want to give an employer any doubts about to my ability to perform a job. It's ironic, because I am confident that being a parent, and especially an autism parent, has made me better equipped to perform at any job. And now, because of this experience, I can say the I am expert in one very important thing:

Getting. Shit. Done.

If you've met an autism parent, you've met a parent who has battled regional centers, school districts, insurance companies and doctors offices. There's no roadblock I can't clear, no phone call I won't make, no schedule I can't maneuver. I cannot be swayed by intimidation or judgement or ignorance. I make critical decisions on a daily basis and multi-task like nobody's business. I have learned sign language, speech and occupational therapy skills, not to mention biology, neurology and law. No bureaucracy is too big, no budget too small.

I'm not sure I'm an autism expert. But if you need something done, trust me: ask an autism mom.

This post was inspired by The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison, who traveled to France to discover its artisanal cheeses and speak with real cheese experts. Join From Left to Write on August 22 as we discuss The Whole Fromage.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


  1. Going back to work after an absence is tough, no matter what the cause was. And you're right--I hate when they ask what you're an expert in because, while I do have an assortment of skills and interests, I am always stumped when it comes to picking out something I have that level of knowledge in. I'm an expert at staying up late at night and getting up the next morning regardless? I'm an expert at wrangling kids so I can get my errands done? Yeah, they don't translate to work experience and making you look like a better candidate for the job. But I'm sure every employer wants someone who's an expert at getting shit done. That counts for something!

  2. You are hired!! Just hand this essay to any prospective employers, it should do the trick. :-)

  3. Top five reasons why autism moms make good employees:

    5) the quirky co-worker is okay with us. Talks to himself? No problem. Repeats himself? We can deal with that

    4) think meeting deadlines is hard? Try toilet training

    3) after leading team meetings for your child's therapist and negotiating iep meetings, there is no meeting that intimidate us.

    2)multitasking- this is written while preparing dinner and bath time

    And number one reason...

    1) no one has to tell us life is not fair.

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. One more to add...

    We've been scratched, pinched, and kicked. Embarrassed in public. Think a little office gossip is going to make us cry? Think again.

    Lets keep this going.

  5. I was actually planning to write a top 10 reasons you should hire an autism mom post!


I love comments! Respectful disagreement always encouraged.


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