On April 6th, 2016 I decided to see if attending The Art of Active Networking in Costa Mesa, CA would be a helpful networking experience for me. I chose this one because the facilitator's description seems to express understanding for those who dislike networking. When I arrived I was nervous enough, but was even more nervous when the facilitator said that we cannot sit next to someone we already know, or something to that effect. (Despite my auditory memory issues, if I imagine the printed images of the words I’m hearing, I can remember what was said, but I cannot always do that, especially if I'm tired or significantly distressed). At this time I almost went into shut down mode*.
Sneha noticed that this announcement made me uncomfortable, so we stepped outside to talk about it. She asked what I wanted to do, and I said that my first instinct was to leave but that I don’t want to waste the $20 that we both paid to get into the event. Sneha explained that my reaction was a natural fight or flight response: to me the situation was very stressful and my brain sensed that, and that’s why my first instinct was to leave the stressful situation. She explained that there were at least three options that I could choose from, and that we would both do whichever option I chose: 1) Leave 2) Follow the rules without accommodations or 3) Use this as an opportunity to educate the facilitator about Autism, and ask if it would be alright if I sat next to Sneha. I chose to ask the facilitator for an accommodation because the volume of all the simultaneous conversations was causing me sensory overload and I was literally about to go into shutdown mode multiple times. I didn't wanna just leave because I had to pay $20 to attend this event and didn't wanna be out that money. The facilitator was very accommodating and said he really cared about making me comfortable at his event. We truly appreciate how understanding and supportive he was. However, I was still uncomfortable with the volume of all the simulataneous conversations, which he could not reduce.
In my Employability Skills class at Santa Ana College's School of Continuing Education in 2014, I learned that during a job interview, your answers have to be about what THE EMPLOYER will get by hiring you, NOT what YOU will get. However, when you're attending a business networking event, according to Sneha, it is important to show appreciation for what the other people have to offer, while also selling yourself, but in a less aggressive way.
At a professional development meeting with Sneha after this meet up, we reflected on this meet up event. Sneha told me that she was extremely proud of me for pushing myself to attend these meet up events, and that she was impressed that I chose to stay and take the opportunity to educate someone about Autism. When we were at the meet up and Sneha told me this, it made me feel better about staying. I was able to stop myself from going into shut down mode by reminding myself that I was there with someone I trust. I do not enjoy making small talk, and this was what the networking event was all about. Sneha would ask me questions when we were talking in a group to get me to talk. This was difficult for me and she knew that. She is here to encourage me to practice the skills I need in the work place, and she acknowledged afterwards that it was difficult for me, but that she was happy that I responded and again of how proud she was of me. She noticed that I did very well with making eye contact, and I told her that this was a skill that I have been working on for 16 years. Interacting with the Deaf community has helped me with my eye contact because the use of sign language requires it.
I have been to more meet up events since this one, and plan to write about them soon.
Meetup.com is a social network where offline gatherings are planned and publicized. You can connect with people who have similar interests as your own.
(*) Shut down mode can be different for everyone. What I mean by shut down mode in this situation is: The many people, the simultaneous conversations, in particular the volume of these conversations made it impossible for me to gauge how well anyone was listening. Then there was the added pressure of sitting next to someone that I did not know. When I go into shut down mode I become oblivious to the words and actions of everyone around me. All my thoughts become subconscious and I am not able to put them into words. Even when I’m in shut down mode I am able to look out for my safety, but I am not able to interact normally with anyone until I am out of shut down mode.