'I'm not going to hide': Finding employment with autism

A Montrealer with autism speaks about the struggles finding work and making connections.

Nicolas Vicenzo, a Montrealer with autism, on life, finding work and making connections

When Nicolas Vicenzo was diagnosed with autism, he was told he wasn't going to finish high school. He has a university degree in computer engineering. (CBC Daybreak)

Nicolas Vicenzo is a computer engineer, a cosplay photographer, a Concordia graduate and a heavy metal fan. He also has autism.

And while he's finally landed a job that is both fulfilling and accommodates his needs, the 33-year-old Montrealer shuffled from job to job for years.

It's an experience familiar to many people with autism, he says.

CBC Montreal's Daybreak sat down with Vicenzo — as Autism Awareness Month comes to a close — to discuss his experience navigating the workplace as a person with autism.

You were diagnosed at 16. What did it mean to get that diagnosis?

They said that I wasn't going to even end up finishing high school. But then I was able to graduate from CEGEP and university, [with] a degree in computer engineering.

When I got my diagnosis, it was life-changing. But I saw it as a means to not be defined by what anyone else says about me and try to face obstacles. 

I've decided I'm not going to hide under this stigma of being autistic. I really want to cast away the mask, let people know who I am. Despite being autistic, I'm just as much a regular person as anyone out there.

They would pretty much shrug and sweep it under the rug and I would have to tough it out.- Nicolas Vicenzo on how past employers dealt with his autism

What are the challenges you've faced trying to get your employers to see your talents?

One of the cons of being an autistic person is social interaction. Thankfully for me I've been able to hone it to a skill where I'm able to interact with people.

But for most autistic people that can be a bit of a challenge, because sometimes we may not articulate ourselves in the way in which we want.

Have employers been open to making accommodations?

They made some effort, but not enough for me to feel comfortable at a workplace. I would mention it to employers, but they would pretty much shrug and sweep it under the rug and I would have to tough it out.

Are you comfortable at your current work place?

Very, very comfortable. I just started at an insurance software company. I do quality-assurance testing.

They've been very open and accommodating to me, [which has been] a massive game changer — a positive game changer for me.

What's your message to employers about working with people with autism?

Number one, there needs to be awareness that there are people with autism, and that they're either afraid to disclose it or afraid of being discriminated against. Employers need to be aware that, yes, these people exist, and that, yes, they're very hard workers and very dedicated.

The second point is accommodations, making sure that they have the right work environment, the right set-up just to make them feel comfortable and such.

You're also a photographer and into cosplay?

I go by the moniker Cyberfox007. I've been doing cosplay photography for about two and a half years now. I love it. I've been published in books and magazines. 

I've met so many amazing people. I use my photography as a way to break down the social wall that I built by myself and use it as a bridge to help work with people and to also provide amazing photos.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.