Calgary·First Person

Autism makes me great at my job, but horrible at interviews

When stage manager Henry Gordon looks back at his career, he realized that his autism got in the way of his interviews.

My autism is part of who I am but I feel I have to mask to avoid negative first impressions

A portrait of a young man with half of his face in shadow.
Henry Gordon says his autism is a benefit to his job as a stage manager, but an impediment during job interviews. (Henry Gordon)

This First Person column is the experience of Henry Gordon who lives in Calgary. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I did the mental equivalent of a double take. I was sitting at my desk, waiting for a meeting. The mild amusement of a possibility cooled into a reflective disbelief of the more and more likely fact.

It couldn't be possible, could it?

Out of the dozens of jobs I had applied for — and roughly a dozen jobs where I had made it to an interview stage — any time when the application required an interview, I failed to get the job. Was I that bad at interviews?

I'm an emerging stage manager with autism — at least I am when theatre is not shut down by pandemic restrictions. 

There's enough pressure during an interview to deliver the right answers. That can be a stressful situation for anyone, but for me, autism makes interviews exceptionally challenging.

It turns out I'm much better at landing jobs that don't require an interview — like the odd jobs as a bookkeeper and a position in construction I got through temping or personal connections.

During interviews, I must make eye contact, deal with stressful environments like fluorescent lights and distracting noises, wear uncomfortable clothes, and not stim. 

Stimming is making movements that burn off nervous energy, such as flapping my hands, flicking my fingers and pacing. Not stimming is stressful for me. I always need to move to think.

But the slightest mistake, a slip of the mask, and I feel like I'm making someone experience the "uncanny valley" — the feeling of discomfort created when something appears almost human, but not. Not normal.

Now I have to worry about giving good answers and making eye contact to appear "normal." It's exhausting. 

A man stands on a stage with his graduation cap, robes after receiving a certificate from an older man.
Henry Gordon graduated from the University of Lethbridge in 2020. He returned to celebrate that achievement in person in June. (Submitted by Henry Gordon)

I have tried telling people about my autism in the interview process and outlining the ways in which it has benefits, but that doesn't seem to help. 

So now, when I start a new job, I often don't tell my employer that I am autistic until the second or third day of work so that my employer's first impression of me is my work and not my neurodiversity. Once I do reveal it, most of my employers and co-workers have been extremely supportive. 

But where autism can be a hindrance to me landing the job, being autistic is an asset in my career. 

I didn't dream of going into stage management as a kid, but I've wanted to tell stories since childhood. I have also needed to study social behaviour in order to survive as neurodivergent in a neurotypical world. Theatre, which is all about understanding social behaviour, was a natural route.

At university, I learned the Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance Society was looking to fill some production roles for the summer. I applied, didn't need an interview, and worked with them for three summers.

Since then, I've worked on several productions, including work during the pandemic with a private school in the city, and volunteering with the Calgary Folk Fest and the podcast, Dark side of the web. I am particularly proud of my work with the Lethbridge Shakespeare Performance Society's production of Macbeth and the university's production of Titus Andronicus.

I love being able to help others produce great work.

A man poses for a photo inside a giant green head with lipstick.
Henry Gordon was part of the stage management team for a private school's production of A Little Shop of Horrors. (Submitted by Henry Gordon)

My typical day involves sitting in the theatre, under sharp work lights, taking notes and seeing the whole picture. I track the entrances and exits on the stage, the movements of the props and costumes, while recording notes from the director and keeping an eye on the clock so actors get timely breaks.

I construct what's called a "pilot's checklist" for the show, breaking the complicated into simple tasks — just as I would in everyday life.

Being able to see and hear everything that is happening, then filtering the almost overwhelming number of details down to the essentials, is something I have always needed to do as a basic survival mechanism for a divergent brain living in a neurotypical world.

But I still feel pressure to not appear autistic. I feel the pressure to appear "normal" — even in theatre, which is a more inclusive industry and where I feel my autism can be a benefit. I don't want to be thought of as just the "guy with autism." I want to be seen as someone with autism who is skilled at what he does. 

My autism is part of who I am but I feel I have to mask constantly in order to get established in my career. It's frustrating. I wish employers understood I am good at my job because of my autism, but traditional job interviews are not the best way to show this.

Telling your story

CBC Calgary is running a series of in-person writing workshops across the city to support community members telling their own stories.

Read more from the workshop hosted by the Genesis Centre:

To find out more about our writing workshops or to propose a community organization to help host, email CBC producer Elise Stolte or visit


Henry Gordon

Freelance contributor

Henry Gordon is an autistic freelance stage manager, writer and designer living in Calgary. He graduated with distinction from the University of Lethbridge in 2020.