It's Autism Awareness month, and what better way to celebrate the unique talents and array of skills of persons who have it than by highlighting our very own Lauren McArthur, one of our amazing Community Managers. Lauren is passionate about female empowerment, and cultivating diverse and inclusive spaces. She is especially interested in expanding employment opportunities for neurodiverse women. Our team is delighted to constantly learn from her each day. We invite you to take a moment to learn more about her experience and journey below.
When I was 12 I was painfully shy and awkward. Having high functioning autism, I knew I was smart, but it seemed like almost everything that came naturally to other people was foreign and difficult for me. Autism is a different type of brain wiring in which people processes information differently. Although autism is a spectrum that encompasses many strengths and weaknesses, autistic people have difficulty with social interactions, communication, and restricted interests. Despite the valiant effort, I could not put the pieces together on how to fit in with the strange species known as “middle schoolers.” Lunch was the absolute worst. I had no one to save me a seat. High School was not much better. I remember looking around the cafeteria and desperately wanting someone, anyone to come and offer me a seat. During lunch, the Assistant Principal would ask me about the book I was reading and make small talk as I would try to pretend that sitting alone did not bother me.
After graduating high school things felt very bleak for me. I watched a lot of TV from my parents couch. I thought about all of the things I am passionate about and would like to do- but it seemed there were few avenues to achieve my goals. I was aware that it would be hard. I was told the terrifying statistic that 90% of autistic adults are unemployed or underemployed. And I was scared that my life would be confined to my parents couch forever. As many know, being unemployed or underemployed is depressing, and also really isolating. At the time I felt like I was in sixth grade again, looking for a lunch table with nowhere to sit.
In a wild stroke of luck, or possibly an answer to a prayer, I met Ilana. Ilana has a personality larger than life, and a heart to match. When she told me about Luminary I instantly knew it was where I wanted to work. But at that point I had gotten so many rejections I tried not to get my hopes up. When Ilana told me that they had a job for me I literally cried tears of joy. And when I saw the motto “come sit at our table” I finally knew that after all those years of looking for a place to sit I was welcomed.
It is my hope that other businesses can hire women on the autism spectrum just like Luminary has hired me. Autistic adults can make great employees and have the desire to work however they face barriers in getting and maintaining meaningful employment. With the right accommodations, nuerodiverse individuals can contribute in beautiful and dynamic ways to the workplace.
Being a part of Luminary in many ways changed my life. I know I’d be a very different person if I had not had the chance to be welcomed me to the table. At best I would have been included in the 90% statistic, and at worst my isolation could have turned into a crippling depression. Thankfully it did not. I think that not always having a seat has shaped me in many ways and gave me the ability to recognize that everyone has something that they can bring to the table. This inclusiveness has really turned into an integral part of who I am, and what I am most excited about in my job. When I see that Luminary is creating a space for all women, with such diverse backgrounds and amazing talents, I can’t help but feel proud to be a part of it. I am glad Luminary has given me a chance and the opportunity to extend the welcome to come sit at our table.