By Dr. Joy Eberhardt De Master, WCI Columnist
What if we got it all wrong? No, I'm not talking about race with that headline. I’m talking about you making more money, and I'm talking about how we all see the world. I know how to help you partner with efficient, reliable people to support your business ventures.
Imagine that sound you hate. Hear it. Sit with it. Close your eyes and let it in. OK, stop. Now breathe—in and out. Feel your body and let it relax.
In the Spanish language, we say, as we refer to colors, white and black instead of black and white. It’s the same thing. Or is it? How we talk about the world affects how we think about the world and, subsequently, how we see it, feel it, and hear it. It bestows respect, power, and money. Or it can rob those keys to life.
What if you knew a loyal, intelligent, creative employee/colleague who heard that horrific sound while at work that prevented them from doing their best? What if you had the power to stop the sound, but you didn’t? Not because you didn’t care but because you didn’t hear the sound yourself. To you, the sound simply didn’t exist.
The reality is you know someone who hears this unbearable sound. That person is autistic. (And don’t go now or you’ll miss the good part.) Here’s what you should know if you have autistic people in your life.
First, you need to know autistic is a way of being. It is not a disease or illness. It’s like saying someone has brown hair. It’s OK to have brown hair. Many people have brown hair. And some don’t. Some people are autistic, and others are not.
Another term is neuroAtypical vs. neuroTypical. (NeuroTypical people are those people who fit the mold of the world without masking, aka they don’t hear that annoying noise nor do they have to pretend they don’t hear it.)
Now erase your idea of what you think it means to be autistic. Instead, imagine a beautiful female-identifying physician loved by patients for their empathy and knowledge. Autism does not mean a certain look. It does not mean a certain gender. It does not mean a certain profession. I am that physician. (No, I’m not being egotistical. I’m being honest.) I live in the world of sensory overload (where I can't escape that sound), and it’s one of the reasons I quit my employed job as a pediatrician. It’s one of the reasons I make less money.
More information here:
The Challenges of Being an Autistic Physician
I am autistic. Or at least I think so. My father was diagnosed a decade ago, and my kiddo was diagnosed in 2021. I am a lot like my kid, and that has made me stop to wonder if I’m autistic. I’ll know in January 2023 when I have a formal assessment.
Sadly, autistic individuals are disproportionally unemployed or underemployed. But they are also intelligent, capable, and loyal. The work mold doesn’t fit. They can not aguantar (endure) the noise.
Before you think this is a “pity party,” know it’s not. It’s a reality statement and, even more so, a wakeup call to you, the neuroTypical. If you know this sound (or, more aptly put, “varied sensory profile”) exists, you can make more money. And you can stop being afraid of the autistic difference. My chief of pediatrics told me in 2021 how she had to “deal with a patient with autism” and “you know how it is with people with autism.” Do I? My family is neuroAtypical.
For those who are neuroTypical, you need to change your expectations. If you can do this, you will find people to partner with and support your business ventures. How, you wonder? I thought you’d never ask.
More information here:
Privilege, Power, and Kindness
How We Can Work Together
Look at how you move in the world and interact with others. Don’t make assumptions about how people want to communicate or what they need. Ask them what they need. Be clear in the asking and be kind. (I don’t recommend talking in terms of “those people with autism,” as my chief of pediatrics did.) Use first-person language with any self-identifying factors. It's an autistic person, not a person with autism.
What to change:
- Reduce sensory input. Yes, that may mean working from home. It also means changing the work environment, such as the pace of work; the frequency of interruptions; and yes, the sounds.
- Reframe your idea of communication. Some autistic people are non-speaking which is different than non-verbal, and they can also be highly intelligent. Some autistic people prefer non-speaking forms of communication, such as writing, but can also move fluidly into speaking forms of communication.
- Reconsider your hiring process. I still remember the residency interviews where I thrived and also the ones where I failed. The difference was the process and if I could make myself “fit the mold.” I remember the interview where we all sat in a noisy room at round tables talking; I couldn’t hear myself think.
Most importantly, remember autistic people are humans. They are loving, and they can take other people’s perspectives.
It might look different than you expect. But there are people to partner with—to hire and to work alongside—and to make money with. You just have to unplug your ears and listen.
We know you visit The White Coat Investor to learn about investment strategies and planning, and we’ve always strived to teach financial literacy to physicians, high earners, and anybody else who finds their way here. But the COVID pandemic has also shined a light on physician burnout and its dangers. That’s why we feel compelled to run articles and columns like the one you just read—to make sure white coat investors stay mentally healthy. We know mental wellness is what leads to a long, fruitful financial life, and we’ll continue to run pieces like this because combatting burnout has become such an important part of everybody’s financial journey.