Taylor Barringer Is A Social Media Strategist For A Fashion Brand—She Is Also Autistic.
By PJ Feinstein
Because autism doesn’t disappear when children turn 18, this new series explores what it’s like to navigate a career as a young adult on the autism spectrum.
In her LinkedIn profile, Taylor Barringer describes herself as an “autistic creative.” She’s open about her diagnosis now, but the 35-year-old American expat didn’t even know she was on the autism spectrum when she first started out in editorial at places like Refinery29 and Elle Magazine. In fact, it wasn’t until Taylor was 31 and living in London when she began to suspect she may be autistic.
“I was having a really hard time with relationships (platonic and romantic) and struggling with people not understanding me or misreading me as rude and abrasive when I didn't feel that way,” she said. After a specialist confirmed what her online research suggested, Taylor found a therapist who understood the nuances of being diagnosed with autism as an adult woman. “Many women have hyper coping mechanisms in place and often times don't even appear to have it but do because they are so good at hiding it and have learned to manage it.”
It took a year or so, but Taylor found her professional groove again. She recently started a new position as global head of social and community at Vestiaire Collective, an online luxury resale store, and now spends part of her time in Paris. We talked to Taylor about the challenges she faced growing up and how she found happiness in the workplace.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I never had a burning desire to be anything specific, but I was always fascinated with a few things like being an author, an archeologist, a vet. I was highly creative (which is uncommon for people on the spectrum) and though things like math and science came very naturally to me, they weren't stimulating enough. I lived in a small town and was very advanced in school but didn't have the resources to have that nurtured. I bounced between wanting to be a creative and wanting to be something more traditional like a scientist or something.
What were your biggest struggles growing up with autism?
I didn't know I had autism until I was 31 so was only able to look back at my earlier experiences and understand what of them was the ASD and what wasn't. My biggest struggle was my relationship with other people and how I was viewed by them. It was hard for me to have close friendships like I noticed my peers had (not to mention I really preferred to be by myself but thought I needed to be social). I also struggled with trying a lot of activities and quitting them and looking back I now know that's because of either the social aspect of it (sports) or the awkwardness of one to one (music lessons).
How did your parents help you navigate your special needs? What do you wish they would’ve done differently?
They, of course, didn't know until I knew, but they were very understanding about earlier struggles I had. Being undiagnosed often leads to depression in some people and I really struggled with that when I was younger, but they were extremely supportive of that. Perhaps the things that they thought were just my personality and not the autism were a bit hard to cope with though. I'm very blunt and have always been and my mother sometimes still thinks I'm just being extremely rude (she's a midwestern mom) so that's been something I've had to push back on a lot. I'm not rude, I'm just autistic!
What was school like for you?
I didn't love it, mostly because I didn't feel like I fit in and was always having to be someone else. I also lived in a very small town after having lived in Los Angeles for most of my life so I didn't fit in with the farming sports-loving crowd well. On top of that, I was very advanced academically but since my town didn't have the resources to support that I was often bored and skipped school a lot. My grades were great and I never had to study, but I'd get bad marks for not being present or for reading in class or something.
How did you choose your career path?
I always wanted to be creative, but it wasn't until digital media really took off that I was able to be creative and still apply the rigor and data side to things that I love so much. My career kind of chose itself, I had originally started out as an editor and learned all the backend part of that job (SEO, analytics, etc...) which just naturally progressed into what I do now.
What do you do in your current job?
I head up the social media and community strategy for a global fashion tech company in Paris. My day to day is a little scattered right now as I'm learning the ropes and setting up strategies, but strategic work is a lot of the same. So, what I do is meet with stakeholders, figure out problems within our processes, identify KPIs and overall brand goals and then create a strategy for those. I then roll those out to my teams and make sure the process is being followed and everyone is tracking their performances and we are meeting our brand goals.
Did you tell your employer about your special needs? What accommodations have your or your employer made so you can be successful at your job?
I took a year off after my diagnosis and my first job that I had after that I did tell them. Unfortunately, they weren't able to make any adjustments and I only worked there for about a year before moving on. My job now knows that I have it, I don't hide it from anyone, and so far it hasn't been an issue.
One thing I've learned is to just be really honest about your needs and not be afraid to voice them. I used to joke about it but I realized that if it seemed like I wasn't taking it seriously then other people wouldn't either. Now I just ask for things. It’s less about accommodations for me and more about specifics. Things that really bother me are temperatures and smells, so for example, if someone sprays perfume in the office I ask them to please not. Or recently I’ve asked to be moved near a window so I can get some air. I’m not apologetic about it anymore; I know what I need to operate so I ask for it. Sometimes it can’t be done, but if that’s the case then I make other adjustments like making sure I dress so I don’t get too hot or going for walks outside when I can.
Why is your job a good fit for you?
It allows me to focus on problem-solving in a creative way which is really the best of both worlds for me. As a strategist, I often dig way deeper than I need to, but that's allowed me to be one of the best at what I do, to really understand who I'm doing my job for, and to have nothing but positive outcomes because of it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Getting diagnosed was such an eye-opener for me and was the first time in my life when I truly understood myself and ACCEPTED myself with no shame. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to not be too ashamed of who you are and to love yourself and listen to yourself instead of thinking there was something wrong with you that you had to change. I spent a long time trying to change that person and was so miserable. It wasn't until I was diagnosed and started to accept who I was that my relationships got better, I met my husband, am having my first baby, my friendships because really strong and I really stopped caring what other people thought of me. I'm in such a great place now and though it was a hard journey here, I wouldn't have had it any other way.