Understanding yourself

Jesica Gonzalez

Audit Information System Consultant

Jesica's fascination with computing is such that she can't even remember when she first started programming. From the beginning, algorithms offered the precision and security that other areas were not able to provide. Social relations, for example, which lack a bit of logic, had always been a challenge. When she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) a few years before she turned 30, some of those challenges
started to make more sense.

Before, I was very lost. I thought my behavior was weird and I couldn’t understand why.

Her first reaction was denial: She didn't believe that such a late diagnosis was possible. But when she started to do some research, she felt identified with the characteristics cited by the authors, many of whom had experienced a similar situation to hers. She consulted a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a subtype of ASD.

It was a relief. I began to understand a lot about myself and how other people thought differently than I did. Discovering autism has changed the way I see the world.

Per CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, one in 68 children is currently identified with ASD.

Looking back, Jesica can identify many behaviors that today can be explained by the diagnosis. Like when, as a child, she got her finger caught in the door and didn’t even say a word or shed a tear – she has a high pain threshold and, therefore, what seemed so painful for everyone around her was no big deal for her.

Relationships, however, had always been tricky. As a child, she lived with her family in France. When they returned to their hometown, Buenos Aires, it was even more difficult for her to integrate at school.

I would stay in the corner rocking myself, which is probably what lots of people would imagine when thinking of someone on the autism spectrum.

At the time, she saw a psychologist, but wasn’t diagnosed.

As a teenager, she took drama classes and became fascinated by facial expressions and non-verbal communication, which helped her mask some of the characteristics of autism. "We all have a measure of neuroplasticity, we know what to do to adapt. The difficulties can be worked on". Currently, Jesica has a perfect example of this at home: Lizzy, a three-legged dog. “You might think she can't run, but her muscles have developed for this, and the fact is that today she loves to run and play with sticks. That is how you overcome your obstacles,” she said.

Jesica said that, while some people on the autism spectrum are good at art, she has always been a natural for finding patterns in computational codes.

I can see every detail. I was obsessed with computing and learned a lot on my own.

That's why, when she heard that SAP had openings through the Autism at Work program, she didn't think twice. The initiative, which aims to include people with autism in the workplace, takes the traits of someone on the autism spectrum into account. For example, after the candidates were selected, a formal interview was held – if any of them failed to make eye contact, which is quite common, the recruiters knew not to think of it as a negative thing.

Six candidates took part in a training that went on for a month. During that period, their abilities were evaluated by programming LEGO® robots, and the group dynamics that developed. In the training, the participants were divided into two teams and had to face a challenge: To program the robots to create a utility that would help the elderly be autonomous. “Of course, the outcome was important, but the main thing was how we worked as a team,” she said.

Drag the mouse to check out the before and after pictures of Jesica's wall!

During the selection process, and when she finally joined the company, Jesica was sure that her colleagues would respect her for who she was. She had already learned how to deal with her auditory sensitivity, which had always been an issue. Her family and friends understood that she wasn't being rude when she asked them to turn down the music volume or to speak lower, and at work, no one gives her the evil eye when she wears earplugs. In the same way, everyone is quite comfortable with her need to wear sunglasses to minimize discomfort from brightness, even at the office. “That is when being in an inclusive place makes all the difference. I know that I will not suffer any kind of discrimination for these things,” she says, feeling happy that she understands herself at last and comfortable that her environment also understands her.

Address of graffiti art: 165, Professor Álvaro Rodrigues St. – Botafogo | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil