A Sustainability Intern’s First Experience with Autism

A Sustainability Intern’s First Experience with Autism

When I started my internship at an organic farm that employs adults with Autism, it was my first exposure to people with Autism. I was in school for Environmental Studies, and I applied for the internship because I was interested in organic agriculture. I thought the organization’s mission to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities was a great thing, but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My main job was to work with the agricultural side, and since the Autistic farmers helped with all aspects of the farm, I worked alongside them frequently. Along with the other interns, I had been given training on the safety and administrative procedures in place. I knew the training was important, Occupational Health and Safety is taken very seriously, but it still made things seem much scarier than they ended up being.

My first few days working on the farm were a little overwhelming, rules, regulations and my first interaction with people who were Autistic. Some people were incredibly loud and some were quiet and shy. But even from the first day, I was touched by how welcoming and kind many of them were.

As I got to know them, I started to see the behaviors that were initially overwhelming and foreign as just personality traits, the same little quirks that everyone has. Making friends with people with Autism is the same as making friends with anyone else, despite the diagnosis with which the medical community has chosen to define them. Once I learned what each farmer liked to do or talk about, I knew how to best interact with them.

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After a month or so, many of the farmers truly felt like friends. It was their sweet and funny personalities that made me want to come work every day. I had great admiration for their dedication to their jobs—many of them are incredibly hard workers.

One of the reasons the farm was such a good work environment was that, like many other workplaces, there were parties and activities to give the employees a well-deserved break. One day, I was watching the farmers, play a game of kickball—probably not following the rules exactly, but having tons of fun—while I worked on the project I had been assigned. To my surprise, I saw one of the farmers away from the game, mowing the lawn.

Later I asked him why he wasn’t at the kickball game. “Oh, I don’t really like that sort of thing,” he told me. That was one of the first times I felt really connected to one of the farmers because I don’t like kickball either. I was talking to somebody just like me, no labels, no preconceived ideas, just two people who aren’t fans of kickball.

My experience opened my eyes to how unique and wonderful people on the Autism spectrum can be, and how damaging stigmas of the disorder are. I’ve been curious to learn more, and I’ve discovered the thriving online community of people with Autism.

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